Leadership playbook: Overcome communication barrier in a diverse team
Before we jump into the challenges of effective communication, let’s understand why communication is important in the first place. I believe, from my past experience of working for 5 years in a corporate setup, that good communication between team members is the first step towards a successful team. A team with good communication is like a well-oiled machine — both run without friction and with high efficiency. For a new team, any roadblocks or challenges are more difficult to overcome as compared to a team that has been together for a long time and the members have successfully established clear communication lines within the team. It was evident at the beginning of the practicum project which I am currently working on as a part of the MSBA program as well. It took us a considerable amount of time to establish good communication within the team. The diverse nature (in terms of culture as well as work experience) of the team, made it more complicated to quickly foster a good communication setup within the team.
“Effective teamwork begins and ends with communication”
— Mike Krzyzewski
Based on the practicum experience, the following were the key challenges faced in setting up clear communication within the team:
- Remote work: The biggest challenge is to set clear lines of communication in this new age of remote working. It is easier when we have a workspace and are sitting around a table as a team to work things out and for the communication to improve. In remote space, where people connect through calls, it’s difficult to understand how many in the group are grasping the things that are being discussed. It is difficult to remain focussed for a longer period of time in a virtual setting.
- Members coming from different cultures: As I mentioned before since the team was diverse, we faced issues with communications primarily as English was not the primary language of many members of the team. This resulted in a lot of miscommunication.
- People with different work experiences: Our team was diverse in terms of work experiences. Some of the members have worked before but in a different domain and were new to the idea of analytics. Their line of thought reflected their previous work experience. Some of them have never had work experience. So it was a mixture of diverse thoughts and to streamline it was difficult. Communication is only effective when the person on the other end of it interprets it the way you expect them to interpret it.
To overcome these challenges we adopted some measures which worked well for our team. I have listed a few of them which worked the best and are scalable to any team.
- Hybrid working: In-person meetings are powerful especially to ideate and plan. Whiteboarding is an efficient way to communicate ideas to the team. So we decided to meet in person for ideation and use online meetings for sharing the progress of the work.
- One-on-one meetings: Different members of the team will have different struggles when it comes to communication and it is the responsibility of the lead to have one on one meetings to understand what the individual needs are. In a larger group, they might not express the concerns that they have.
- Short meetings: Long virtual meetings are not the greatest of ideas as there are a lot of people with less attention span when it comes to online meetings. We have to use the best use of the available time and have a set agenda and use it to discuss any roadblocks or findings. All the analytics work was documented and sent as pre-read so that the discussion happens on the doc and only the conflicted topics make it to the meetings where we resolve them.
- Silent meetings: Due to the hectic nature of the course work it was very difficult to manage workload and teammates wouldn’t be able to go through the pre-reads before the meeting. In those cases, we make use of the silent meetings where the first half of the meeting is reserved for going through the document and expressing their opinion and the discussion follows. The idea of silent meetings was inspired by the blog written by David Gasca.
- Informal catch-ups: Informal meetings are always a good way to help improve the understanding within the team. It helps build effective communication within the team. We started catching up outside work for lunches and coffee which helped us understand each other better and helps a long way in establishing a sense of belonging and strengthening relationships.
One of the most important factors which determine its success is the ability to communicate skillfully. So as a leader, it is important to constantly evaluate the team’s communication skills and constantly work to improve them. A leader should lead by example and instill the following key qualities in him/herself as well as the team.
- Open-mindedness: One should enter a conversation with an open mind without any bias. It gives confidence to the person on the other side to express fully.
- Listening: One of the most important qualities to have. Being a good listener goes a long way in establishing an effective communication
- Clarify: Don’t assume the listener knows anything. Be clear in what you say. Explain even the most obvious detail so that the message is clearly received by the team.
- Respect: For a team to have effective communication it should be respectful and it is up to the leader to show the way.
When we have better communication within the team, it helps increase the efficiency of the team. Individuals in the team will be more comfortable reaching out to each other for help and others would be able to better understand the needs of each other. Strong understanding will result in better relationships and the team will transform from a group of individuals to a single team.