Supplying Thought: Hablamos Idiomas Diferentes (We Speak Different Languages).

01 Aug 2016 9:17 PM | Christon Valdivieso

Authored By: Christon Valdivieso

Edited By: Afton Knight

You could tell they do not understand what I am talking about,” Ray, a recent graduate student, said as he summed up his workplace frustrations. Like many professionals, Ray works at a company that promotes cross-functional alignment. His day consists of lots of meeting with lots of people from different functions collaborating to streamline and improve a given set of processes. Many students today, Ray included, learn all about how cross-functional teamwork is critical to alignment and success. What educators and change managers forget is that these groups all speak different languages.

Whether the company has recently changed leadership, IT systems, or just a report type, the language inside a company is frequently evolving. Last week’s TPS report is now the CAR report for instance; and, just like a resume with industry-specific jargon on it, most of it is incomprehensible to other departments.

Historically, kings and emperors set the national language and religion to ensure commonality and peace amongst a nation. But who sets the language at the modern day enterprise? 

Emily, a replenishment professional, said that she spent the first few weeks after starting her job focusing on using the “right” words for her actions but during her first meeting with buyers received blank stares. In order to increase collaboration and break down silos in the workplace, it is important to be aware of these communication gaps and focus on gaining understanding. One way to do this is by paying attention to how other groups talk during meetings and try to find out the synonyms for words you are familiar with.

Sadly, direction from most change managers and industry leaders focus on performance, vision, and information sharing to build trust. Only when dealing with IT integration does language uniformity come into play. However, if people do not understand each other are cross-functional teams truly productive? The truth is, not understanding jargon places a communication and informational gap that is detrimental to the team. Understanding what each member does and how allows each member to add more value during every interaction. Knowing other functions ensures members will understand the needs of teammates and can thus be better prepared which makes the entire team more productive.

What Emily and Ray experienced is not unique. While cross training and job shadowing is often effective in ameliorating the confusion it is not the only solution. It takes a commitment from leadership and the associates to bridge language gaps and unify cross-functional teams. Thus I supply this thought: What language does your company speak?


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