10 Ways to Stop Communication Overload

Last Updated Nov 24, 2010 10:55 AM EST

Communication OverloadWe used to complain about all the useless back-to-back meetings and being copied on hundreds of unnecessary emails. Who knew it could get so much worse. We used to say there's no such thing as over-communication. Now we'd do anything to make it stop.

Communication is out of control and it's taking all the fun - and productivity - out of work.

Don't get me wrong, communication is as important to business success and organizational effectiveness as it used to be. There's just too much of it. For whatever reason, the old problem of protecting domains by limiting the flow of information has morphed into a new problem of hyper-collaboration where everybody's included in everything.

If you ask me, the communication pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction, although I'm not really sure why:

Is it simply the umpteenth fad, an overemphasis on communication, collaboration, and teamwork because that's the way we're supposed to do things now?

Is it an overreaction to the virtualization of the workforce, an attempt to control and reel in all those remote teams, telecommuters and flextime users?

Is it just because we can, now that we've all got smartphones, a million ways to message and chat, social media, virtual meeting and collaboration tools?

    Whatever the reason, communication overload has reached epidemic proportions and it's killing precious productivity and effectiveness at a time of economic strife and global competition, when our already overwhelmed and under-resourced management teams and workforces can least afford it.

    Here are 10 Ways to Stop Communication Overload:

    1. Every meeting - physical or virtual - must have an objective, an agenda, a start time and an end time; everybody who attends every meeting must have a specific and definitive purpose for being there.

    2. Stop adding people to processes and groups. Every person you add to every process, group, communication, team, whatever, adds complexity and reduces productivity because people tend to say and do things, then others tend to respond, and so-forth. It's always easier to herd fewer cats.

    3. Question the broad use of predefined email distribution lists, reconsider every individual you cc on an email, and most importantly, don't automatically hit "Reply to All."

    4. Reconsider internal meetings to prepare for other internal meetings, layers and layers of review meetings, the wisdom of "all hands" meetings, and panicked, kneejerk reactions to involve the whole damn world in a crisis.

    5. Encourage and reward employee accountability, risk-taking, and initiative for resolving problems on their own.

    6. If anybody out there is still trying to make matrix management work, stop. It's a brilliant organizational concept that's nearly impossible to execute without creating mass confusion and, ultimately, way more problems than it solves.

    7. Be leery of noncritical management fads that are sure to create tons of meetings with amorphous results. Remember OD - Organization Development?

    8. Question the ubiquitous "I want to be involved" and "keep me in the loop" micromanaging / controlling mentality.

    9. Don't use collaboration or communication tools for the sake of using them. If the net ROI isn't clear, don't do it.

    10. Never forget that, now more than ever, time is everyone's most precious asset.

      Look, I'm not suggesting we return to the old school of isolated silos that control the flow of information. It's just that we've gone too far the other way and need to take some of this communication and collaboration stuff off the table and create a little balance or, if nothing else, some time for people to actually get some work done.

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