Clear communication and alignment are key to successful teamwork in the workplace. According to one survey, 97 percent of respondents believe that a lack of alignment within a team plays a big part in a team’s outcome or impact. Understanding how to implement clear communication strategies, however, is often — well — less clear.
How do you cultivate a strong ethic of teamwork in the workplace through communication? The answer is twofold: by ensuring communication within teams is both frequent and effective.
Frequent Communication: “I Know What I Need To Know”
Frequent communication means keeping everyone in the loop. Teams execute more efficiently when everyone’s on the same page. First, team members avoid duplicating their efforts when knowledge is shared. Second, while each member has a specific role within the team, those roles are interrelated, so communicating frequently about one’s role speeds up the project. For example, let’s say one team member can’t start her role until another has the results of a specific task. In this case, knowing exactly when the other member completes the task keeps her – and the project – moving forward.
To keep communication frequent, the team should revisit key points and ask questions whenever it’s needed. If the team seems a bit too timid about frequent communication, it’s up to the team leader to model the desired communication behavior. Leaders should start each meeting with a “catch up” on accomplishments made since the last, and end with a “recap” of what was covered.
Effective Communication: “I Understand Everything”
When it comes to successful team communication, just communicating frequently isn’t enough. Team members may know everything going on within the group, but they may still be left in the dark. How? Because they don’t understand everything. Think back to your school days — it’s the difference between scoring high on a quiz that requires rote memorization, but scoring low on a problem that requires you to link those quiz concepts together.
Effective communication requires all team members to know on a high level what’s going on within the team, but also to truly comprehend what’s going on. That can get tricky when your team is composed of members:
- From different parts of the department or company
- With vastly different expertise
- With different levels of comfort with processes
- Using knowledge sets that they don’t work with often.
To achieve effective communication, each team member should be able to summarize each key point that a speaker makes, if asked. If at any point during a meeting, something is not making sense, he or she must speak up to request clarification. Ensuring your team communicates effectively takes time, but ultimately you’ll save time by cutting down on costly mistakes that arise from a lack of understanding.
Cultivating Psychological Safety for High Performance Teams
Cultivating a team that engages in effective and frequent communication as described above is far easier said than done. Why? People don’t like to admit that they don’t know or understand things — especially in a group setting. That’s where the tenant of psychological safety comes in. First described by Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School professor whose work had a profound influence on Google’s recent study on teams, psychological safety refers to the idea that a team provides a safe space for “interpersonal risk taking.”
That includes the risk of appearing vulnerable by exposing the gaps in your knowledge. In a psychologically safe environment, team members don’t worry about feeling embarrassed or being ridiculed for saying, “Hey, I think I missed something” — or more importantly, “Hey, I don’t understand something.” Teams that exhibit high levels of psychological safety are ones where members, and especially team leaders, ask a lot of questions, which encourages everyone in the group to speak up more without fear of judgment. For effective and frequent communication to take place, a team must cultivate a culture of psychological safety. According to Edmondson, when you combine psychological safety with accountability, a high performance team is created.
Teamwork in the workplace will truly blossom when team building activities move beyond standard communication exercises — like improving listening and feedback skills — to also focus on communication that’s frequent and effective.
About the author
Sue, an authority on training and development, has over 20 years of experience in the creation and delivery of programs and custom designed training solutions for Eagle’s Flight. As Chief Operating Officer, Sue’s vast senior leadership experience and facilitation has established her as a trusted partner and organizational development expert for numerous Fortune 500 companies.