What Makes for High-Performing Corporate Communication Teams

An issue of concern for any professional communicator is how well they are performing, but performance has to be considered not just in metrics of communication skill proficiency, but how well the communications functions contributes to the overall organizational goals.

Over the past year and a half I looked into this issue in a research project with Mark Bain, a top communicator in his own right who now does consulting as owner of upper90 Consulting. We conducted a series of phone interviews and then a survey of top Chief Communication Officers (CCOs) at top companies and organizations around the country. This resulted in a an article, “High-Performing Corporate Communications Teams: Views  of Top CCOs,” published in the latest issue of PR Journal (free online–a real benefit to professionals!). I’d encourage you to read it, but here are the takeaways:

From the interviews, these common themes emerged:

  • High-performing teams are adaptable;
  • High-performing teams are collaborative;
  • High-performing teams possess specific and appropriate forms and levels of expertise;
  • High-performing teams are analytical;
  • High-performing teams demonstrate leadership across the organization;
We also found that there are several impediments or barriers to high performing teams. One is a lack of clarity from top management about the roles, objectives, responsibility and accountability of each functional unit in an organization. This can lead to turf guarding or fighting over who owns what, such as communications and IT fighting over digital responsibilities, and other internal tensions that slow performance. 
Poor leadership, which relates to poor culture, were cited as other impediments to performance. Structural and organizational issues also were mentioned often, including the “silo” effect of internal departments or varied geographic locations not talking fluidly with each other. Finally, a lack of CEO understanding of and support of the communications function were a common problem indicated by top CCOs, as was an external environment of rapid change.
Taking the input from the interviews, we conducted a large scale survey to determine, among other things, what top CCOs valued as the key factors driving high performance in corporate communications teams. Of 20 factors that drive performance presented, eight had the highest value according to respondents. The top factors in order of importance by mean score are: 
  • function’s work is aligned with business goals;
  • people in the function collaborate effectively with others;
  • the communication function adapts quickly to change; 
  • demonstrate respect for others;
  • culture that allows people to do their best work;
  • people in communication understand the company’s business; 
  • a clear role in the company;
  • CEO support of the communications function; 
  • interpersonal skills.
It’s also interesting to look at common perceived impediments to high-performance of communication teams. Here, seven factors emerged:
  • A CEO who doesn’t value her/his employees;
  • lack of alignment around strategy;
  • unhealthy work culture; 
  • inability of organization to adapt to change; 
  • lack of clear vision for the organization; 
  • difficulty hiring and retaining talent; 
  • a silo approach to working in the organization. 
I’d encourage taking a look at these and seeing if they mirror the situation in your organization. Or use the results in goal setting as you counsel your CEO or other top management to develop the factors that drive performance. It will improve not just communications, but, since communication and public relations ARE a management function, it will improve the performance of the entire organization in terms of meeting strategic goals.

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