Communication, Collaboration and Cooperation

Good Communication Takes Leadership

By Dennis Brooks, Design Build Associates, Inc.

Good communication takes leadership. Does your homeowners association have a strong communication process so that you can keep the homeowners informed? During a reconstruction project it is especially critical to communicate well with the homeowners. Efficient and effectively managed projects focus almost as much on communication during a project as they do on the construction details themselves. Collaboration and cooperation occur through communication. It provides the shared understanding that enables everyone to work together toward a common goal.

Effective project communications need to be more than just a reaction to what is about to take place. It requires leadership and planning to accompany the project goals. As the saying goes “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Establishing a plan to communicate your project to homeowners is no different.  It is essential. Making the plan up as you go may work for small projects, but any major project contemplated by your association needs careful and thoughtful planning.

A successful project always involves effective communication with the homeowners. Sometimes what is said is not what you thought was said, or at least what you thought you heard said isn’t what was meant; communications can be very confusing as times. Effective communication takes effort, and it takes time to work through the process. Who has time these days? We all seem to communicate more via e-mails, IM’s, texting and now even twitter.  But is anyone really listening? Or a better question is; does the receiver of the message understand the message? Is the information really getting through? Is it being understood in the way we intend it to be understood? If not, we need to work on the communication process.

This is not always as simple as it may seem.  As George Bernard Shaw stated – “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

The-communication-processHow many times in our dealings with people do we find that there are misunderstandings or confusion about a subject that we thought had been clearly communicated? Our goal should always be to minimize the confusion and frustration by making sure that the communication process is clear and concise. It needs to be accurate in order for it to accomplish the desired result.

Effective communication results when the sender or “source” of the information or “message” and the “receiver” of the message clearly understands the message.

When starting a major project there are many questions that need to be answered. What work is going to be included in the project? Can we handle this work on our own or do we need some expert assistance? How will we pay for these repairs? What if we can’t gain the support of the homeowners? This list of questions can go on and on, and each question is significant.  The response to those questions may have considerable ramifications as to the successful outcome of the completed project.  It is important to understand that there are numerous ways to accomplish the same goal. Collaboration with the Board is necessary to define the project’s goals and direction. The challenge then becomes to clearly communicate the goal and direction to the membership. Strong leadership is very important to this process. Usually, projects require a homeowner source of funding that mandates a vote of the membership. For the membership to vote affirmatively, it is essential that the project goals be clearly defined and understood. This is usually a very critical juncture in the process of moving a project from planning to actual construction. If communications breakdown it is likely that the project will not proceed. Consensus must be built; this will only happen when the communication process is clear, causing an accurate understanding, cooperation and trust. Due to the many legal, technical and financial issues that arise during these projects, it is imperative that the communication process builds this necessary trust and confidence between the source and the receiver.

Another important aspect of building collaboration and cooperation on a project such as this is to actually do what you tell the membership you will do. This not only applies to the many tasks required to get a project started, it also applies once the work has started. A well run project will have a job schedule, and with proper oversight, the schedule will be maintained. When the project schedule is maintained it demonstrates to the homeowners that there is accountability.

All communications are not necessarily pleasant ones.  Sometimes you will need to confront harsh reality.  At these times, it is best not to skirt around the issues but rather to be clear and direct (while always remaining respectful and professional).  It is better to address hard realities as they arise rather than hope that somehow they will go away; they never do.

One thing is certain; proper communication takes time and effort.  It is a process that should be continual. It is also important to note that communication is a two way street which includes both speaking and listening. Listening provides the necessary feedback to complete the communication process.  It helps to build trust and it assures the homeowners that all of their issues are being considered.

Stephen M.R. Covey makes an excellent point in his book The Speed of Trust that when trust is down, speed is down and costs go up.

                ↓Trust   =  ↓Speed   ↑Cost

When trust goes up, speed will also go up and costs will go down.

                ↑Trust   =  ↑Speed  ↓Cost

Examples of this are all around us in our society. When there are trusting relationships built, things happen at a much greater speed and with much greater efficiency. However, poor communication can lead to a lack of trust, causing work to slow down due to verification requirements and other strictures. In the end, this is always more costly than it would have been if there was an efficient communication process, which develops a trusting relationship and an expedient well orchestrated project.

Therefore, work to communicate in such a way that builds trust.

  • Be honest, tell the truth.
  • Let people know where you stand.
  • Use simple language.
  • Call things what they are.
  • Demonstrate integrity.
  • Don’t manipulate people or distort facts.
  • Don’t leave false impressions.

The “process” must be trustworthy – do what you say you will do.  Deliver results consistent with what you have communicated.

Tell them what they can expect, and then deliver what you told them. This is a good formula for a successful project.

It is also a good idea during this communication process to remember what Carl Buechner said concerning this topic; “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

In summary, effective communications will build trust, collaboration and cooperation regardless of your project.  With these attributes working for you, your chances of completing a successful project will increase dramatically.