Leonard Toenjes

Q: We want to improve the communication skills of our executives and some of our managers. I once heard about a large construction-management firm that took the unorthodox approach of hiring a theater company that offered communication-improvement services to business, in addition to the usual.

That struck me as an innovative idea because it might be cost-effective. First, do you think something like that is a good way to save money or is it skimping? Beyond that, what is your assessment of executive communication skills? What ideas do you recommend to seek improvements?

A: While the theatre certainly is an art form, I would seriously question whether a one-time production like this would have any more than a temporary impact on communication skills within an organization.

Building communication skills and an effective team takes more than a single performance. Quality organizations with high internal communications performance are the product of years of work and focus on high standards.

One of the finest resources I have found for building effective communications is the book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni. I had the occasion to hear him speak at a convention several years ago concerning his communications and team building perspectives and immediately bought the book and downloaded the spoken version onto my iPod. It is a good reminder of the daily efforts it takes to improve communications skills.

As a starter, real communication cannot occur until your firm has a level of trust between your team members. It is imperative to bring your employees together and ensure that they can each trust every other employee to perform the functions that they are assigned.

“Quality organizations with high internal communications performance are the product of years of work and focus on high standards.”

If this trust does not exist, no amount of written or spoken communication or time spent in meetings can bear any fruit. Your employees have to believe that what is said is honest and can be trusted. You should lead your employees through some regular dialog about trust issues. You should stay ever vigilant to the internal communications you hear or overhear between your staff members.

I believe the old axiom that “When Peter talks about Paul, you learn more about Peter than Paul.” Don’t tolerate any lack of trust within your daily operations. Confront it head on.

Based on this trust existing, it is then time to get down to some meaningful dialog about the issues within your organization. Your communications will take on a whole new flavor when people know that what is said is really meant, can be trusted and can be honestly confronted. Meaningful dialog and meaningful conflict that can lead to positive resolutions cannot take place in an environment where there is doubt and distrust.

There is much more to the book, but I believe taking time to read, understand and implement the daily processes described by Mr. Lencioni would lead to a more positive change long after the curtain has dropped on the theatre company.

Leonard Toenjes is the president of the Associated General Contractors of St. Louis. He can be reached at 314-781-2356 or ltoenjes@agcstl.org. Visit the organization’s Web site at www.agcstl.org.