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Team communication

With so much work done by teams in an organization, it’s vital that teams strive for good communication. Here’s how group communication differs from individual communication, and how teams can develop this skill.

What is good team communication?

Effective team communication is clear, compelling, purposeful, and ultimately brings desired results. Communication can be informative, collaborative, and bonding, or confusing, argumentative, and destructive. It can easily become emotional. Teams use positive communication techniques and skills to bring themselves into alignment, to reward, to show commitment, to give feedback, and to engage in conflict. It plays a critical role on every team, allowing it to function with agility and focus.

Group communication differs from individual communication in several ways. The natural give-and-take of conversation is absent or more difficult in a group setting. There are typically fewer physical cues that can be followed for additional communication. Groups tend to have fewer opportunities to build the trust among members that leads to assuming positive intent in everyone’s messages. It’s easier for a group to drown out or ignore a single person’s voice.

Team communication differs from general group communication in that it’s more purposeful and uses a mix of tools. The team has formed for a reason and that reason is present in most of its communication. Group communication can be more free-flowing and easily manipulated by anyone who talks louder and more forcefully. It’s easier to remove yourself from the group or ignore a few members than it is with a functioning team.

Team communication is challenged by knowing which tool or tools to use, how to provide the right people with the right information at the right time, and when to keep a record of conversations online or off. Productive teams will take the time to consider all their options and what will work best for them.

Poor team communication can be a scapegoat for poor performance. “That’s not what you asked for,” “I thought you meant something else,” and “the policy wasn’t clear” are all examples of blaming communication. “Instead of assuming that the cause of the problem is a lack of communication, analyze the situation to figure out why people would feel that they could not act effectively” suggests Art Markman in “Poor Communication” Is Often a Symptom of a Different Problem. The real problem might be a team-wide absence of accountability, confusing processes, or a reward system not aligned to real measurable goals.

How can we improve team communication?

Communication is a set of skills that need to be practiced. A new team member or a new project can bring a new set of communication challenges.

The first thing teams can do to improve their communication is to build trust among all members. So much of communication is about what’s inferred by the recipient. If recipients trust the messenger, they are more likely to assume positive intent and to ask for clarification instead of taking offense or simply ignoring the message.

It’s important for teams to look for and remove barriers to communication. Barriers might be around accessibility or language. They could also be around timing or tools used. Teams that trust each other are more likely to point out any barriers they experience and ask for modifications to policies or routines.

“When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective.” Stephen R. Covey

Etiquette has become more confusing as technology becomes part of communication. It’s important for teams to agree upon what’s acceptable and what’s not. Is it OK to swear? Is it OK to send an email after working hours? What types of information needs to be shared with everyone? What’s the expectation for turning your camera on? What goes into a ticketing system? How will conflict be handled between or among team members? What’s considered formal communication by the group and what is informal, with relaxed expectations?

Many of the skills that promote good communication between individuals or groups will also improve team communication. Good listening skills, good writing skills (in various mediums), and attention to your core message will always make you a better team communicator. Using these skills in concert with a knowledge of your audiences, their interests, priorities, and personalities will make it easier for the recipient of your communication to accept it, reflect upon it, and respond appropriately.

Our own team has used our knowledge of DiSC® to improve our communication. We know who’s more impatient, who needs to chat, and who wants all the details, for example. We’ve also been through The Five Behaviors® Team Development program where we discussed how we interact with each other to build trust and engage in productive conflict. We talked about routine communication, what’s acceptable when engaging in conflict, how to ask for help, and how we like to be recognized for our achievements. Our individual preferences and expectations were surfaced so we could agree on preferred ways of behaving, speaking, and writing when on our team. Better team communication is a goal we continue to strive toward, even as we make improvements.

“Email, instant messaging, and cell phones give us fabulous communication ability, but because we live and work in our own little worlds, communication is totally disorganized.” Marilyn vos Savant, magazine columnist

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” Anthony Robbins, author and speaker

Tools to improve team communication

The Five Behaviors®

Team Development

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