How Great Teams Communicate: Energetic and Engaged
Have you ever worked in a team where everyone keeps their heads down to their own tasks and did not really communicate? If you haven’t, you are the lucky one. Because such situations are not at all pleasant, at least from my own experience.
At the beginning of my career, I worked briefly in a sales team where everyone had a demandingly high target to meet each month. There was not much guidance from the top. Each tried to meet her target on her own. We spent all our time talking to clients, and hardly with each other. We worked really hard but things just didn’t happen.
In hindsight, I can see what a dysfunctional team we were. We could have made it a million times easier for ourselves if we had communicated better among the team.
All good managers know that communication is vital for their team performance, like oil for an engine. But do you know the key elements of communication, which affect team performance? You have a certain level of control over those elements to make it better for your team! Interested in knowing more? Let’s start at searching for the elements.
Key elements of communication affecting your team performance
Energy and Engagement are the two elements of communication, which are key to team performance.
Energy is the nature of exchanges among team members. It is about frequency, scope and mood. Think about communication in your team and ask yourself questions regarding the three areas.
- How often does your team communicate plans/goals/ideas?
- Is there a daily meeting where everyone tells each other about their work plan for the day?
- Is it 360-degree communication or a linear process from a manager to several associates?
- Which is more common: peer-to-peer idea exchanges or manager’s feedback to employees?
- Do people talk about non-work related matters?
- What is the mood when team members discuss work or do small talk?
- Do people laugh and make jokes?
- Do they sound relaxed?
- Who set the mood of team discussions: the manager or everyone involved?
Basically, you want to see a constant flow of energetic conversations in your team. And remember, it does not have to be about work all the time!
Engagement reflects the level at which each team member is involved in a conversation. Here is some clues showing that one is interested in what is being discussed:
- Actively ask questions
- Be responsive when being asked questions
- Make frequent eye contact
- Body is drawn towards the speaker, not just head but shoulders, knees and toes
- Or, do not show any of the these clues (which secretly tell that they are bored to death)
Considering energy and engagement, the most valuable form of communication is face-to-face. It is followed by video conference, like Skype or Hangout. Email and texting are not so good for engagement, and hardly do anything to boost the level of energy.
Do you notice that one’s enthusiasm is much more infectious when you talk to him or her face-to-face? Same goes with excitement, joy or any other types of positive energy.
Besides, it is much easier to read the body language, which tells you about engagement and mood, in face-to-face communication. With Skype or Hangout calls, physical clues are limited to tones and, if internet connection is good, facial gestures. Therefore, it is much more difficult to detect and influence the level of engagement in a Skype conference call compared with a meeting in person.
If you talk with a colleague on Slack or Hipchat, it is a no-go for reading body language. Think twice if you want to start an important discussion on Slack if you have other choices!
The lessons from great teams
Research teams from Harvard Business Review have found 4 common traits in communication of highly productive teams:
- Everyone in the team talks and listens more or less equally, with high level of positive energy
- Team members connect directly with each other, not just with the team leader
- Team members have side conversations (e.g. outside formal meetings)
- Team members are able to read complex emotional states in communication through eye contact and body language.
How to achieve better communication that increases team performance
Managers play a vital role in improving team communication, which would bring performance to a higher level. There are some goals that you want to achieve. We also share with you here some tips on how to achieve them.
Encourage equal participation from all team members during team discussions
- Hold a short meeting (e.g. a 10AM stand-up) everyday, which brings everyone together. It is a chance for everyone to share their progress and opinions.
- Avoid the habit of cutting off your team members when they are speaking up their mind. Do not ignore people even if you do not see the validity of their ideas. Respect others’ ideas, and respect their will to contribute even more.
- Go out of your way to involve the quiet ones and the introverts
Encourage energetic face-to-face conversations
- Opt for an office layout that makes face-to-face conversations easy and effortless. It is best to go for an open-plan office where people sit opposite each other. At the very least, you should avoid situations where teammates have their backs to each other, or their faces to a concrete wall.
- Opt for Skype and Hangout instead of Slack and Hipchat, if face-to-face discussions are not possible. When you have team members working remotely, make sure you have a decent internet connection for smooth conference calls with quality videos.
Encourage one-to-one conversations between team members, outside formal meetings
- Get a big long lunch table where people can sit next to each other and have side conversations. A couple of sofas and a chill-out area for people to mingle are also good.
- Arrange social events for team members to know each other in a personal level. A relaxing after-work get-together on Friday is a perfect time for team members to unwind and open up. I am often surprised how much more I know about my colleagues over a quick drink in a social event. It changes the dynamics of the relationship. It actually helps enable more relaxing and honest conversations in the office thereafter.
- Arrange cross training within a team or set up cross-functional teams. Bringing together the people who don’t work in the same field encourages a new flow of generating ideas. You can be surprised at what come out afterwards.
Communication is vital for team to function. Be aware of the two key elements in communication: energy and engagement. Teams that perform well are teams who maintain positive energy and a high level of engagement in conversations. If you want to improve team performance, try to make the following happen:
- Equal participation of all team members in team discussions
- More face-to-face and one-to-one exchanges among team members.
What do you think about our tips? Do you have other ideas that you like to leave here in notes?