Building Effective Teams Part 2 – Developing Team Communication
In Part 1 of this series we introduced a three-layered form to enhance team dynamics. The bottom inner focuses on improving relationships within the team, the next inner improves communication and only when these two have been addressed are we ready to move on to the top-level; getting the team to deliver in an efficient and cohesive way. In Part 1 we looked at the relationship level – in this article we’ll look at the communication level.
Challenge 1 – Getting People to Talk to Each Other
One of the dominant roles of a manager is to ease the communication course of action between the team members. Here are some ideas to get people talking
- Work with the team to come up with a set of communication standards. These could cover processes for resolving disagreements, inducting new members into the team or capturing knowledge. Get the team to start talking to each other by running a workshop to draw up the standards
- Avoid the Chinese Whispers effect. Don’t be a link in a communication chain. If someone tells you some information for someone else, encourage them to talk the recipient direct or chair a meeting between the two parties.
- Schedule regularly pulse calls where the team quickly feedback their stat
- As much as possible ease decision-making by involving the teams.
Challenge 2 – Communicating at a Distance
I run an exercise in one of my management training sessions where we ask two groups to come up with a simple set of slides explaining how to make a cup of tea. One group sits together and the other is divided up into two rooms. The latter are only allowed to communicate via post-it messages. It’s amazing how much more difficult the challenge becomes when the team is separated. Many of us underestimate this hidden cost of team separation. Here are some ideas for working with distributed teams
- Shell make it a policy that distributed teams should always met together as a group at the minimum once. They’ve found this helps considerably in communication. They believe that the travel costs are more than outweighed by the assistance of better communication.
- Technology can help. It’s amazing how often we use telephone conference calls or emails. Most communication is done visually by gestures and facial expressions. Try and regularly use video conferencing. Applications like Skype are free to use and produce fairly good quality web conferencing.
- For Powerpoint presentations use Webex to proportion the slides and the speaker’s voice across multiple locations.
- Using Social Media. Wiki’s, Facebook, Blogs and Twitter can all be useful communication tools.
- Set-up an intranet site with everyone’s photographs. Being able to visualize what someone on the end of an email or telephone looks like is often helpful. One company I talked to insist that all email signatures contained a thumbnail photograph.
Challenge 3 – Elastic Teams
Personnel change rapidly these days. New people are expected to get up-to-speed quickly and people leaving take important knowledge with them. Some ideas to meet this challenge are:
- Create an efficient induction course of action that quickly imparts knowledge. Make it easily repeatedly – maybe in video format
- Have exit interviews to capture knowledge and also to discover why people are leaving.
- Keep in touch with people once they leave by social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn
Challenge 4 – Working with different cultures
The last time I ran a management course where we discussed how to work with different cultures, rather helpfully we had attendees from Saudi Arabia, USA, UK, Italy and Ghana! It was a good illustration of how international our business world has become. This can present all sorts of cultural challenges.:
- Create a culture of respect and tolerance for one another’s way of life.
- Get different nationalities to present to the rest of the team how their culture’s differ and how work-life operates in their country.
- Provide necessary facilitates and sets to sustain the teams cultures, e.g. areas for prayer for Muslim workers or Kosher food for Jewish workers
- Bear in mind religious and cultural differences when organising team meetings and social events. For example don’t organise pub trips if it excludes Muslim team members.
Challenge 5 – Silo’d Organisation
Creating departments which focus on a particularly function is of course a useful and common way to organise people within a company. The downside is that it creates multiple silo’s for people to work within which act as artificial barriers to communication. Here are some ideas to conquer this:
- Network across departments as much as possible to get contacts in different areas of the business
- Be clear when working across department who is reporting to who.
- Run social mixers across a number of departments
A manager can’t rely on a group of people communicating; it needs to be something that they are regularly thinking about how to enhance.