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Labor-Management Collaboration on Communication Drives Business Improvement

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In organizations that are shifting toward higher levels of labor-management collaboration, “joint” communication that includes both management and union perspectives can demonstrate that organizational change is taking place in immediate and very visible ways. When employees see communication processes begin to reflect diverse perspectives– rather than strictly the company line or union messaging– it signals movement to a more open and honest environment and the development of collaborative relationships. Joint work and joint communication go hand and hand, each supporting and strengthening the other.

I have seen many cases in which labor and management relationships mature to the point where the parties agree to serve up information through a communication vehicle produced by a joint team. When they do, surveys consistently show that employees consider the information more balanced and credible. In addition, employees indicate joint communication better reflects perspectives and language they can relate to. These joint communication vehicles also provide people a forum for reading about the collaborative process, the experiences of those involved on joint teams and the positive results achieved.

One example from my work with American Airlines involved a Joint Leadership Team (JLT) at an airport, which was comprised of management leaders from various functions and frontline employees, including some union-represented. As part of their monthly meeting, they dedicated time to canvas airport employees and share important business issues with them. The JLT decided on the key information points to share and agreed on a specific question to ask employees in order to gather input and ideas.

One week they focused on critical flights departing on time. They translated the station’s weekly and monthly goals into meaningful information. For example, they let employees know the airport had consistently missed its flight departure goal by one flight a month. People rallied around this new awareness, seeing that the improvement goal was attainable. As part of this information blitz, the joint team asked employees for their ideas to improve the on-time departure of critical flights. Within an hour, JLT members had gathered a solid list of suggestions and issues that could be addressed to improve their operation’s dependability. The team produced a monthly joint business newsletter, where they published the results of the information blitz, the ideas generated and their status, resulting in increased awareness among all employees.

Collaborative communication that focuses on business education, like de-mystifying on-time departure goals, can go a long way in helping employees understand the business and increasing their trust in the information they receive. This creates an opportunity for more informed dialogue and participation. Just as the airport team experienced, once people better understand business issues and goals, they can generate and support solutions that improve performance. The key is to involve employees in the process, assuring that communication plays a central role.

Where have you seen labor and management leaders work together to create effective communication that improved business understanding and performance?

Carol Masterson is a member of the Consulting Consortium at Overland Resource Group. She has more than a decade of experience in various communications roles at American Airlines, most recently as Joint Communication Director. She is founder and president of The Vocari Group, LLC. Carol can be reached at

Topics: Breakthrough Collaboration Conflict Resolution Leadership