Effective Communication - Fuel That Drive Team Dynamics

Author: Pavitha Urs, and Sanjeev Himachali
Date: 2021-10-26
In the past few years, collaboration was listed as one of the top five skills employers need the most. Your ability to work well with others on a team is essential for developing your career in just about every field, from health care to government, sports, education, tech, and the military. We find ourselves working in teams, why?
Because research shows that effective teams produce better outcomes than individuals or uncoordinated groups. And yet, many teams struggle to reach their potential. Or to put it another way, as Malcolm Gladwell has said, "The kinds of errors that cause plane crashes are invariably errors of teamwork and communication."
Whether you're a newly minted team or you've been working together for years, there's likely room for improvement in the ways you communicate and collaborate. By giving everyone on the team defined roles and responsibilities, you can better coordinate and avoid duplicate efforts and missed opportunities.
Some key collaboration process roles to consider are the meeting convener, recorder, and monitor. Depending on the nature of your team, each of these roles can be subdivided into more specific roles for your team, and these don't necessarily need to be aligned with your functional roles in the organization. Think of these as separate working titles for your specific team.
The convener is a role the team leader often takes at least partially, especially if he or she is accountable for the final outcome of the team's efforts. Convening includes everything from determining whether or not a meeting is needed, to ensuring the agenda is developed and shared, to scheduling the actual meeting time and place.
The recorder is responsible for keeping detailed notes on the discussion that takes place during the meeting. Notes should include a list of the participants, a summary of the discussion associated with each agenda item, and a list of the next steps. Any follow up items should have names associated with them, so that it's clear who will be acting on whatever next steps you've discussed. Shortly after each meeting, this person should send a copy of the minutes to the team and give participants an opportunity to clarify or add to the document as needed. The action items from the minutes are often a topic for the agenda of the next team meeting.
A monitor will help the group stick to the agenda items and keep the discussion within the time allotted. Keeping groups focused, particularly if you're meeting virtually, can be extremely challenging. It's really easy to get off topic. This person should feel comfortable interrupting the discussion if it goes off in a tangential direction. When this happens, the monitor may ask the recorder to note that this topic needs to be an agenda item for a future meeting.
Some teams divide out these roles and keep them the same for every meeting. Others swap roles on a regular basis to make sure this important labour is evenly distributed throughout the team.
However, you choose to assign responsibilities, having defined roles will help you keep your team meetings focused and meaningful. If your team is operating without assigned process roles, add this to your next meeting agenda.
As a team, it's important to be in alignment on your goals, purpose, and process for collaborating. Otherwise, you're like a group of rowers on a boat rowing in different directions, and different paces.
You'll want to spend some time discussing your purpose. Why has your team been convened? What is it about this specific group of people, and the unique task at hand, that you as a group have been trusted to address? And how will you do it?
When it comes to setting goals, choose a template that makes sense for your team, whether it's KPIs, SMART, or SMARTER goals, or some other performance metric.
Make sure your team collectively establishes shared goals for your work together. Once you've established your goals, take a few minutes to discuss your conditions of satisfaction. These are the minimal requirements to reach completion of a project.
Conditions of satisfaction are different than goals. If your team's goals are on the high end of what you hope to accomplish as a group, the conditions of satisfaction are on the low end. What's the bare minimum everyone will be comfortable with having completed? For example, for students, the goal in a course might be to earn an A on an assignment, but the condition of satisfaction would be a passing grade.
Teams often set lofty goals initially but adjust their expectations once the work requirements are understood. Having a clear definition of what is acceptable before you start your project, will save you time, and frustration down the line.
With your goals and conditions of satisfaction in mind, you'll want to develop a team charter. A document that outlines commitments for how your team will collaborate on your work together.
This document should spell out all of your expectations around the process, for how you'll work together to accomplish your goals.
Typical team charters include ground rules for team meetings, norms for communicating with each other, details for how you'll make decisions, consequences for not meeting expectations, and what you'll do if you experience conflict.
The idea is to spell out the ways you plan to work with each other, to help avoid misunderstandings, or clashes in working styles.
Assigning roles for communicating in team meetings and establishing conditions of satisfaction will help get your team in sync, and make sure you're all rowing in the same direction.
Reasonable people with the same goals will approach projects differently. This is why it's critical for teams to document expectations and norms for how they'll work together.
The team's charter should establish some ground rules for how to handle these types of things. After your team has decided on norms for communication, operating procedures, and general expectations, you can document all of this in your team charter.
Cross-cultural communication within teams - It's well established that today's teams are global and teams that harness their diverse perspectives and talents have better outcomes than those who don't. And yet, communicating across cultures can present some challenges.
A model to help you think through the cultural issues that can come up in cross-cultural business communication is abbreviated as LESCANT. This points to seven areas - language, environment social organization, context, authority, nonverbal, and time.
To consider in international business settings, I'll briefly highlight some things to consider in each of the seven areas, starting with L, language.
When it comes to your language, use clear and basic phrasing whenever possible. While everyone on your team may be using the same language, it's easy for information to get lost in translation. The same words can have different meanings in different parts of the same country. Keep in mind, everyone on your team may not have the same level of language fluency, and that may influence how they participate in group discussions, especially if things unexpectedly come up. It's easy to confuse language proficiency with confidence, but that can be a mistake. A teammate may have strong evidence to support an idea and have some trouble articulating it, or vice versa.
In terms of E, environment, what external cultural factors impact your team's work or dynamics? This can include aspects of your physical realities and a host of other external factors. Next, how are the cultures represented on your team socially organized? How do religion, race, gender, and class factor into the societies your team is constructed of? One example that can be tied to friction on teams is how people view individualism versus collectivism.
The next letter, C, is context. Which of your teammates are from high- or low-context cultures? In a high-context culture, communication is explicit. Communicators are direct and verbalize every word they need to get their point across. In a low-context culture, communication is implicit and relies more on non-verbal cues, silence, and the unsaid. Recognizing these subtle differences will improve your team's communication.
The next consideration, A, is authority. How do your teammates view authority? Our perspectives on authority, power and leadership style are all informed by our cultural background and personal preferences. If there are hierarchies based on title or age within your team, keep in mind that may prevent some teammates from pushing back on an idea from a more senior teammate.
Our N, nonverbal communication, speaks volumes. Within your team, pay attention to the things that are unsaid. If you notice from their body language that a teammate seems to withdraw or might want to speak, but can't get into the conversation, you can be an ally for that person by creating an opening for them. If you don't want to put them on the spot, follow up individually and find out how your teammate wants you to act in the future. Remember, the best ideas don't necessarily come from the chattiest people.
And finally, T is time, which I'd argue is our most valuable resource. How individuals perceive time, and their schedules varies. Some teammates may see time as more fluid or flexible, whereas others follow a more exact and literal timing.
The LESCANT model gives us seven considerations for communicating in our cross-cultural teams. If you don't know how your teammates think about each of these categories, plan to have a discussion about these topics and link them to your team charter. Your team is only as strong as your ability to effectively communicate across cultural boundaries.
Manage conflict within teams - Not all conflict is bad. In fact, conflict on teams is inevitable. And if you manage it productively, it can lead to positive outcomes in your work. But, if conflict on your team is mismanaged, a seemingly small misunderstanding can quickly spiral out of control.
There are lots of reasons that reasonable people working together towards the same goals, may experience different types of team conflict. Avoiding or ignoring it, won't make them go away. There are two sources of conflict teams often face that I want to differentiate, task and interpersonal. Let's talk a bit about each.
Task conflict is tied to disagreements about how your work gets done. This can be about what constitutes the actual deliverable, or about the process for getting to the deliverable. Diverse teams have more potential for task conflict because teammates are addressing problem solving from different perspectives.
Whether they're drawing from their personal experience, or disciplinary expertise, they see the work differently, and have different ideas about how to address it. Some of these differences are interpersonal differences, such as values, personality, needs, and preferences.
Oftentimes, there isn't necessarily a right or wrong on these topics. It's simply that people view or have experienced these issues differently. And as a result, teammates must find a way to agree to disagree, and learn from each other's perspective.
When you notice conflict happening on your team, the first step is to identify which type of conflict you're dealing with. Both types of conflict are tied to miscommunication, so we can use effective communication strategies to mitigate and resolve conflict in our teams.
The first step is to acknowledge the conflict. Awkward tension will just fester and make things uncomfortable for everyone. The first step is to identify that there is a problem. Now, we're on our way to resolving it.
Second, identify a good time for a discussion. Whether this conversation includes the entire team, or just those involved with the conflict is up to you all. But find a good time to meet in a neutral space. It's important to have ground rules for how you'll conduct these conversations. And if you think emotions are too raw, consider bringing in a neutral third party to moderate and facilitate the discussion.
Third, give each person equal time to articulate their perspective. The key here is to understand the perspective of your teammate. Notice I said understand and not agree with. After everyone has had a chance to share their perspective, each teammate has the choice to determine how they want to proceed. Some teams like to end the conversation there and take time to think about what they've learned. Others choose to continue the discussion. Based on the information that's been shared, you may want to apologize for something you said or did. Or you can simply thank the person for sharing their perspective.
Fourth and finally, as a team, consider how this can be avoided in the future. What can you learn about what's happened here, and how can you grow to improve for the future? Many misunderstandings or miscommunications occur as a result of not thoughtfully developing a team charter.
With strong inter-team communication, you can reduce conflict and leverage it for your team's benefit.
Communicating virtually within teams - Virtual teams experience some unique benefits and challenges. Luckily, there are things we can do to improve the performance of virtual teams by focusing on our team's communication.
One of the most important things you can do is take the extra time to build connections with your colleagues. This might not feel natural at first, but it's critical, relationships matter.
Three ways you can get to know your teammates virtually are - one, create virtual spaces or times for conversations. Open office hours or town hall style meetings give people a chance to check in and voice ideas or concerns.
Two, post monthly or quarterly virtual socials. A happy hour, trivia, or game night are a fun way to connect with your team outside of your work.
Three, ask good questions. If I ask you how you're doing, you'll likely respond with a one-word answer.
In fact, it's become somewhat of an ignored greeting to ask someone how they're doing and for them to respond with good or okay. To get people to open up, ask open-ended questions. For example, tell me about how your day is going or what's new in your world. This opens the door for the person to talk about themselves, a spouse, child, pet, or whatever they want to share.
Building relationships are just as important for virtual teams. So, it's important to make an effort here. When it comes to work-related communication, there are tons of tools you can use to share information within your team.
You want to use the right technology for the task and keep things as simple as possible. And keep in mind how the recipient of the information is likely to respond. Emails are great for informational updates and chat is useful for real-time information but remember to pick up the phone or turn on the video camera and have a live discussion when you need to talk about delicate or sensitive matters.
Document everything using an agreed upon method that is easily accessible to everyone on the team. This may seem like overkill, but over communication keeps everyone informed. Chances are, your team uses chat, email, phone, video conferencing, text messaging, and so on.
Pick one central place to regularly update and store information so that everyone is aware of work status and next steps. You don't want to have to go back and check five or six different communication platforms to find information when you need it.
Even if your team is dispersed across the globe, you can take comfort in knowing you're operating at an optimal level when you invest in good team communication.
New signals and devices - We all know the importance of nonverbal communication to interpret meaning. When someone is talking, you take note of their body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, and eye contact. So, while it is impractical to assume every workplace interaction will be in person, it is critical to learn how to assess the new signals of digital body language to find better ways to connect with our colleagues.
So, what digital body language signals are you sending in your messages?
I am talking about signals like your word choice; the response time to a message; your email signature; who you cc: forward, bcc: on your emails; the order of the email recipients on an email; switching from one medium to another; the use of punctuation, abbreviations, emojis; and many more.
First, we have to try to consider how our digital body language signals may be received by others.
For instance, Mohsin, a manager I coach, told me about an interaction with his boss that left him feeling underappreciated. He had sent her a detailed plan about a business issue with a top customer. Mohsin, had stayed up all night working on it, and when he sent this detailed brief with a list of questions, he asked her to answer by the next day.
He expected her to respond quickly and maybe with a few follow-up questions that Mohsin could explore. Instead, he waited until 4:00 p.m. the following day and all he heard back was K, period. That is all.
Mohsin was confused and a little insulted. First, he felt his clear and comprehensive proposal deserved a proper response. Was his leader considering the issue? Mohsin could not tell by her response. Second, did K mean he should proceed or that he should put the idea on the back burner? Again, he could not tell.
And finally, he thought that she could offer a response amounting to more than a single letter.
This is just a simple example of the importance of the new signals in digital body language.
Now, there is no perfect etiquette to digital body language, but what I want to do is share with you three questions you should ask yourself that will provide you a way to understand and use digital body language signals more effectively.
The first question - Did I give the other person enough context in my message? Is it clear by my digital body language signals? Context requires us to use those signals carefully.
The second question - Am I using the right emotional tone in my digital body language? Am I trying to show gratitude, respect, alignment, or frustration in my communications? How could I use new signals, like periods, questions marks, exclamations, to show emotion in the right ways?
And last question, am I showing a clear call to action or next step? Does the recipient know if this is an opinion or an action request? And is it clear what to do next? With all the new signals we have, when sending even the briefest of message, remember to carefully read and write any communication you send or receive.
Here are some other tips for hosting more effective virtual meetings:
  • Use collaborative meeting software like WebEx, GoToMeeting or Adobe Connect, which allows you to see others on your team. These programs also allow you to use a hand icon to manage the conversation.
  • Telepresence technology takes this a step further, with more sophisticated programs to make you feel like you're meeting in person. These programs include Cisco's Telepresence series and Polycom high-definition conferencing.
  • Keep in mind that employees who work from home aren't always ready for a video call. Remember to ask first before calling them on video.
  • Host meetings only when necessary; avoid status-update meetings.
  • Assign agenda items to various people on your team to keep them engaged during the meeting.
  • Maintain team involvement throughout the session; use polls or collect votes.
  • Limit meeting times in order to stay on track.
  • Appoint someone to keep the conversation on track when the conversation turns to tangents.
  • Direct individual questions or unrelated discussions offline so you're not wasting time during meetings.
  • Share the agenda and any notes on your screen so that the whole team can see them.
  • Consider recording meetings and reposting the recordings.
Composed By: Pavithra Urs,Associate Director, People Operations, a Leading Entertainment Company, and Sanjeev Himachali, Principal Consultant & Talent Strategist, EclipticHRS
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