Language learning insights for companies

Five key ingredients for improving communication within teams

A retired manager summarized 35 years with senior management teams, stating, “unfortunately all the teams I was part of throughout my career were pretty dysfunctional. It is sad, because of this, we never got close to achieving our potential.”  He is not alone.

The Gallup World Poll found that only 15% of employees worldwide are engaged in their workplaces (Clifton, 2020). The good news is the engagement of staff can be developed by building healthy team communication and relationships. We present you these 5 tips to help you achieve just that.

Five key ingredients for improving communication within teams:

  1. Set expectations early
    Teams must deal with different national cultures, operate in different time zones, and engage with people who have varying degrees of language acumen. In our experience, it is critical to set team expectations early.
    In practice, this means having a kickoff meeting to establish the common ground rules of working together including; what’s the overall task of the team? Who is doing what and what is my role? What are the ‘open’ as well as the ‘hidden’ expectations? What is within our authority/control and what is not? What is the accepted dress code and attitude to punctuality? What is the common mode of communication (Email/Zoom/teams)?  When and how often do we meet face to face? How do we make decisions and resolve conflict?
  2. Establish psychological safety
    Physical safety is a basic human need. When it is violated or compromised, all other aspects of a relationship are in danger. Beyond this, to have positive relationships, we also need to have psychological safety. Edmondson (2019), explains the need to protect people within the organization from being ridiculed or punished for speaking up. It is a common practice in many teams to discourage people from expressing opinions that are contrarian to the ideas defined by the management team. This dynamic is usually implicit and hidden. To establish a safe team environment, leaders and team members can try and use phrases like these when communicating;
    “I value your views and would like to hear more…”
    “Do you have any worries/concerns?”
    “What will help you proceed with the next step of this project?”
    “I trust you to lead on this piece of work and please let me know how I can support with any difficulties?”

  3. Develop self-awareness of your personal communication style and impact on others
    Effective team communication depends on the ability of each team member, to understand his/her style of communication, identify potential breaks, and find ways to communicate in a way that helps the team achieve mutually agreed goals. The ability to flex your communication style to someone else, to see the world through their eyes, to validate their perspective, can help resolve unnecessary conflicts and opens the door to outstanding results.

    The sense of being misunderstood is a big contributor to feeling lonely, disconnected, and unmotivated. For example, a manager who has a direct communication style and wants to solve problems quickly, it is important to give yourself space and time to step back and think together with the team about a wide range of alternatives for a more creative solution. If you are a manager that has a warm communication style and prefers team harmony, it may be challenging for you to address poor performance or conflict between colleagues. To improve your communication, you will have to learn how to conduct much more assertive/difficult conversations with others and increase your personal skills in addressing conflict.

  4. Listen to the music behind the words
    Every conversation exists within a cultural context which you need to tune into and understand. Under the surface of every interaction, there is an emotional reality that includes; fears, intentions, and feelings such as competition and envy. You can’t easily tap into this information unless you are truly listening and paying attention to the unsaid components of the conversation. Some people refer to this skill as ‘reading the room’ and is an important skill to improve verbal and non-verbal communication within a team.
  1. Introduce regular feedback/learning reviews on the quality of team communication
    Healthy team communication depends on conducting regular learning/feedback reviews on the quality of conversations and team dynamics.  This means paying attention to relationships, to who is loud and who is silent, to unexpressed emotions, to the elephant in the room.

Some questions that you may consider in a learning view include:

  • Is everyone agreed on the goal?
  • Is the group heading in that direction? Aimlessly or over-controlled?
  • What is the tone of the discussion – abstract and intellectual or emotional?
  • Is energy high or low? Rising or falling?
  • What about physical posture – closed or open?
  • Is the discussion one which is building on points made, or does each contribution take it off in a different direction?
  • Is there a lack of, or an excess of, humor?

In summary, effective team communication can increase team morale, productivity, and performance. We have provided five key ingredients that can help teams communicate more effectively, improve relationships, and achieve overall goals. Please remember that this is an on-going process and that the reward is significant, but it requires time and effort by all team members

You can find more information in Connect – Resolve conflict, improve communication and strengthen relationships, published recently by Pearson and FT

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