By: Leanne Armstrong
In today’s competitive, often distance-based business environment, effective team communication is more important than ever. As such, knowing how to improve team communication is a critical skills for managers and executives at all levels.
Fortunately, boning up on communication strategies – and following techniques aimed at achieving the best possible results – can raise the level of your team interactions from so-so to exceptional!
Given the fact that two heads (or more) are typically better than one, teamwork inherently leads to better brainstorming and problem-solving outcomes. Plus, when individuals with a common goal collaborate not only does the level of creativity rise, challenging tasks get completed more efficiently, causing productivity to increase as well.
According to Deloitte:
- Employees who collaborate work 15% faster
- 60% are more innovative
- 73% do better work
Clearly, there are a lot of great reasons why businesses of all sizes should be working to improve cooperation among their team members. Working well together, however, is only possible when interdependent teams communicate in ways that ensure everyone is heard and understood.
In this article, we’ll help answer the question of how to improve team communication by exploring a handful of best practices for in-office and remote work environments.
Why bother learning how to improve team communication?
Ask yourself this: How many employees wouldn’t want to be part of an invested workplace that promotes effective team building and remote collaboration? Furthermore, how many businesses are indifferent to achieving a better bottom line?
If your answer was “probably none”, you’ll be happy to know that improving team communication – and positively impacting your organization’s performance – is largely a matter of:
- Making more effort to share leadership responsibilities
- Finding ways to enable and include every member of your team
- Creating more empowered group networks
Before you and your team can get better at pulling together, however, you’ll need to figure out what your communication goals look like.
It probably goes without saying, for example, that you’ll want to work toward building and improving mutual trust by keeping words courteous, messaging coherent, and responses efficient.
But on a broader scope, you may also be looking to:
- Avoid time wastage and team burnout by setting expectations around messaging do’s and don’ts
- Take advantage of impactful face-to-face time and visual thinking tools as much as possible
- Channel communications in a way that suits people with different schedules, personalities, and work styles
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the ways you can streamline interactions among in-office, mixed-space, and fully virtual team members.
3 team communication best practices
Establishing and following a set of communication guidelines is an essential first step in learning how to improve team communication. First, you’ll need to clarify when and how coworkers should be communicating. Then, you’ll need to emphasize the importance of respecting one another’s time.
- Will your team predominantly use email or a messaging platform like Slack for daily communications?
- How often should in-person or virtual meetings be scheduled?
- What event or situation warrants a phone call or in-office visit?
The method and timing of your communications can ultimately influence work performance – so laying down solid rules is important.
It’s worth noting, for example, that even though the Harvard Business Review suggests face-to-face requests are 34 times more successful than those made by email, defaulting regularly to physical or virtual face time can prove disruptive.
Take a close look at what your team needs to accomplish individually and together in terms of daily, weekly, or monthly objectives. Then have everyone pitch in on designing and documenting a set of guidelines that best meets those needs.
Here are a few team communication best practices you may want to include in your plan.
- Stick to an asynchronous work system. You’ll actually achieve better cohesion as a team if you communicate based on an organized, visual, step-by-step system that determines:
- What specific actions need to be taken to meet daily or project objectives
- Who is responsible for accomplishing each task
- When each action needs to be completed
To avoid distracting coworkers, hindering momentum, and missing deadlines, stop and think twice before reaching out about work topics that are irrelevant to the demands of the day.
- Stay mindful of time zones. Do you have team members spread across different regions? If so, you’ll need to give extra consideration to the timing of interactions.
Start by making sure everyone is aware of which employees are in which time zones, what their scheduled work hours are, and when work shift overlaps occur.
You may also have to agree to fewer meetings, more messaged communications, and a greater respect for individual DND (do not disturb) hours outside of emergencies.
- Set up shared documentation. No matter your communication goals, you’ll almost certainly need to keep shared files, documents, and projects organized and up to date. The easiest way to accomplish that is with software that can serve as a centralized dashboard, like SharePoint or MindManager for example.
We’ll talk more about team communication tools in a future article. But in the meantime, you should be prepared to choose and use tools in a way that improves – rather than simply increases – workflow interactions.
In-office vs remote communication: 2 ways to deal with the differences
There are a lot of great benefits to working as part of an in-office team. Not only is it easier to form personal bonds, informal conversations with coworkers can give rise to valuable, off-the-cuff thinking.
Co-location communications are often as easy as taking a stroll across the room or down the hall. But keeping mixed or virtual teams involved in spontaneous conversations that lead to decisions or action can prove more challenging.
When team members are remote or only in the office part of the time, it’s especially important to:
- Set new, appropriate communication norms.
- Introduce the right tools and equipment.
- Focus on team communication strategies that mimic or make up for the lack of in-person exchanges.
Here are a couple of strategic suggestions:
Plan regular together time. Bringing your work group together socially from time to time will help build the kind of mutual understanding and reliance that improves communication organically.
Virtual team outings and get-togethers may not completely replace going bowling, grabbing a pizza, or attending a retreat as a group. But they can still foster deeper connections among teammates – whether activities are designed to help coworkers discover common interests or simply have fun together.
Prioritize the 3 C’s. Working remotely, it’s a given that more of your communications will take written form – and that’s where Courteous, Coherent, and Concise messaging habits really come into play.
Make sure you encourage virtual employees to:
- Pause and re-evaluate their messages before hitting “send”
- Edit their communications for tone, clarity, and long-windedness
- Reach out immediately if a team member’s message is unclear or troubling
Remember, without the ability to hear and see vocal and facial expressions, it can be all too easy to misunderstand or misinterpret what a coworker is really saying.
5 tips for taking the size of your team or company into account
Since dynamics can shift depending on the size of a team or business, your team communication strategies may need to do some shifting as well.
Interestingly enough, small teams actually have the potential to collaborate better and outperform larger squads – which is why Amazon’s Jeff Bezos avoids creating teams too big to be fed by two pizzas!
Not only is it easier to understand each other’s responsibilities in a small group, it’s easier to see where your own work fits in. Bigger teams, on the other hand, have more communication links to manage, making it harder to keep track of group progress.
If yours is a larger company, and you have the option of building smaller teams, that’s a strategy you may want to consider. If working as part of a large team is unavoidable, you’ll need to keep an extra tight rein on your communication success.
Try these 5 tips to improve your large-team communication strategies:
- Pay special attention to the distribution of decision-making authority
- Mandate training in effective communication for every member of your team
- Set clear objectives, then use established metrics to measure progress
- Address any language or cultural differences by:
- Making cultural awareness guidance available to diverse teams
- Making the avoidance of cultural slang part of your communication guidelines
- Making sure any instructional communications are fully understood by having team members repeat them back in their own words
- Ensure feedback is always objective and accompanied by concrete examples or data, as well as suggested improvement solutions
No matter the size or location of your team, finding ways to support and improve collaboration is a wise course of action. When coworkers and colleagues work and communicate well together, they’re more likely to detect and resolve customer issues, project problems, and workflow glitches with minimal disruption.
You can incorporate greater transparency into all the team communication techniques described here by adopting visual aids and communication tools expressly designed for that purpose.