5 Tips for Better Team Communication
Get more time for your work and fewer misunderstandings.
Photo by Ivan Samkov
It is easy when you work alone. You make a mistake and you are angry with yourself. But you dismiss such feelings quickly.
Problems start when you work with other people.
Misunderstanding, inflexibility, unclear priorities, and multiple decision-makers make teamwork pretty hard for businesses.
I usually say to myself: “People are different. Don’t measure them by your standards.” It saves me some stress. You are not supposed to change your coworkers, but find the best way to work with them and utilize their skills.
You need to communicate better as a person but also as a team. One drop won’t water the land, but rain does.
Let me give you five tips on team communication. They will save you time on your projects.
1. You don’t speak the same language
“It was a simple task. So, why is the outcome wrong?”
It took me a while to understand why there is often misunderstanding about things that seem so clear. Well, it is obvious - we don’t speak the same language.
A client wants a report by the end of the day. What it means:
Me: Deliver the report by 4 pm to have a buffer for potential questions.
You: Deliver the report by 6 pm (just before the end of business hours).
Another coworker: Deliver the report as soon as it is done, e.g. by 10 pm today.
Client: Will look at the report the next day. So, early morning is OK, too.
Do you see the difference? Now add to the mix different experiences, backgrounds, noises, communication channels, and mother tongues.
What we mean does not have to fall on how others understand it:
There are many disruptions in communication. The channel you use, the tone, the words, the external disturbances like other colleagues talking loud, music playing, Teams notifications. What you send as A, comes back as B way too often.
#1 tip is to make sure you speak the same language as the person/people you talk to.
In international teams, it is important to speak simply and specify what you are trying to convey. For many coworkers, your company's language is not their first.
Don’t expect to be understood; expect to be misunderstood.
2. Clarify roles
One problem that occurs all the time in team communication is the lack of clarity about roles.
Who does what?
Who can decide?
Who is the leader when the boss is away?
I have worked with teams that were super slow. They always had to wait for their boss to come back and set a direction.
Teams that communicate well are flexible and can manage themselves without hurting anyone’s ego.
All you need is clarity on priorities and work together towards them. Team planning is key. Discuss what is on the table, assign responsibilities, present deadlines, and be flexible in finding solutions.
Many people are reluctant to lend a hand and strictly adhere to processes. But in volatile times like these working together means more than pleasing your boss.
#2 tip is to clarify the roles and skills everyone has. Focus on transparency, and if needed establish a leader or a team manager who can help others prioritize.
3. Work together, not against each other
In the corporate world, everyone works in a team. Yet not everyone is a team player.
Sadly, many colleagues are not interested in working with others. They do not care. They suck at teamwork. As a result, you miss the big picture.
#3 secret of successful team communication is to be aligned on common goals.
I can’t think of anything that saves more time than an understanding of the team’s purpose and alignment. Answer these:
Why do you work in a team?
What roles do you have in a team?
Are some team members isolated?
What did your team not communicate well and why?
What is one thing everyone has in common?
It is not the job description that makes a job work. It is collaboration and a sense of belonging. When one group fights against the other, nothing positive comes out of it. Get in touch if you struggle to work efficiently in your team.
It is often the case when one team has many different positions. Do not bear it. Consider different viewpoints and find ways to work together.
You save yourself stress and frustration.
4. Leave negativity out of team communication
Some people enjoy pointing their fingers. I have worked with masters of blaming others:
“She is hysterical.”
“He did not deliver.”
“She made a mistake.”
“It is his problem. He’s not managing his time well.”
It is easy to comment on others. Yet, sarcastic comments are not productive. They lead to misunderstandings. If you can, keep bitterness, stress, or anger out of your team communication.
If not, you are about to start a negative spiral in your team.
Take it easy. People often don’t realize what they say or how they say it. Some can punch you with their comments. But what do you gain when you strike back?
I had a client who liked shouting at me over the phone. I was shocked every time and complained about him to my boss. Guess what the client did not change. I did.
Maintain a cool head and a positive attitude. You will get more than beating your head against the wall and putting unnecessary pressure on others.
#4 tip is to bring positivity into team communication even during difficult times.
5. Use appropriate channels for different situations
One of the most annoying things about team communication is redundant meetings. Team collaboration has many opportunities. Don't cling to one way of thinking.
Define how your team communicates and utilizes all channels available. Such as online meetings, face-to-face meetings, calls, online chat, shared files, and knowledge-sharing newsletters.
#5 tip is to be creative and utilize all channels available without compromise.
You might pull your face because some people are too lazy to communicate effectively. Yet, they can learn with time. What gives you headaches at the beginning can really speed up the process in the long term.
Do not resign nor tolerate deviations in team communication. Everyone is on board. As soon as you let go, the whole communication will collapse.
Members who do not use the channels defined show disrespect or are uncertain how to use them. Feedback is needed, as well as the identification of knowledge gaps.
Team communication is not about being pedantic but about keeping each other on track.
Aim for collaboration, not perfection
Team communication will never be flawless, but that does not mean we should accept that. You can always communicate better as a team.
What helped me to be a better team member was a quote inspired by Donald Miller: “When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.”
Embrace everyone’s potential but also accept their differences. Some people are fast, others slow. Some learn easily; others need time. You avoid a lot of misunderstandings if you invest your time in getting to know your team.
But remember, there will always be some noise :-)
See you next week!