Tips to achieve better team communication
So, you want to get your team communicating better? You want to help them bond and bounce ideas off each other? Yet at the same time you’re looking to save time and have a more efficient workplace? Sounds like the ever elusive business dream, doesn’t it? The good news is, it can be done!
Communication — joining separate parts
Teams within a business collaborate together on projects and tasks, with the aim of using different strengths within individual components. This is all well and good, but a team that doesn’t communicate well is like an engine that has been broken down into its separate parts. All are in great working order, well-oiled and cared for, but without the rest of the engine components, the individual parts just won’t work how they were supposed to.
Your team is no different. Each member will be working on their individual projects, which when combined create the completed picture. By implementing an ongoing communication strategy throughout, the whole project will gel together seamlessly at the end.
A well-oiled engine
When communication is increased and developed, it is like pouring more oil onto that proverbial engine — it just glides along, with all the different bits slipping naturally into place. Understanding of the overall project is developed, productivity increases, projects are completed on time, continuity improves and results start to soar through the roof.
So your business turnover will likely see an increase, but there are other benefits as well. Team members build trust in each other, strong bonds and a sense of loyalty to each other. All of this provides a safe, secure and pleasant working environment for your team, helping to increase efficient working practices.
A report by AON demonstrates that when communication improves, so does employee engagement. When employees are engaged, they speak more positively about the organization, they stay longer, thus increasing retention rates, and are more motivated within their job role.
Methods of communication
Communication is more than just talking face-to-face, although this form of communication should never be neglected. However, individual people and projects may dictate different types of communication. Technology plays a big part of our communication toolbox and, when used effectively, can save time and help team members work more efficiently.
Normally a combination of methods works well on most projects, but the key here is how to increase the overall communication across the whole team. By implementing a few simple strategies, you should start to see an increase in team interaction.
To give you a head start, we’ve come up with some tips, but don’t stop here; be creative and think out of the box!
1. Open door policy
When everyone is shut behind closed doors, it creates an atmosphere of secrecy. This applies physically as well as psychologically. As outlined in an article on Forbes, by physically opening your door, or encouraging an open plan environment, you are clearly communicating that everybody is part of the same team. You are effectively removing the barriers.
This also offers the team a message of transparency, an important concept for building trust and clarity. Your team should also know that they can come to you at any time for help and guidance, and that you encourage interaction between colleagues.
The other positive with open door policy is that it encourages communication on a regular basis, rather than as a blast of communication (as often seen in meetings). With an open door policy, the status of the project can be continually discussed, leading to issues resolved immediately. Waiting until a weekly meeting to address problems in one go is like pressing the button too many times in quick succession on your computer — eventually it reaches overload and crashes!
2. Encourage two-way feedback
So you have been handed in the first draft of the completed project and it just isn’t up to scratch. Handing it back with a note to improve it is an example of poor communication at work. At this stage your team member will be scratching their head, thinking “How?” they have already submitted the work they thought was required — what exactly do they need to do to improve it?
Knowing how to give detailed and constructive feedback comes into its own as a method of increasing team communications. Learn how to offer feedback that coaches your team members rather than creating extra boundaries.
Although verbal feedback can be a positive experience for all, encouraging a two-way conversation that enables your team to self-evaluate, it is difficult to retain all the information this way. Make sure you back it up with a written record, whether via your task management system or individually. If you are using task management software, feedback is visible to all which can help increase the overall communication and productivity.
Furthermore, using online feedback as a form of communication to virtual teams has been shown in a study in Small Group Research to increase performance, as well as increasing motivation and satisfaction.
3. Clarity of roles and responsibilities
Unclear instructions and miscommunications are the cause of many problems at the average workplace. If a team member is unsure exactly what is required of them, they are likely to flounder and not complete the task to the correct standards.
By clarifying roles and responsibilities you are jumping the first hurdle to increasing communications. By using techniques such as Responsibility Chartering (RACI) accountability for each task is placed with the most appropriate person, which helps to clarify conception, expectation and behavior of each different role.
4. Build the team spirit
If the team gets on well, they will automatically communicate better. Do you remember when you first joined a firm as a junior, standing awkwardly at the coffee machine, not knowing what to say to all your new colleagues? Even now, there are probably still a few people in the office who you just smile and say hello to in passing, without ever having a real conversation.
Building a team spirit not only gives everyone the opportunity to get to know each other better, but helps to create an environment where everyone feels they have an investment in the outcome. According to team bonding specialists, Teambonding, this in turn improves communication channels.
Now we’ve all heard of team building weekends, where everybody runs round obstacle courses, or builds a chair from a pack of balloons, but building a team spirit can be much simpler than that. Just nurture situations where you can gather the troops in an informal social atmosphere.
Meeting together socially gives the team a chance to relax together without the boundaries of the work environment. You may find it effective to all go out to lunch occasionally, or have “dress down Friday”, or even a weekly fitness class one lunchtime a week can be enough to break the ice. Or even better, an interdepartmental sports challenge can really bring your team together, as the competitive spirit drives them to work together.
5. Use time wisely — Monday morning coffee time
Coffee breaks seem to be randomly distributed within some companies, with different team members breaking at different times. Why not consider going back to the “good ol’ days”, when coffee time was at a set time every day. The whole office downs tools and meets up in the canteen for a cuppa and a chinwag, providing the ideal opportunity for informal meetings and discussions.
Coming together face-to-face in an informal situation provides the ideal environment for team members to relax and go over what they have been working on, and any issues they are facing. Of course, they do need down-time too, when they can forget about work for 10 minutes, but just being together and practicing the art of conversation as a group will often be enough to encourage the team to discuss work as well.
Another option is to offer an extended break period once a week — Monday works well — where the second half of the break is purely for work based discussions. A report on Harvard Business Review details research carried out on improving communications through set coffee breaks, and results demonstrated how social time could account for more than “50% of positive changes in communication patterns”.
When it comes to communication, you should never overlook the virtues of training. Yes, training does take time, effort and money, but according to Warkentin and Beranek, improved interactions were achieved by teams that were given relative training.
This particular research concentrated on the benefits to virtual teams that rely on communications software, where much of the traditional training has focused on use to the software rather than “interpersonal communications dynamics”. Communications training is often overlooked in this area, yet implementing this type of training helps improve the quality of work overall.
Various courses are available to improve communication skills, aimed at improving ability to deliver your message, inform and persuade. All the basics are covered, including verbal, written, face-to-face, building relationships, giving presentations, presenting feedback and much more. Research published in PubMed demonstrates how communication skills courses improved inter-collegial communication, which although not obvious immediately after the course, became more pronounced 6 months after the course was completed.
7. Use appropriate forms of communication
Every project that comes through your office doors needs handling in an individual way, and the most effective communication stream should reflect that. If a particular task requires a hands-on approach, then you may need to instigate more face-to-face meetings to effectively communicate.
Alternatively, your project may involve team members in different locations, and in-house meetings will not be viable. In this case technology comes into its own; video conferencing can be an effective way for the whole team to “meet up”.
Emails have long since been one of the communication approaches of choice, but the problem with email is that your inbox can soon become full. This then creates a backlog of work, reading and sorting into appropriate files. Not only is this an inefficient use of time, but if the task is too daunting, it is easy to put it off.
It is also not the most effective method of saving information, as necessitates searching through individual emails, even if they have previously been categorized into specific file locations.
Task management software, on the other hand, makes communication online a breeze. Every task has its own home, which can be accessed by everyone on the team. Messages regarding individual tasks can be sent and received, and all the relevant information kept in the same place, where it matters. Communication becomes streamlined as the whole team knows exactly the situation on any task, at any given point.
8. Online tools instead of meetings
Did you know that the average team member spends over a quarter of their day in their inbox? According to a report from Mckinsey & Company. On top of that nearly 20% of the day is spent chasing information or seeking someone to help with specific tasks. That is a lot of lost productivity time, which is why more companies are turning to cloud-based task management software.
This type of software allows you to centralize whole projects in one place, allowing every member of the team to access the information quickly and easily. It eliminates the need for backwards and forwards emails, plus decreases the amount of meetings.
As a manager you can quickly see the status of the project through progress reports, keep on top of any issues that arise, and monitor team interaction and communication. Your team can click on the status report, upload pertinent information, communicate directly with colleagues and so much more. The end result is better communication, saved time and increased productivity — a win-win all round!
All in all
Whether you are working with a remote team, or in an office environment, good communication is an important factor to the success of any project. Therefore increasing effective communication should be high on the agenda of any business manager.
All forms of communication should be encouraged but some methods will be more effective for certain projects. However, you can easily increase communication across the workplace by implementing some simple strategies, including set coffee times, open door policy, learning to give effective feedback, clarifying roles and responsibilities, offering effective training, building the team spirit with social and sporting events, and making good use of cloud-based task management software.
As Plato said; “Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something”. Increasing communication is great for business, but as with all things in life, always make it count.