Team Communication Can Make or Break Businesses
Sonata Form: Beginning Of A Symphony
Picture a symphony orchestra. 50 to 100 musicians playing violin, viola, cello, horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, flute, oboe, clarinet bassoon, timpani, bass drum, triangle, snare drum, cymbals and so on. So many different and unique sounds come together to produce one defining melody. Needless to say, an orchestra has to work in perfect sync, not a note out of its place, to produce such magic. But, what holds the whole performance together is the conductor (and his baton). In the business world, the conductor is team communication, not the team leader. That debate is for another time.
Teamwork or collaboration is a tricky undertaking as much as it is important. All the branches of a business – Marketing, Technology, Design and Sales – must work in perfect unison for the success of a product/service. However, roles become more specialised and products/services have become more holistic. Today’s marketing processes include content, graphics, video production, analytics, and so on. And, this is the same for every function, further highlighting the need for a cohesive business structure. Such a unified workplace can only be achieved by effective communication.
Team dynamics are built on
- Open communication to avoid conflicts.
- Effective coordination to avoid confusion and overstepping of boundaries.
- Efficient cooperation to perform the tasks in a timely manner and produce the required results, especially in the form of workload sharing. 
- High levels of interdependence to maintain high levels of trust, risk-taking, and performance.
If you look closely, they are all different aspects of team communication.
A survey by Reflektive revealed that the importance of teamwork will only grow exponentially. However, around 46% of the participants of the survey said that they found collaboration a difficult task due to various factors including communication. The survey also revealed that good communication can boost employee performance.
Although it’s a no-brainer that effective communication plays a crucial role in a team’s performance, companies overlook the negative effects of poor communication. To sum it up, poor communication will spur mistrust, cause distress and eventually affect overall business performance and profitability.
Another survey of 400 companies titled ‘The Cost of Poor Communications’ claimed that on an average companies stand to lose nearly $62.4 mn annually due to inadequate communication. These losses aren’t just for big corporations, even the smaller organizations with 100 employees could lose an average of $420,000 per annum, according to communication expert Debra Hamilton.
Why Is Team Communication Important, Exactly?
A team is nothing but a group of individuals coming together to accomplish a common goal on a common platform. The success of the goal depends on the level of mutual synergy shared by the teammates. And, one of the most important aspects of that synergy is healthy team communication. It can make or break the project the team is working on and further the company’s culture. Team communication includes direct conversation, emails, instant messaging, audio and video conferences. Also, body language and non-verbal communication (gesture, eye content, etc.) are forms of team communication.
With so many different modes of communication, it becomes tricky to be transparent during conversations. Even in scenarios where an employee works independently, they need to talk to their boss or client or a colleague. Proper communication skills become imperative for success, irrespective of team involvement. And, when it comes to group projects, the importance only increases manifold.
No matter how inclusive your company values claim to be, or how flexible is your workplace culture, you’ll always be fighting a losing battle if your team doesn’t communicate well. A lack of workplace communication or interaction can create mistrust between team members.
In teamwork, silence isn’t golden, it’s deadly.Mark Sanborn
More often than not, miscommunication or a lack of communication, is borne out of uncertainty or confusion. When team members don’t understand the responsibilities of their colleagues, they tend to overlook each other’s roles. Team communication, at the end of it all, is about making sure everyone is focussed on what they do best. And, if they can do this without distractions, the quality of work improves, along with an increase in efficiency.
A team manager should understand that every team member has a unique style of communicating. Understanding their style can help the manager draw up plans to bring the team together. And, one methodology to deduce the communication style of a person is the DISC assessment.
The DISC assessment compartmentalizes communication styles under four types – Dominance, Influencer, Conscientiousness, and Steady.
- Dominance: People who focus on accomplishing a goal and getting results fit in this category. Their behaviour includes,
- Can be blunt
- Influence: Person who focuses on influencing or persuading others falls in this category. Their behaviour includes,
- Likes to collaborates
- Dislikes being ignored
- Steadiness: Person who gives importance to cooperation, sincerity and dependability fit in this category. Their behaviour includes,
- Dislikes being rushed
- Conscientiousness: Person who focuses on quality, accuracy, expertise and competency falls into this category. Their behaviour includes,
- Likes being independent
- Fears being wrong
Understanding your and your team members’ personality and communication style can really help you in your efforts to introduce strong team communication.
Benefits of Effective Team Communication
Team communication fosters a healthy workplace environment. Its importance can never be stressed enough. And, so that you don’t have to head over to another post, here’s a few benefits of clear communication:
A workplace that is plagued with poor communication leads to conflict. Such an environment scares talented and skilled members away. No one wants to work in a stressful environment. A workplace that encourages, empathises and endorses proper communication will retain the talented workforce.
Poor team communication causes misinterpretation that leads to poor results. It’s a vicious circle. When people aren’t on the same page, the action expected and the one taken differ by huge margins. A team that communicates effectively will produce efficient results.
Putting together brilliant minds doesn’t guarantee the desired outcome if teammates don’t trust each other to do their jobs properly. To breed trust, the team must communicate effectively.
When the roles are clear and everyone knows what’s expected of them, teamwork gets on cohesively. Without conflicts and confusions, the distractions are reduced, and overall productivity only improves.
Team collaboration encourages members to take pride in their contributions. Achieving a goal together where each member did their best makes everyone feel fulfilled. This further builds loyalty towards their work and cultivates ownership.
Causes of Poor Team Communication
Teamwork involves a group of individuals from different backdrops and with different skill-sets coming together to solve a common goal. So, it’s easy for things to hgo south if not handled properly. And, some of the challenges that managers and even employees face at workplace are:
I, Me, Myself Attitude
It just takes one person’s negative attitude to put a dampener on the team equilibrium. At least one team member is likely to interrupt, interfere or take over another member’s task. This might appear like they are trying to help, but it’s usually just to establish their arrogated authority. They won’t let their colleagues talk during discussions and take over the team meetings. Such an attitude only breeds resentment, mistrust and friction.
Hearing, But Not Listening
It’s an amusing fact that not many people listen when their peers talk, they just hear. It means they don’t try to understand or comprehend the message that is being put out. Instead, they jump to conclusions and interrupt someone who’s talking. Such an approach could either attract an argument or put a stop to productive and creative ideas. Both are unwanted results for the company. It only leads to the team not communicating.
Parliament and Pride
Parliament – a group of owls
Pride – a group of lions
An office is a melting pot of people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. People form a bond with like-minded people, which is a very basic human nature. However, these small groups – Parliaments and Prides – could become a sore point for managers and for team members to deal with inter-group members. Brainstorming and collaboration will end up being a nightmare due to the group rivalry.
Bottling It Up
Even if companies brand themselves of having an open-door policy, employees will be hesitant to approach their managers. Instead they stew their discomfort with their task or a fellow team member in their minds. This ends up harboring resentment and friction.
Odd One Out
Lack of motivation to excel or even work could very well translate into disinterest in being a part of the team. This happens when an employee’s pain-points are not met. The pain points include slow or no career growth, lack of interesting or challenging tasks, etc.
What Are You? What Am I?
Vaguely defined roles and responsibilities is one big factor that festers team equilibrium. When managers fail to communicate a member’s designation and KRAs, it causes confusion, conflict and contention. Some managers tend to do that on purpose to provide a levelled playing field and be more inclusive. But it does more harm than good.
How to Improve Team Communication
Managers and team leaders must be at the forefront of the strategies to improve communication at the workplace. Although the onus is on employees to effectively communicate, leaders should be proactive in identifying and eliminating obstacles and challenges faced by the team. Below are some of the ways that team communication can be improved:
Keep The Door Wide Open
Managers should be accessible and available at all times. This should be common knowledge. It builds trust among the team and makes everyone feel valuable. Regular one-on-one sessions with the team will encourage each one of them to open up and feel heard.
Let The Pianist Play Piano
Roles should be defined clearly and without hesitation. When everyone knows and understands what each person is responsible for, the work goes on without any hiccups. Understand each person’s strength and potential, and define their role accordingly. Establish a responsibility hierarchy listing what each person is responsible, consulted or informed about. Have everyone agree on it.
Brainstorming Shouldn’t Be Stormy
When one person attempts to drive the whole discussion without letting anyone else talk, it makes the team avoid discussions altogether. As the host of discussions, it becomes the responsibility of the manager to give everyone equal opportunity. Also, managers should know how to deal with those who cut or talk over or interrupt others.
Give & Take Business
Feedback can’t be a one-way road. As a manager, if you are giving feedback, you should also be open to the idea of constructive criticism. Keep these points in mind when you are giving or receiving feedback:
- Select the setting very carefully. It should be private and non-threatening. Both the parties should be comfortable with it.
- When giving feedback. Present your points in detail and give examples (but not in an accusatory way).
- When receiving feedback, ask for details and examples. Check if you understood their concern clearly.
- Work out a plan on how to move forward. Set realistic expectations.
Pieces of Puzzles
Make the team understand that each one of the members is a piece of a puzzle. It is only when they all come together in their respective roles is when the clear picture is formed. Talk to the team about the larger picture and company-wide goals. This way they can perceive their responsibility accurately.
Respect Should Come First
Create a culture of respect within the team. Every member should respect each other by the way of paying attention to what they’re saying, being supportive, offering help and showing empathy. Managers should not tolerate disrespect towards anyone, even if it’s passive.
Tips From the Masters
Communication and team building strategies by some of the greatest minds of our times:
Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO: Disagree & Commit
We use the phrase “disagree and commit.” This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, “Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?” By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes. This isn’t one way. If you’re the boss, you should do this too. I disagree and commit all the time.
Sam Walton, Walmart CEO & Founder: Be Truthful & Honest
Sharing information and responsibility is a key to any partnership. It makes people feel responsible and involved …. In our individual stores, we show them their store’s profits, their store’s purchases, their store’s sales, and their store’s markdowns.
Jack Stahl, Revlon CEO: Constructive Criticism
One evening about a month before the prospectus was due, my boss–then the CFO of the company–sat in with my team to review our progress. I thought everything was right on track, but he painstakingly pointed out that there were about 187 holes in the draft document: critical financial information that was still missing, even the phone number of the new company we were forming. We spoke about the need for me to be more focused on details and to follow up consistently with my direct reports to make sure things were getting done. At the end of the conversation, I was worrying about my own future. [But] He went out of his way to reassure me that my missteps weren’t fatal, that he still valued and supported me, It made me understand that when people feel valued, they can hear difficult feedback without being demoralized by it. Instead, they feel motivated to change.
Elon Musk, Tesla Motors CEO: Open Door Policy
Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company. You can talk to your manager’s manager without his permission, you can talk directly to a VP in another dept, you can talk to me, you can talk to anyone without anyone else’s permission.
Team communication is a very important aspect of team collaboration. It forms a foundation for teamwork. If you feel that the communication between your team is weak, you might have to first understand what is going wrong. Only then you should come up with a plan to improve it.
Some of the key points from the blog are:
- Teams should work like a symphony orchestra and communication should be their conductor.
- Good communication can boost employee performance
- Poor team communication costs companies monies
- Effective team communication fosters teamwork, nurtures talent, increases productivity, etc.
- Look out for persons with negative attitude affecting team
- Understand communication style of each member of your team
- Define clear roles and responsibilities
- As a manager be accessible to everyone
- Give and take constructive criticism regularly
Improving team communication shouldn’t be a challenge if you find out what aspect of your team to work on.