All teams face challenges in communication. Information gets lost; personality differences lead to frustrations and people get stuck in their own responsibilities. Without realizing it, even the smallest of teams break down because they fail to communicate effectively.
Communication, in theory, should be easy. The problem is we often get busy with our own workload and forget to share pertinent information with fellow team members. Sometimes things happen so quickly, we don’t even have the time to let people know. Often the problem is due to a lack of systems, but in addition to that we simply don’t get the chance often enough to sit down with our colleagues and really talk.
If you want to improve communication on your team, start with three simple efforts:
1) Team dialogue (not monologue)
Most people feel that meetings are a waste of time. They take them away from important work and hinder productivity. The problem, however, is not the meeting itself, but how it is run. Sitting around, listening to the boss tell a team what they already know is wasteful. Instead, team meetings should be a two-way street, in which staff and leaders have an opportunity to evaluate the big picture of the business. In addition to reviewing pertinent information about things in the pipeline and what various members are working on, the team should discuss big-picture questions such as what is working and what is not, how to be more effective and efficient; how to improve the customer experience; how to be competitive with their competition and how to
further engage employees.
The leader of the meeting should take some time at each meeting to “push” tough issues. If the team members are feeling like they are doing more work than others, the leader should ask how the team could better divide the work. If morale seems low, the leader should ask why and what could happen to improve things. These kinds of conversations involve taking risks and having a good foundation of trust. It takes time to build that level of trust, but the more the leader tries, the easier it gets. A stronger foundation of trust will lead to increased productivity.
2. Simple systems
Some people on teams inform regularly through email; others use texts; while others tend to rely on verbal communication. While teams use all of these methods, the variability among members can lead to confusion. For example, some people respond to all emails, while others assume that a response is not necessary if the information was received. It is critical for teams to decide on the rules of engagement around communication. Some teams decide that all relevant information will be sent by email directly to the people involved and copied to all members, but that no response is necessary unless indicated. Other teams decide that all meetings and deadlines should be managed on a shard calendar. As long as the rules and systems are agreed upon, everyone stays on the same page.
Another way to avoid confusion is to ensure all emails and texts are written clearly. This way, the recipient knows what is expected from them and whether they need to respond or not. If English isn't your native language, using a productivity tool such as Rephraser.ai to edit your English writing will ensure that your written communication is professional and clear.
3. Addressing conflicts
All too often tensions among team members build and remain unaddressed. They are the silent killers of team effectiveness. Unaddressed conflicts don’t simply go away. The tensions build and often come out in passive aggressive ways. That problem alone can break down commitment, productivity and morale. Teams therefore need agreements and parameters around conflict. It is the leaders’ responsibility to call these out and work with people on them. One rule that is extremely effective is called the 24-hour rule. This is an agreement among team members to confront each other privately within 24 hours when something is bothering them. If they adhere to it, it greatly prevents conflicts from building.
There is no way to function well as a team without clear and systematic communication. It does not matter how good people are at their jobs if they aren’t willing or able to communicate systematically and consistently. Putting rules and practices in place to ensure information sharing and establishing agreements to manage conflicts are perhaps the most important thing a team can do.