Effective Communication is the Key for Team Collaboration
Everyone has a different preferred communication style. Some are direct and get right to the point, others sprinkle their conversations with personal anecdotes, and still others avoid direct discourse wherever possible. In our personal lives we get to surround ourselves with people who compliment and appreciate the ways we communicate. But in the workplace, we don’t always get to choose the team we work with.
Even though you may have little choice in the people you collaborate with daily, it doesn’t mean effective communication is any less important — or achievable. Team communication strategies are essential to effectively achieve shared goals, keep morale high and ensure personal growth for everyone involved.
With that said, developing team communication strategies that work is often easier said than done. Managing the myriad expectations of a diverse group of people is often a juggling act that many find difficult. However, the importance of streamlined collaboration makes it a task worth undertaking, and luckily there are some general rules to follow that make it a whole lot easier.
Here’s a good place to start if you’re looking to lay the foundation for great team communication:
Embrace Your Differences in Communication Styles
It is well established that a diverse team has the capacity to be much more effective than a homogenous one because it allows for a broader array of perspectives, skills and life experience to draw from. However, a diverse team means that each member will be coming with their own expectations for effective communication, which means your team will need to streamline its own processes while preserving the value that diversity provides.
The first step is understanding how each member of your team prefers to communicate, which can make getting through a lot easier. And ideally, if everyone on the team adapts their communication style just a little when it really matters, it can have a profound impact on the entire team.
While it can be frustrating that other people don’t communicate in the way that you prefer and that makes the most sense to you, it’s actually much better to have a diverse range of communication styles on a team.
Imagine these scenarios for a moment…
• A team of highly detail-oriented people who are excellent at analyzing data, but who tend to get caught up in the details so much they struggle to make every decision.
• A team of highly motivated, fun people who are great at coming up with new ideas, but who struggle to follow-through and finish what was started.
• A team where everyone likes to get to the point, keep meetings brief, and make decisions efficiently, but who tend to work in silos and aren’t great at involving others in the decision-making process.
• A team who gets along really well and makes sure everyone is included in decision-making, but who don’t voice disagreements for the sake of keeping the peace.
Since none of us are perfect, we all have areas of development when it comes to communicating. And wishing that everyone communicated exactly like we do, is probably not going to yield the results we want. Instead, try to embrace the communication differences on your team by learning how to use the strengths of others and support each other where its needed.
Master the Communication Mediums That Work Best for Your Team
Today, most workplaces offer a veritable cornucopia of communication media for your team to take advantage of. The classics (like email, meetings, and conference calls) all remain an option, but are being augmented with instant messaging, collaboration software like MS Teams, and video conferencing. Each medium has its strengths and weaknesses and it’s up to you and your team to develop a strategy to best use them.
Real-time meetings (whether virtual or in-person) are arguably the most impactful in terms of goal setting and developing an effective cadence, because they incorporate tone, body language and verbal communication in one setting. They also provide an easily manageable setting where a leader can ensure everyone has their opportunity to contribute to the dialogue. That said, real-time meetings can be difficult to organize based on everyone’s availability.
Emails are much more convenient for disseminating information and instructions but lack the clarity in-person communication provides. Lengthy threads involving multiple people reading and contributing at different times can also cloud the original message and inhibit collaboration. Emails aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but it’s important to acknowledge their limitations when it comes to team communication. And be aware that working remotely makes it even more enticing to rely on email to a much greater extent.
The telephone may be dreaded by many, but the benefits can often far outweigh those of email. If you know the other person hates voicemail more than the amplified sound of crunching chips during a Zoom call, then this strategy is not going to work. But if the person actually checks their voicemail, and you don’t need an immediate response, try leaving a message after hours in lieu of a lengthy email. Many people would prefer a phone message to a long-winded email, especially if they don’t have to call you back.
Every team is going to have different requirements, but blending together a bunch of modern communication media is a good start.
It’s not enough to have the tools, though. It’s also imperative that your team learns to use them well. With proper training, they can maximize their time and communicate more efficiently.
Did you know that most people only use a fraction of Microsoft Outlook’s features? While a lot of them be overkill for your team, how will they determine what is useful if they don’t even know those features exist?
Many people would say virtual meetings are a snooze-fest. That’s because most people aren’t aware that you should try to engage your virtual attendees every 3-5 minutes. Surprisingly, it’s not actually that hard to do. If you know your tools well, it becomes much easier to keep your team engaged and motivated.
You might even try inviting a goat to your next virtual meeting… just don’t plan on getting much done while the goat is in the room!
Establish a Policy of Open Communication
Team communication requires a free exchange of knowledge and input to work, and that means promoting an environment where everyone feels they can share and ask questions as they arise, rather than keeping quiet or saving them for a dedicated meeting.
One problem that affects team collaboration is artificial hierarchies that can arise when some members of the team know more information than others. This is probably not even intentional, but if only some of your team members have access to your calendar, or even the courage to simply ask questions, there could easily be an information or knowledge discrepancy.
Having some team members in the know and some in the dark does nothing for helping you achieve your goals. Luckily, this can be solved with an open and transparent communication strategy. Creating an “open door” policy and ensuring your team knows they can approach you with questions at any time is a great place to start. But this shouldn’t only extend to management — it’s important to foster a free flow of information even within your team.
Establish breakout discussions where team members can share what they’re working on and what their goals and obstacles are for their project. This will allow for open communication, help build a collaborative environment, and use the varied knowledge and skills of your team to solve problems and achieve goals together.
If there’s a cornerstone to teamwork, it’s most certainly communication. But when everyone comes to a workplace bringing their own strengths and styles, it can be an interesting challenge establishing a strategy that maximizes communication effectiveness to increase productivity, harmony among the team, and avoiding – or at least reducing – conflict.
By leveraging the myriad media available to you and choosing the ones that work best for your team, keeping communication open and leveraging the strengths of your diverse team to overcome obstacles, you can start to build a strong collaborative environment.
Want to learn more about improving team communication? Have a look at these PMC Training communication courses: