How to improve team communication
What you'll learn:
Why team communication is important, how to set clear expectations, and how to use self-awareness to improve communication and relationships with others.
Creating standard communication guidelines
Now that we have some basic expectations set, it’s time to focus on how we actually communicate with each other.
Not everyone communicates the same way. As a result, it’s important to set ground rules on the words and methods we use to communicate.
The norms we describe below should not be set by one person. Instead, creating communication guidelines should be a team effort. When the whole team collaborates on the guidelines, it’s more likely that they’ll understand the importance of the guidelines. Plus, the guidelines will better suit the team’s needs if everyone has input.
Once you have the guidelines set, don’t just say what they are and forget about them. Write them down and keep them in a place the team can easily access them. This way you can edit the norms when needed. Also, when a new member joins, they’ll quickly fit in and understand how the team operates.
Build awareness of language and cultural barriers
One of the more obvious but overlooked concerns is the language and culture of the members among your team.
Sometimes what we feel is a common saying isn’t understood by people with a different upbringing. For example, the phrase “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” might mean something to you, but it could be gibberish to someone else.
Likewise, your language might not be someone else’s first language. Certain terms can be confusing or easily misunderstood. Your team should consider avoiding tougher sayings or come up with formal ways to confirm that the message was understood by each party.
Of course, you shouldn’t single people out! Instead, it helps to ask something like, “Is everyone clear on what they’ll do next?” It also helps to create a norm where it’s okay not to understand something. When people aren’t penalized for needing extra clarity, they’re more likely to ask important questions.
Balance remote vs. in-person needs
Hybrid workplaces can be tough to manage. Issues range from overlooking remote employees to struggling to communicate without face-to-face interaction.
We recommend hybrid workplaces have a remote-first mentality. When you implement tools and processes, you should first consider how the remote individuals will be impacted. For example, your team should call on everyone for ideas in meetings—whether they’re physically in the room or not. This prevents in-person employees from dominating discussions.
In-person employees often like to work alongside one another, but that’s not easy for remote employees. Setting planned side-by-side working meetings with rotating members can build collaboration and make sure that virtual and in-person members are working together. It sets a fair standard that ensures all team members have a chance to work with one another.
For more help on managing a hybrid work environment, check out our video talking with a few managers and what they have done for their teams:
Create a common communication method
Depending on your organization, you might communicate through:
- Talking face-to-face.
- An instant messaging service like Slack.
- Carrier pigeon. (Just kidding!)
Regardless, you probably use multiple communication methods. It’s important that your team knows which ones should be used when.
There isn’t a right or wrong answer. Instead, it depends on what your team agrees is most effective.
For example, some team members might want emails to document paper trails. Others might think emails are a waste of time. If they disagree without communicating, people may feel suffocated by emails—or miss important information.
Instead, it helps to create a formal process. If the majority of the team wants to use email for project tracking, you can establish it as an expected process. Clear expectations keep everyone on the same page and avoid hurt feelings.
Use standups, but don’t over communicate
Companies often use frequent standups to improve communication. A standup is generally known as meeting that is no longer than 15 minutes and allows your team to answer a few simple questions:
- What did you do yesterday?
- What are you planning on doing today?
- Is there anything blocking you from getting your work done?
The idea is that if your team communicates more often, there’ll be fewer miscommunications. However, scientific studies have shown that more communication can actually result in more conflict. Instead, the quality of the communication is most important.
If your game plan for improving communication only includes adding a daily standup, you might want to reconsider. Daily standups can be effective, but only if the meeting has a strong intention and each team member walks away with value.
If you implement standups, survey the team and see if these meetings are helping or wasting time. If the standups are wasting time, either make the information in the meeting more relevant or make the meetings less frequent.
You can even make these meetings virtual using automated apps like Geekbot to eliminate the chance of meetings going overtime or unnecessary questions being added.