Here’s How To Improve Your Team Communication
You’ve got something to say. But you know it’ll be difficult.
Your co-worker is playing Miley Cyrus. It’s loud. Obnoxious.
Not your preferred choice when trying to focus. And you want to take a wrecking ball right through their cubicle.
Guess what? Don’t do that.
But you shouldn’t hold it in either. Instead, it’s time to speak up (respectfully, that is).
Granted, that situation may sound a little ridiculous. But sub in any minor-yet-annoying things that happen in a workplace and we often don’t know how to cope.
That becomes a legitimate problem when bigger issues arise, such as falling behind on deadlines, dropping the ball on tasks or even asking for a bit more time to finish something.
And the problem becomes even greater when negotiating terms in areas like a promotion, salary or time-off. Magnify that dilemma by a factor of a million for situations that affect personal livelihood and well-being such as discrimination or harassment.
In this post, learn how to have good communication for your entire team by improving your own communication skills. These simple steps could make a huge difference in how your team functions and collaborates.
1. Offer Helpful Criticism
This is one of those goals that everyone is in support of, but also one that doesn’t get much follow-through. Yet it can create effective communication without too much more time or energy.
Instead of just saying “This doesn’t work”, provide some clear-cut instructions about how to make it more effective. If it is for work projects, try making the feedback and suggestions public in your productivity platform or task management tool so everyone can weigh in. That will also force you to take the edge off a harsh thought.
The flipside is that it’s important to receive feedback. Honest criticism is a two way street. You can’t expect others to accept your feedback if you’re not willing to accept it yourself.
2. Have An Open Door Policy
This may seem very counterintuitive in our heads-down/efficient workplace culture. But having an open door policy doesn’t mean that it’s literally open all the time. As a leader and manager, it’s beneficial to let your employees know that you’re always available for their off-the-cuff concerns and problems. That’s part of what every great leader does.
To make this policy a reality, take a cue from Paul Graham’s influential Y Combinator post about the schedule of makers and managers. It’s about the best time to schedule meetings but it’s also about holding “office hours” like a professor in college.
Here’s what Graham says:
“How do we manage to advise so many startups on the maker’s schedule? By using the classic device for simulating the manager’s schedule within the maker’s: office hours. Several times a week I set aside a chunk of time to meet founders we’ve funded. These chunks of time are at the end of my working day, and I wrote a signup program that ensures all the appointments within a given set of office hours are clustered at the end. Because they come at the end of my day these meetings are never an interruption. (Unless their working day ends at the same time as mine, the meeting presumably interrupts theirs, but since they made the appointment it must be worth it to them.) During busy periods, office hours sometimes get long enough that they compress the day, but they never interrupt it.”
Office hours are designated times that you know you could be interrupted by your employees, so schedule your work accordingly to accommodate for that.
3. Set Clear Roles and Responsibilities
Who’s in charge of what?
Who’s doing that?
If your team is constantly asking those questions (or not asking them) then it’s time to redefine roles and responsibilities.
When team members don’t collaborate well or communicate effectively, things can fall through the cracks–especially when they think someone else is doing that particular project or taking on that big task.
To help establish responsibilities, you can set up projects and lists with direct next steps. Everything can scale easily without anyone getting confused.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that others can’t chip in with their own ideas, but it still helps to give clear responsibilities. Team members will then know who to count on and who to go to when mistakes are made or things need to be cleared up.
4. Make Clear Goals
What do you want to accomplish? It may sound like an innocuous question, but when employees are left to their own devices they make goals that don’t exactly jibe with the company’s priorities.
Here at ClickUp, we set weekly scorecards that help us set big goals for the week and then discuss our progress.
Goal-setting is an important attribute that goes beyond just clear, effective communication. However, when team members, collaborators and leaders all work together on team and individual goals, it widens the flow of conversation and makes it easier when important issues need to be discussed.
Bonus: Communication plan templates
5. Create Specific Tasks
“Okay, everyone know what to do?” asks your manager after a 1.5 hour kickoff meeting as everyone bolts for the door.
No one ever says “uh, no?” because then they feel like they did something wrong. Yet in actuality, clear tasks, next steps and instructions may not have been clearly given.
Leaving a meeting or assignment without clear next steps is frustrating, especially for the team member that has to deliver.
Creating effective project plans and then doling out specific tasks with accurate descriptions helps people stay productive, organized and know exactly what to do next. Tasks can even emerge from conversations, or in your project management software, straight from your comments. That way no details get lost and next steps are defined.
6. Create Community & Show Hospitality
Much has been said about corporate culture, and there’s no doubt that it’s important. But culture doesn’t have to come from the top-down. Sometimes it’s the small things that actually create community and better team dynamics, not the SlideShares and elaborate blog posts from on high.
Sure, this could be team building games or it could include more purposeful coffee conversations. There’s no one way to build an effective team, culture or community–it also depends on the personality, interests and resources of your entire team. No matter how you approach it, an improved culture will also improve your communication.
7. Set Up A System for Approvals
Another way to improve team communication is to set up a deliberate method and process to get work, documents and ideas approved. Establishing a common system for statuses and approvals can move work along and reduce bottlenecks as everyone waits for the CEO or unit manager to weigh in. One method for easily doing this is through your project management system, so that leaders can see and review work on their own timeframe and team members will be automatically notified about their decision. Fast approvals in the decision-making process improve the flow of communication, clear up roadblocks and increase responsiveness.
When you use ClickUp, you can assign tasks directly from comments and create custom statuses so everyone knows where the project stands.
8. Get Notified Quickly & Respond
Great communication is not only about approach or attitude, but also speed. Quick responses can stop team members from imagining worst-case scenarios or add doubt to the situation. Of course, remain thoughtful before offering feedback, but even a quick “I’ll take a look!” lets your team know that you’re thinking about it and that their message was received.
9. Prioritize Your Work
The secret to great communication may not be saying anything at all.
Ok, what does that have to do with prioritizing work?
If you have a project management system like ClickUp that helps you set priorities, you may not need to communicate tons or even say anything at all. Once tasks are set up in ClickUp, you can then set priorities as Urgent, High, Normal or Low. If priorities are set, team members will know where in the pecking order that specific task will fall. All without saying a word.
10. Offer Onboarding and Training
Good (or bad!) communication habits can start right at the beginning of when your company starts or a new team member comes on board.
Setting expectations not only the job’s responsibilities but also for how your team communicates can be helpful and set clear boundaries.
Training doesn’t just have to be a one-time thing when an employee starts or about specific processes and responsibilities. There are an endless number of communication courses and books that may benefit your team by reading together, then pulling out the specific nuggets on precisely where your company can improve communication.
11. Think About The Medium and The Message
Ever get a thousand-word email about all of the product enhancements your team needs to work on?
Your eyes glaze over before you get past the first line and then you’ll put that in the “Save For Later” inbox that you never check again.
The product feedback in the email could be right on point, but email may not be the best tool to communicate that.
People do not expect that in an email. Or in a text message.
A conference call? Yes.
A PDF presentation? Yes, possibly.
Or maybe the same message needs to be copied over to a document or memo and attached in your project management software and marked as “Review.”
The point is, people expect certain messages to be communicated in certain ways and when those norms are broken it gets confusing and demoralizing for all involved.
Match the medium with the message and use the appropriate communication tools.
12. Know Your Team’s Learning Style
Some of us are auditory, visual, spatial or logical learners and a few other styles as well.
Sometimes doing the exact things can be a bit boring. It also means that your team members may present information in varying ways and you have to be okay with that.
Not everyone likes spreadsheets, but many people do.
Not everyone is a whiz in Powerpoint, but the slides provide structure to the message.
Others are more comfortable drawing or sketching their ideas or process verbally.
Staying open to how others communicate can offer new perspectives, break up the monotony and solve a problem in a new way. Understanding communication patterns are part of being an effective team.
If you’re a leader, it may also challenge you to try a different way of communicating.
You could invite one of your colleagues to collaborate with you on a new announcement or message in a different way.
A fresh perspective livens things up for everyone.
13. Own Up To Mistakes & Failed Ideas
It seems to be human nature that we are afraid of mistakes and hate failure. It’s a fact of life and we’re all grasping to understand how to deal with overcoming failure.
Even admitting, “Hey, this didn’t quite work the way I wanted it to,” opens up real-time communication. It also shows vulnerability which then models for others that it’s okay to share and admit failure. That simple gesture could lead to more ideas for how to tackle a problem better the next time.
We are often too frightened by the prospect of crucial conversations and communication which could propel our organizations forward.
Instead of doing anything to rectify the problems, we instead allow them to fester. This scenario produces a domino effect that is unhealthy for everyone involved – yourself, your coworkers experiencing similar issues, and the entire organization.
People who are not “fairly confident” in their ability to talk about important issues suffer in other areas of their work.
Even if you don’t think there’s a problem at your organization, you may not know it because people are afraid to speak up. To create a more open environment, check out these top tips for improving your team communication especially as your team grows.
Whether or not we consciously think about it, communication constantly happens in some form or another. Some items can be handled by the written word, or the spoken word – or no words at all!
But many times we communicate in ways that easiest for us, not the people we’re trying to communicate with, which doesn’t help anyone. And that quickly leads to a communication breakdown.