In a world that’s more connected than ever before, you’d think we’d be pretty good at communication by now.
Sadly, that’s not the case. Poor communication is the biggest reason why UK employees want to leave their jobs, with many people feeling they aren’t given clear objectives or having their voices heard.
Poor communication can drive an otherwise great team into the ground — so how can you overcome it? We’ve put together 7 key ways that you can unpick the communication problems within your team so you can feel happier and more productive.
1. Work on your own communication
Before you start casting wild aspersions on your team members for their failure to communicate, remember this: they could be following your lead.
Turn the lens inwards. How do you naturally communicate? Do you tend to dominate conversations or do you let them run on too long? Do you avoid confrontation or tackle everything head-on?
Being able to pick out these little flaws means you can set the right example for your team to follow. Here are a few things you should work on.
- Be a good listener — Giving staff your undivided attention when they speak makes them feel heard. When people feel heard, they’ll be happier to listen to the ideas of others.
- Ask questions — Questions are sometimes better than instructions because they produce more innovative solutions. Plus, your team feel a deeper sense of ownership about their projects than they would if you dictated the answer to them.
- Don’t over-communicate — Teams that are overwhelmed with information often miss the key details that can make or break a project. Be very selective in what you share with whom so that what you do communicate is heard.
2. Ditch the emails
The worst thing about email inboxes is they become a dumping ground for all sorts of useless stuff, whether that’s the latest pizza deal or another article from the blogger you meant to unsubscribe from months ago.
Now, your team are so used to skimming through our inboxes that they can often skim-read important emails and miss vital information.
Here’s what you can do to help that.
- Speak in person first — Before hitting “Send”, make the conscious effort to speak to the recipient face-to-face first. That way, you’ll get immediate feedback as to what information is sinking in and what isn’t. The email should simply be supporting information for them to refer to after that.
- Find an alternative for internal comms — Team communications tools are much more effective than emails and keep your inbox reserved for any conversations with external parties. Tools like Slack have proved wildly effective at transforming the way that teams communicate with one another.
- Use an online project management tool — Anyone that’s ever tried to manage a team project via email will understand how ill-equipped it is to do so. Instead, try an online project management tool like Trello or Teamwork.
3. Manage your meetings
A clear clue that your team needs help with their communication is how meetings tend to go. If you tend to come out of them feeling frustrated and unclear what the next step is, then there’s certainly some work to do.
Thankfully, there are a few quick ways you can improve communication in meetings that will have a positive knock-on effect for everything your team does afterwards.
- Set a clear agenda and objectives — Sending out an agenda before the meeting allows people to prepare properly, and sticking to your objectives means you don’t go off track and come out of the meeting without clear actions.
- Set a timer — When meetings are shorter, there’s less room for irrelevant conversation to arise. Setting a timer means that people are more efficient with what they say; they have no time to beat around the bush.
- Keep the meeting group small — Having more than 4 people might make it difficult to come to firm conclusions on any of the points you want to cover.
- Appoint someone to take actions — Your team need to know exactly what’s expected of them once the meeting has ended. Get someone to take actions and have them read out at the end of the meeting: this gives people an opportunity to flag any misunderstandings or anything that might have been missed.
4. Understand the personalities in your team
It might seem like pop-psychology to some, but the use of personality tests in businesses has proved incredibly valuable over the last decade or so. Now, 89 of the Fortune 100 companies use personality tests to build stronger teams.
If you want to learn about the personalities of your team, there are a few popular personality tests available. The most widely used is Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test (MBTI); there’s a free, less in-depth version of the test available at 16Personalities. Typically, teams are comprised of a mix of personalities, and a higher variety of types will perform better than a team that is too similar.
Once your team members have all taken the test, you can take the time to learn how each of them typically communicates and like to be communicated to. You might discover why two team members just don’t seem to share information well, or why some teammates feel misunderstood.
From there, you can work with each team member individually to help them communicate with other members of the team more effectively.
5. Unite your team beyond work
Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why (2009), once said: “A team is not a group of people that work together. A team is a group of people that trust each other.”
The biggest communication problems often arise from a lack of trust, rather than a failure to work together.
To build that trust, you need to go beyond the every day and put your team in unfamiliar situations where they must rely on each other to succeed.
- Get outside the office for meetings — A change of environment means your team can put behind some of the baggage they typically associate with the office. Try taking your team out to a nearby coffee shop or even the park for an upcoming meeting and see whether it helps people open up.
- Schedule a work retreat — By taking work off the mind, it can be easier for people to connect on a meaningful level. Schedule an overnight retreat with some team-building activities so you all have a chance to work together on something fun and then enjoy some relaxed conversation afterwards.
- Celebrate employee achievements — Whether it’s in or out of work, your employees are achieving things and deserve recognition. Give some public praise next time a member of your team hit a critical milestone, and encourage others to do the same.
- Encourage your team members to run workshops — Allowing team members to share their knowledge with one another in a safe environment benefits both the attendees and the speaker. It can also help break down silos by branching across different departments.
A stronger, happier team
A team that communicates well are not only far more effective than poor communicators, but they’re a lot happier, too. They’re free of the stresses that come with a lack of clarity, which means they can be more creative and enjoy getting to know one another in a more relaxed way.
Want more advice? Find out how encouraging your employees to speak up can drive your business forward.