Can This Group Be Saved? Strategies to Improve Team Communication
In his book, Business @ The Speed of Thought, Bill Gates said that communication among the people and teams in a business are similar to the nervous system. It is that central system that allows us to react to stimuli and take appropriate action. With that system, we could not see, hear, feel, or coordinate our movements. Similarly, communication is what allows teams to coordinate and accomplish more than they ever could in their own, insular groups.
Communicating is about more than just getting along. It is the glue that holds a company together, and without communication, everything falls apart. Here are some strategies to help improve team – and company-wide – communication in your organization.
What Does Good Communication Look Like In Action?
Communication between management and employees is a critical success factor for companies of all sizes. Effective communication makes companies nearly five times more likely to have engaged employees and reduces turnover by nearly 20 percent. Companies that have achieved effective communication share these traits:
- They encourage dialogue – Communication is a two-way street. Sharing, offering input, providing feedback and responding in kind creates meaningful conversation.
- Their managers lead by example – Employees mimic what they see in their leaders. Managers that make an effort to encourage dialogue lead teams that do the same. No one will communicate if they don’t feel empowered to do so. Employees have to know when it’s ok to talk to someone in a different department. And if someone is off limits due to deadlines, they need to know that too.
- They value transparency – Employees who are consistently reminded of company objectives and goals, and who see where they fit into that big picture, are far more likely to be open with their own communication.
- They know when to skip meetings – If you’ve invested in high-tech collaboration and communication tools, use them. Excessive meetings waste time and hamper excitement.
- They are tuned into their employees – There is often a disconnect between what management thinks their employees feel, and what the group is actually experiencing. When communication flows freely, leaders are tuned into what their people are truly feeling.
- They listen – Listening is the most important part of communicating. Companies with strong internal communication value input from everyone, whether they are executive board members or hourly employees.
Using Facilitators To Avoid Unproductive Meetings
We’ve all been in meetings that go nowhere – slowly. A meeting facilitator keeps everyone on track, ensures that the group meets its objective for gathering and prevents needless side chatter.
Facilitators must be objective and neutral. They should not have a dog in the hunt, especially if your team is debating solutions to a hot topic. They are there to foster an environment of collaboration. They should make sure that the agenda makes sense, that everyone has all of the relevant material they will need for the conversation, and they should have a clear understanding of the objective of the meeting.
In order to ensure the best outcome, a good facilitator will clearly set the ground rules for the meeting – such as who can have the floor and when, when open discussion will be held, how much time has been allotted for each agenda item, etc. They will be able to execute those ground rules without making anyone in the group feel stymied, actively engaging the group to think on a deeper level.
Given the critical role of a facilitator, it’s important to remember that not everyone is cut out for the role. In fact, if you aren’t skilled at keeping things on track, you should not facilitate your own meetings. You can set the objective and agenda, but let go of the reins and give them to someone who can keep things on track.
Start Improving Team Communication
So, just what strategies can you adopt to improve team communication? Try some of these on for size:
- Videoconferencing – In companies where your teams are geographically dispersed, invest in reliable teleconferencing software, rather than defaulting to standard conference calls. People will feel more connected when they can see and hear each other.
- Group outings – Whether your team resides in a central location or they are scattered throughout the country, schedule group outings. They might be annual meetings, team building events, or seeing a speaker together.
- Team lunches – No work talk allowed. Get the group off campus and bonding over a hearty lunch – paid for by the company.
- Internal newsletters – Schedule them regularly and stick to that schedule. Include important company updates, as well as features about employees who are making a difference.
- Huddle – Short, morning huddles can be extremely productive and encourage members of a group to share, collaborate and cooperate every day.
Improving team communication takes time and effort, and a strategy that works for one group, might not be ideal for your own. Teams at an accounting firm probably communicate differently than a group of developers at a tech start-up. Implement the strategies that will work best within your company environment and culture, and see what your team responds to before executing a new plan. Remember to ask your employees what they’d like to see. After all, communication is a two-way street.