The meaning of "communication" goes a lot deeper than people often think about. Communication is about conceiving, sending, receiving, interpreting messages and confirming reception of these messages. A failure at any point in this chain is ineffective communication.

Ineffective communication can be disastrous. There is the famous story of the British Army Commander who sent the message "Send reinforcements, we're going to advance." back to the Command Center, through a long chain of subordinates. When the message finally reached the Command Center, it had "mutated" to become -

"Send three and four-pence, we're going to a dance."

The reinforcements never arrived.

You can demonstrate this same principle, albeit on a less dramatic scale, by trying to play Chinese Whispers with more than 20 people. It is highly unlikely the same message you started with will be the one you end with.

In a business, there are three main types of communication failure. Each has its own indicative signs.

The first type is known as allocative failure. This occurs when a firm is not gathering enough intelligence about its market or (most often), the information is not reaching the right points. The firm will not be allocating resources in step with the shifts in demand. If demand is rising but the firm is suffering from allocative communication failure, then stocks will fall and there will be understaffing. If the inverse happens, there will be a surplus of stocks and overstaffing.

The second type is executive failure, where communication to trigger specific events/actions is either late, lacking or in error. The symptons of this are a general loss of direction in the company or departments, a loss of co-ordination and an increase in complaints from customers as things happen late or not at all.

The final type is human failure. This occurs when the general culture of a business or the relationships between particular individuals or departments do not foster effective communication. This leads to aliented staff, an increase in staff turnover, an increase in absenteeism and general frustration among staff. Creativity, especially that which takes place across departmental boundaries, is likely to suffer hugely as team synergy slips.

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