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January 10, 2024

How to Structure an Internal Communications Team the Right Way

Internal communications team structure

In a world where business priorities are rapidly shifting, internal communications teams are forced to consider whether their structure still meets today's strategic communication needs.

The role of the internal communicator has also changed. Beyond partnering across the business, there's a growing need to collaborate with counterparts across all aspects of corporate affairs and the corporate communications team, including media relations, external communications, employer branding, government relations, and environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG).

Navigating a change in structure is a challenging task. Consider that 86% of chief communications officers (CCOs) do not control their operational budgets, and roughly half struggle to maintain the workload and staffing required. Even when CCOs have the perfect structure in mind, they still have to lobby for budget and orchestrate with key business partners to gain buy-in. From there, it’s about determining which existing team members fit the new structure and which roles and capabilities should be brought in from the outside.

Just because it's a daunting task doesn't mean it's not worth it. If you’re a CCO and aspire to run a world-class internal communications function that effectively supports your organization's biggest business priorities, having the right structure and talent in place is the only way to achieve your goal.

Why the Communications Team Structure Matters

Before we delve into how to structure an internal communications department, let's first understand why the internal communications structure is so vital.

Having the right structure offers several key benefits, such as:

  • Clear swim lanes of roles and responsibilities
  • Ensures support for the biggest business priorities
  • Enables more efficient and effective work processes
  • Allows for greater connectivity with key business partners and corporate affairs counterparts
  • And more

Getting your internal communications structure right is a foundational step to ensuring the day-to-day operations run smoothly.

How to Structure a Communications Department

Now, let's explore the essential steps to building an internal communications department structure that aligns with the evolving needs of the business.

Step 1: Assess What the Business Needs

Making the case for any change is always easier when it's backed by qualitative and quantitative research. Research should begin with making a list of key business partners and influential stakeholders (e.g., C-Suite, CCO, ESG, Government Relations, External Communications, PR / Marketing). Determine what's working well today, what could be better, which areas need more or less business support, what new items may need consideration for internal communications support, and seek feedback from team members in internal communications.

You should also conduct a channel audit and communication effectiveness assessment. The channel audit will determine what communication channels need to be improved, consolidated, or added. A communication effectiveness survey will determine how well employees understand the business strategy and what gaps exist at certain role levels.

Step 2: Socialize Your Results

Go back to your key business partners and influential stakeholders and provide them with an executive summary of your research (e.g., interviews, channel audit, communication effectiveness assessment). The executive summary should be action-oriented and point to the key actions you will take to evolve your internal communications function. There should be specific actions tied to what's adding value and what's not, how your internal communications strategy will evolve at a high level, and a clear case for how a revised internal communications structure would enable strategic changes.

Step 3: Build Your Internal Communications Strategy

Any good internal communications structure should be supported by an organization's key priorities and then translated into what it means for internal communicators. If you're going to change your structure, it usually means that you need to shift your internal communications strategy as well. Your internal communications strategy should include the key actions and tactics the team will be doing, all influenced by your research.

This is as much an exercise in not only what you will be doing but what you won't be doing moving forward. Suppose you are considering making significant shifts in levels of support or consolidating the number of communication channels you use. In that case, you should include that background in your internal communications strategy so key business partners understand your approach and path forward.

Step 4: Build Your Internal Communications Structure

You've taken the opportunity to do thorough research and have reassessed your priorities. Now, you have the information you need to build the right structure to support your internal communications strategy. When building the internal communications structure, consider these principles:

  • Think about roles, not people. One of the biggest mistakes leaders make when determining communications team roles and responsibilities is thinking about the people they currently have on the team and fitting a role to meet their skill sets. Instead, leaders should determine what the role should entail and either match team member skills to that new standard or find a new person who can achieve the newly codified responsibilities.
  • Benchmark roles with other companies. To help scope what responsibilities each position should entail, conduct external benchmarking, so you can attract and retain the right talent for each role. It will also help you build your go-forward budget with your team.
  • Establish the right levels of support for the business. It’s important to set a consistent standard for what work the internal communications team will and won't support. It's the only way internal communicators can stay strategic and focused, so more time isn't allocated to non-value-added tasks.
  • Don't change everything at once. Unless the business explicitly dictates it, it's good to phase in major changes, both to the internal communications strategy and its subsequent structure. As a leader, this enables you to focus on successful implementation and can be beneficial if you're looking to secure budget or need to hire externally to meet the needs of your new strategy and structure.

Communication Team Roles and Responsibilities

While needs vary from organization to organization, here are some potential roles that could be on your team:

  • Head of Internal Communications: Oversees and manages the department. Sets team strategy and roles and responsibilities. Often serves as the liaison between internal communications and the C-Suite.
  • Channel Management: Manages communication channel strategy, including upholding channel standards, communication tools, communication calendar, and the distribution of communication. In larger organizations, this may be broken out into multiple roles, with one employee focusing on the channel strategy and another on distributing materials.
  • Initiative Management: Supports two to three critical business initiatives by creating plans, crafting communications, and advising key business partners. Depending on the size of your organization, this may be broken out into multiple roles.
  • Business Unit and/or Functional Communications Lead: Supports specific business unit or function by creating communication plans, serving as a key advisor to business unit and/or functional leadership, and developing communications.
  • Regional Communications Lead: Supports a specific region by creating communication plans, serving as a key advisor to field / regional leadership, and creating communications that support the success of those working in the region.

Other roles, such as graphic design and video production support, typically sit outside of the internal communications function but are often critical business partners in the success of internal communications.

Sample Internal Communications Function Org Chart

While needs vary across organizations and internal communications functions, this is a sample org chart with key roles that make up internal communications functions:

Communications team org chart

Step 5: Orchestration and Implementation

You have your plan in place. Now it's time to seal the deal for your plan and path forward. Go back to the same key stakeholder list to socialize your structure to facilitate support for the internal communications strategy and, ultimately, the business strategy. Take this as an opportunity to listen to any feedback from key stakeholders before making concrete commitments regarding any adjustments. Once you've considered all feedback and made changes, it's time to either phase in your plan or implement the new model immediately. The most important message for your team is that the changes are intended to meet the needs of the business and are rooted in what employees want and need from communications.

Examples of How to Structure Internal Communications Functions

As we covered, there’s no one-size-fits-all way to structure your internal communications function. Each structure should be customized to the unique needs of the business.

Here are a few examples of different scenarios:

  • Creating One Team: In one organization, there were internal communicators that sat both within the internal communications function and reported directly to different business units and functions. The organization came together, with a solid-line reporting structure into internal communications.

    The change helped create a more effective and efficient support model for the business by:
    • Creating more connectivity to the broader business priorities: It ensured the work happening to support each business unit and function was better aligned to what the business needed. As a result, the work also supported what internal communications was trying to get done.
    • Driving greater role clarity: Tasks that were non-value adds were removed, and roles were elevated to become better strategic advisors.
    • Enhancing opportunities for career growth: Moving to one team enabled employees to have stretch assignment opportunities and make more lateral moves to enhance their capabilities and prepare for promotions and expanded responsibility.
  • Building Relationships and Scaling Capabilities: Another large organization had a global internal communications function that supported the C-Suite, global communications, and channels. There were also nearly 30 other business units and functions, each with thousands of employees. Those groups had their own unique needs but still needed connectivity to the core function to help drive an appropriate level of consistency in how communications were approached and distributed.

    While there wasn’t a direct change in the reporting relationship, it was clear there needed to be structural changes in how the global team and the business units and functions partnered together. The changes included:
    • Weekly meetings to share updates, learnings, and best practices: This allowed everyone to come together with one to two main agenda topics that everyone needed to know or take action on, with ample time to discuss any challenges or opportunities with the full group of communicators.
    • Committees to solve enterprise-wide communication opportunities: When there was a specific objective or initiative that needed to be rolled out enterprise-wide, small teams comprised of global, business unit, and functional communicators would come together to work through the opportunity and account for all points of view before rolling it out to the organization.
    • Communicator cohorts: These cohorts were separated into four groups based on similar customer bases and reporting relationships to the C-Suite. This group met on a regular basis to align on their communication cadences and best practices for communicating with employees. This allowed business units to discuss any challenges or where they needed support from the global team.
  • Reimagining the function: A mid-size organization went through a lot of change and realized that it was no longer optimized to support the business as well as it could be. They made several changes, including:
    • Rescoping and adding roles: After doing a thorough review of where support was needed from key leaders, roles were rescoped and added to help support the evolution of the business.
    • Adding critical communication leadership roles: There were three new communication leaders brought on, each of whom reported to the head of internal communications. Those roles oversaw leadership communications, content and channels, and key initiatives.
    • Putting new routines in place to stay connected: Once the structure was stood up, there were a number of rhythms and routines put in place for communication leaders to ensure they were in sync across their priorities. Further, the new structure helped ensure that communications were being properly planned for and appropriately sequenced and that the full team was aligned with what needed to get done on a weekly basis.

How We Can Help

Having worked with hundreds of organizations on optimizing their internal communications functions, we have deep expertise in helping establish the best strategy and structure to meet the needs of the business. Our goal is to make your team shine. Contact us today for more information on how we can help effectively structure your communications team and department.

In Closing

While taking a thorough approach to re-evaluate your internal communications function requires a balance of analysis and orchestration, it's the right thing to do if you're committing to building a world-class internal communications function that supports an organization's most important priorities.

As you think about your internal communications team, what adjustments can you make to the structure to improve overall effectiveness inside your organization?

—Kyle Dierking

Are you undergoing an internal communications restructure – or are you building your function for the first time? We can help contact us today!

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About Kyle

Kyle Dierking Headshot 2023Kyle Dierking is a Vice President at The Grossman Group and brings nearly 15 years of corporate communications experience to the firm, working across a variety of industries and business models. Throughout his career, he’s been a change agent, strategic counselor, and dynamic storyteller. He has built and implemented successful internal communications programs while navigating large, complex organizations to meet the needs of a variety of internal audiences. Kyle’s current and former clients include Bojangles, DHL, General Mills, Grubhub, Molex, NiSource, Stanley Black & Decker, TPG, and Tyson Foods, among other leading organizations.

Connect with Kyle on LinkedIn here.

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