Crucial Skills®

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5 Ways to Improve Team Communication

Dear Brittney,

How do you effectively communicate to your team they need to open up to each other and share the goings-on in their individual unit within the department?

Stuck in Silos

Dear Stuck in Silos,

Communication isn’t just a skill. It’s an essential element of success in business and life. It’s the lubricant that moves projects forward smoothly and successfully and keeps relationships both natural and fulfilling. Bottom line: teams and organizations lacking consistent and candid communication will struggle—which is the predicament you find yourself in now.

But while you understand the role communication plays in a healthy and successful team, what can you do to convince others? Here are a few ideas to get your team on board. And even if they don’t become converts of team communication at the outset, hopefully these ideas can help you bank some early wins that will lead to more consistent communication in the long run.

Amplify It

It sounds like communication has never been valued or practiced by your team and that has likely led to many dropped balls, mistakes, and at a minimum, avoidable frustrations. Find one or two examples of these failures you can appropriately amplify to demonstrate the consequences people experience as a result of the teams’ misgivings. For example, when I failed to communicate important details of a marketing campaign to our sales team, our client advisors were caught off guard by clients coming to them with promotion details they weren’t privy to. This made my colleagues look bad in front of their clients and had potential to compromise our clients’ trust in our brand. It’s not a good outcome and one that could have easily been avoided had I taken my communication assignment more seriously. Aware of the consequences, you can be sure I won’t drop the ball again.

Amplifying the natural consequences of mistakes caused by a lack of communication is an important tool to influencing your team’s future behavior. People may not be hurting themselves when they fail to communicate, but if they understand they are hurting others, they’re more likely to see the value of and need for consistent communication. And they’ll be more likely to want to change their behavior to avoid future consequences.

Standardize It

One of the first things you learn in a university COMMS 101 course is that effective communication is the result of sending the right message to the right audience through the right medium. If any part of the formula is missing, your communication will fall flat or fail all together. And luckily, in your case, understanding the ideal message and medium is simple—just ask.

Decide as a team what mediums and cadences will work best to create consistent communication. What tools are team members currently using to share information, especially in light of a virtual workplace? Do people prefer email? A messaging tool like Slack or Teams? Or would face-to-face communication work best? Don’t make communication a difficult or burdensome task. Make it a natural extension of how people already do work.

And if your goal is to communicate cross-functionally, do the same with other teams. Ask how you can best communicate with them. I’ve learned our sales team, for example, prefers to hear new information in person followed by an email recap. That way they can ask questions in the moment and also have something documented for future reference. And the reason I know this is because I asked, so start inquiring.

Normalize It

Don’t underestimate the influence of your leaders in setting norms and standards for the team. Enlist team leaders to up their communication game. If they need convincing, refer to the tip on amplification. Ask leaders to be consistent in both their medium (email, in-person updates, Slack communication, etc.) and their cadence (daily, weekly, following key meetings, etc.). People will practice what they see preached.

Formalize It

When communication isn’t happening naturally and automatically, you’ll need to force it. Simply schedule time with your team with the express goal of reporting on important happenings, project updates, etc. Some teams hold a long-format weekly meeting while others find more success with a short daily standing check-in. There is no magic formula for this meeting—create an agenda that will work best for your goals. The magic is in actually prioritizing this communication by putting it on people’s calendars. What you make time for, you do. So, schedule it.

Assign It

Communication can’t happen without a messenger or a medium. So be deliberate in assigning both. As you conclude your meetings, assign someone to cascade the information to others. At VitalSmarts, we use the following phrase: “Who has the C?” The C stands for communication and asking the question of “Who has the C?” causes those in attendance to decide what should be shared with others and who will be responsible for cascading that information to them. When this one question becomes a habit, information will flow easily and strategically.

These are a just a few ideas that can help you create more consistent communication within your team and across departments. It’s a worthy goal—one that can change the trajectory of your team’s success.

I wish you well!

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