Strong team communication forms the backbone of success. That makes enhancing communication a key component of people management.
Team communication involves the exchange of thoughts, ideas, and emotions between coworkers. Why is team communication so important? It encompasses every aspect of teamwork:
- Setting priorities
- Collaborating on projects and tasks
- Solving problems
- Creating plans
- Ensuring clarity
In short, communication skills are vital to every employee’s role. Collaboration has risen by at least 50% over the past ten years. In fact, 85% of most employees’ time involves some type of collaboration.
Effective Team Communication in Practice
On a team that communicates well, healthy debate and discussion frequently occur. Everyone feels empowered to express their ideas. This involves more than just having eloquent team members. A team of great communicators also displays these qualities:
- Perceptiveness: People stay attuned to what coworkers are expressing and who is trying to speak up.
- Empathy: They want others to feel heard and respected.
- Assertiveness: People feel emboldened to jump into the conversation.
- Curiosity: They genuinely want to hear what others think and know.
- Self-awareness: They understand how they come across to others. Good communication begins with this quality.
To communicate well, teams need a solid foundation of trust and camaraderie. Authentically getting to know each other plays a major role in building trust. With trust, they’ll feel comfortable voicing problems before they grow.
High-performing teams also have a cultural norm of sharing appreciation. This comes from both managers and colleagues. Plus, they are more authentic in their communication, HBR writes. They voice both their frustrations and positive emotions. This speaks to team members’ high level of comfort and psychological safety.
As a result, these teams collaborate effectively, allowing them to do their best work. They also handle conflict promptly and professionally. People clearly define priorities, ask clarifying questions, and express needs. We’ll outline some strategies that will help teams excel in these ways.
First, though, let’s take a quick look at common communication problems.
Common Team Communication Mistakes
These are far from the only mistakes teams make in communication. However, we find them to be critical issues across many organizations.
- Not drawing out all voices in meetings and brainstorming sessions.
- Avoiding discussion about a contentious matter.
- Using the wrong mode of communication for a topic.
- Creating information overload.
- Not staying focused; tackling too many points at once.
And at the individual level, problems like these persist:
- Talking over people in meetings.
- Not participating in group discussion.
- Making assumptions about what the other person is saying.
- Assuming listeners understand the message.
- Reacting emotionally.
- Zoning out while others are talking.
Some of these issues reflect a need for a mindset shift. For those avoiding contentious issues, this means realizing that conflict isn’t bad. For those who tune others out, it means becoming curious about their ideas.
Moreover, organization-level communication issues can cause serious problems. Collaboration overload can pose a threat to productivity, says HBR. Shorter, fragmented forms of communication place significant demands on employees’ time. Worse, they’re a nearly invisible cause of overwhelm.
They don’t typically show up on to-do lists, but they’re built into the fabric of an employee’s day. Switching from tasks to communication is mentally demanding. Plus, the sheer volume of communications can become taxing.
Best Team Communication Strategies
First, we’ll share tips that pertain to any team—virtual, hybrid, or in-person. Then, we’ll share some tips specific to virtual and hybrid teams.
Tips for Any Team
Using these strategies will help you maintain clear and streamlined communication. Plus, they’ll draw out your team’s potential for innovation.
Communicate in bursts
“Bursts of rapid-fire communications, with longer periods of silence in between, are hallmarks of successful teams,” say the HBR authors. This strategy differs from asynchronous communication (text-based dialogue that doesn’t stick to a specific time frame).
Now, asynchronous communication does have its place. You can check in to clarify minor issues that way. But to hash out an idea, rapid bursts of dialogue work best. Allocate specific time blocks to individual task work. Then block out shorter times for “bursty” communication, say the researchers. That will ensure everyone can participate.
Focus on one topic
Pick one topic per discussion thread, as the researchers also suggest. Otherwise, people will get lost in the clutter. (Don’t send emails covering a handful of topics. Instead, share messages on your team portal that each address a specific topic.)
After each project, debrief. Have everyone share what they’ve learned and what went well. Prompt them to say what they’d do differently next time. They’ll learn how to strengthen communication and collaboration in this way. Give them each space to share their most difficult or rewarding moment, too.
This will help everyone understand each other’s roles, strengths, and challenges.
Stick to the facts
This is important when discussing a tricky subject. Be as objective as possible by looking at the available evidence. Focus on how outcomes may affect the company, which will depersonalize the issue. Consider having team members attend workshops on mediation skills, too. This will instill invaluable conflict resolution skills.
Emotionally Intelligent Communication
Provide training in how to use emotional intelligence in communications. (We share exercises that will help below.) And model how to affirm others’ feelings, convey understanding, and ask insightful questions.
Tips for Virtual (or Hybrid) Communication
These tips will help any geographically distanced team function at its best.
1. Avoid creating a two-tier team, as MIT Sloan discusses. On a hybrid team, follow a virtual-first approach in meetings. How?
- Give virtual attendees a prominent spot in mixed-mode meetings. Place a large screen at the head of the table so everyone can see each other.
- Pair people up in twos and threes for a mixed-mode catch up during meetings.
- If people are in different time zones, don’t always inconvenience one group. Cater to remote employees’ needs at least 50% of the time.
2. Build in time for socializing. With virtual work, it’s easy for people to stay in their silos. But setting up a weekly or biweekly time for socializing can make a big difference. You might even meet up once every month or two, if feasible.
3. Create protocol for how to use any platforms your team uses. Thoughtful guidelines will help avoid overload. How often do people need to check messages? Do particular tools work best for certain topics?
4. For sensitive or complex issues, talk by phone or video chat. People often perceive written communications in an overly negative light. And in many cases, people speak more tactfully than they write. Plus, in speech, we more effectively emphasize key points.
Finally, as the team’s leader, go the extra mile to connect. Chat with each employee several times a week for ten minutes. Strive to understand their concerns and challenges. And play the role of connector. Make sure they understand who to approach for particular insights.
Now let’s look at some exercises that will foster good communication. They’ll help people build the skills to put those strategies into practice.
Exercises to Strengthen Team Communication
These exercises will help your team build a foundation of trust and friendship. They’re a fun and engaging way to practice skills and strengthen relationships.
Role-play how to handle (or mediate) a conflict:
Pair people up and give them a list of hypothetical scenarios. Each partner can act out one of the two roles for a scenario. Ask them to practice using “I” statements to express how they feel.
In pairs, have each person describe a challenge they’re experiencing. Ask the other person to paraphrase what they have said.
Participants take turns counting, each saying one number at a time. The catch? They must speak up in no particular order. Plus, they can’t talk over each other. (They’ll start over at 1 if they do.) This will challenge them to watch each other’s body language and expressions.
Start a virtual meeting with a fun opener, as John Chen says in Engaging Virtual Meetings.
Define ground rules as a team:
Set rules for each communication mode, as Dana Brownlee writes on Forbes. (For instance, video, phone, email, in person.) They’ll feel more invested in the rules they create. Examples:
- If you’ve emailed back and forth three times about something, have a phone call.
- Don’t schedule any meetings before 9 a.m.
- Don’t multitask during meetings.
This exercise reinforces the importance of careful listening. Tell the team you’ll ask them questions about a story you share. Then tell the story. Work in details about the setting, events, and how you felt. Have a list of questions prepared, and quiz the group on key details. Have them call out answers popcorn-style.
Tools for Improving Team Communication
In 2021, almost 80% of employees used collaboration tools. That’s a 44% rise since 2019, says Gartner. The following tools will each help communication to flow more smoothly. Use tools that pertain to each communication mode you use.
1. 360-degree feedback software. Team members will learn how to strengthen their individual communication through 360 feedback. They’ll gain valuable input from peers on how they interact and collaborate.
2. Instant feedback tools. These tools let peers and managers easily share input in the moment. Giving feedback becomes more casual, meaning less daunting or time-consuming. Real-time feedback can boost morale or flag an issue early on.
3. Schedule-tracking tools can help people find time slots to brainstorm, says HBR. They may need to chat with particular colleagues on a certain topic. Calendar software can pinpoint times when everyone’s availability syncs up. Some tracking software can even help managers spot the best times for group collaboration.
Looking at activity patterns, it shows when people do their best individual and group work.
4. Newer video conferencing software like Minglr lets people meet for quick chats, HBR notes. Instead of checking email for a link, they can just drop in.
5. A central team portal for project-based communication streamlines discussion. It will organize communication within different subtopics. Ideally, it will also allow for easy document sharing. These cloud-based tools can improve project management. In many workplaces, they’re replacing email as the go-to mode of communication.
A company is only as strong as its people’s communication skills. With these strategies, tools, and exercises, you’ll equip your team for success. They’ll know that great communication involves not just being heard but hearing others. As a result, you’ll increase what you’re capable of achieving together.
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