Communication is essential in human interaction. It's vital in relationships whether they're personal or business. This critical human trait allows us to connect, share emotions, exchange information, and solve problems.
So naturally, free and clear communication is also valuable at work. The easier it is for teams to understand each other and work together, the more productive your company will be.
It’s obvious therefore that, as a team leader, you need to do everything in your power to encourage communication, nurture it, and improve it.
In this article, I'm going to walk you through the best strategies that lead to good and effective communication, and discuss the best steps you can take to achieve these goals.
Why is communication important?
There are two key questions directly related to this topic. First, why is communication important? And second, what is the relationship between communication and efficiency?
Well, the first task for team leaders or managers should be to solve problems. All your work can easily fall within a problem/solution dichotomy. And effective communication is a powerful tool in solving both interpersonal and performance-related problems.
As an example, take a look at one of the most basic types of relationship: friendships.
People are seldom alike. They may be compatible and similar with regard to values and educational background. But if we take them individually, they're different. These differences are sometimes the cause of arguments and problems.
By stating the facts, acknowledging issues and discussing them with honesty, we discover the underlying problems and learn how to solve them. This entire process depends on communication, specifically communication based on dialogue.
Effective communication involves:
- Acknowledgment of the underlying issues
- Presenting these issues
- Discussion of the different points of view
- Presenting the solutions
- Debating the solutions
- Choosing the right way to proceed
What is the relationship between communication and efficiency?
Communication is the oil that greases the engine. And when I say engine, I mean the teamwork your company depends on.
Communication facilitates the exchange of information and ideas between members of the team. The better they communicate, the easier it is for them to convey ideas and messages, to talk about errors, setbacks, deadlines and other important facts the work depends on.
Tips to encourage good communication and improve your established communication habits
That's the philosophy out of the way. But in practical terms, what can you do to help your team communicate better?
1. Keep an open door
Build trust and awareness among team members.
Be always open and honest about office activities.
The basic concept of open-doors implies that members of your team should feel free to pitch ideas, voice concerns, ask questions and come up with solid arguments against other ideas if they think they're not the best fit for the company.
What about the ideas I already have?
Trust depends on honesty and an open mind. As long as team members are honest with each other and you're capable of showing the same honesty, trust is never an issue. And, together with trust, openness to communication soon follows.
In other words, trust that your team will show your ideas respect, and be open to change when it's the best course of action.
A good leader knows when to speak their mind and when to listen to each of their team members. I mean, really listen.
This process involves being willing to engage in an open dialogue, listen to requests, the questions and the arguments of the other party, and come up with valid solutions to the ongoing problems.
And to accept the valid solutions others have to offer even if they're not the same as yours.
3. Let others prove the value of their ideas
In order to get the most out of your team, members need to know that they'll be listened to. Even when you're confident that you have the right course of action, it pays to let others take a stab.
Don’t dismiss anything without proof, and always provide your reasoning. If people are encouraged to speak freely, they will more likely come up with new ideas and new solutions to future problems. As a team leader or manager, you can encourage this behavior even more by actively asking people for their solutions to specific issues.
4. Be direct
Make sure all that every task is clearly defined and explained. Team members need to know their responsibilities first and what's expected of them to help the team run like clockwork.
One of the biggest mistakes a team leader can make is to give vague, incoherent or incomplete messages and tasks. Employees need to clearly understand what you or the company wants from them in order to function individually and as part of their team.
They need to know exactly what is expected from them and what their role is for each project. And this requires clear and direct communication from their manager.
5. Feedback is essential and it needs to be reciprocal and honest
Feedback, regardless of whether it is positive or negative, helps to encourage problem solving. But it's imperative that criticism remains constructive.
What does this mean?
It’s not enough to just say “do this,” “fix this” or “change this.” People need to understand what they're doing right and wrong, and more importantly to understand their mistakes in order to learn and never repeat them.
For this to be effective, feedback needs to be clearly stated and direct.
Your comments should be detailed and thoroughly documented if possible. You can't simply say “you are wrong.” Explain yourself. And make this an office-wide rule.
6. Encourage relationships & social interactions within the team
Play games, organize events, and have a leisure area for relaxing activities and coffee breaks. Encourage team building during these breaks. Human connections are essential in the long run.
In order to encourage communication and improve it at the same time, people need to feel at ease when they talk to each other. They need to form relationships based on trust and awareness, and they need to find common grounds and shared interests.
You can also use social media as a form of communication for your team members. Start by encouraging people to collaborate in this environment by including them as active members of your social media marketing strategy. A Facebook group for example, can help your business grow, your team members communicate better, share responsibilities and contribute together to a common goal.
7. Test several types of communication until you find the best one for your team
Test different types of media and digital tools as well. Management software should also be tested openly and accessible to all members of the team.
We live in a world governed by technology. These are the best times for communication as there are so many ways to encourage it. Smartphones, computers, all kinds of communication apps including social media can contribute to your team's efficiency.
The tricky part is to find out what works best in your office. Some people react better when they discuss issues face to face. Others prefer emails and instant messages. Others still will prefer organisers and other similar apps.
The solution is to test them all and combine the tools that are most likely to be embraced by the highest number of team members. On top of that, never let go of email. Email remains more reliable and easier to refer back to than instant messages or social media.
8. Spot your group leaders
This will be easier than you think. Natural born leaders are usually highly regarded by colleagues and trusted for their advice and expertise. Groups form naturally around them, and members of these groups are usually more likely to communicate with ease and even develop friendly relationships.
Spot these team leaders. Analyse their skills and organise small teams around them. Assign them leadership duties, give them the opportunity to delegate tasks and lead their colleagues for improved efficiency.
9. Show empathy
This one is the most important skill or character trait of an effective team leader. You need to be able to communicate and at the same time relate to your colleagues. Communication improves when leaders show understanding and empathy.
We're all humans, we're all slaves to emotions, facing challenges and stress together. Talk to team members and find out what difficulties they have when dealing with clients and other team members. Let them share their honest opinions and experiences and try to understand their points of view.
Commit to giving honest and impartial advice to their problems without dismissing them before having the chance to express their thoughts and feelings.
10. Use project management and collaborative tools
We’re almost at the end of this list of practical advice for office communication and efficiency. It would not be complete, however, without mentioning at least a couple of project management and collaboration tools which may prove to be the most important pieces of software shared among team leaders. They're great for communication and speeding up the processes.
They're also great for social media teams, which can prove to be essential for keeping the social media flag up for your brand, even if you're not in marketing at all.
Here’s a short list comprising some of the most popular and efficient project management tools you can test and use in your office:
If you are looking for a great project management software that you can use together with your team, Teamweek may help you a lot. It’s one of the easiest tools of these sorts to use and everything is available to everybody in a single interface. It comes with task management features and communication tools for the team members involved in each project.
Monitor and create tasks, and assign them to specific team members according to the project requirements. Each member of the team has access to all the information and is able to mark tasks as complete.
Sometimes, you need more than a project management app. When it comes to design, if your company has to deal with such tasks, you'll need a tool that allows collaborative work and communication among the different members of the teams assigned to the project. Bannersnack may prove to be that solution.
Due to its ease of use and template-based designs it can help you expedite work and increase efficiency.
Designed by Dustin Moskovitz, a co-founder of Facebook, Asana has become one of the most popular project management apps of today. More than 1.4 million users seem to love it.
What’s great about it is the fact that it facilitates communication among colleagues who need real-time interaction while working on different projects.
It allows you to track team members’ time, visualize goals, convert tasks into conversations and get real-time updates on each of them.
Asana comes with calendar features as well - very helpful when dealing with multiple projects and a lot of team members.
Just like the apps we’ve already discussed above, Trello is excellent for team management. It allows you to keep track of your daily and weekly tasks, plan ahead and mark whatever you have already completed.
It supports file uploads, real-time communication between members of the teams and their collaborators and yes, it's available for each of iOS, Android and Windows. It's also accessible on its web platform and is free to use which makes it perfect for low budget offices.
We have yet another great app for collaboration and communication among members of the team. Or really, another suite of apps.
It’s free and comes with a full suite of office tools suitable for collaborative work, as there is no limit to the number of people who can share access and contribute to each file or document. Plus everybody can post comments, create new tasks based on the comments and solve issues, errors and problems in real time.
Communication is essential when tasks are completed by a team. It becomes even more important when you're dealing with a lot of tasks and multiple teams assigned to perform specific activities, whether they're part of the same project or not.
This is why it has become essential to encourage communication and improve this process in order to boost efficiency.
We’ve discussed here some of the best strategies you can try for communication improvement. Do you know any other similar strategies? Did you try other approaches to these issues?
If so, please feel free to share your ideas with us and our readers as well.
About the author: Robert Katai is the content marketing manager of Bannersnack, a professional banner creation app for designers and marketers. His work was featured on Adweek, Marketing Profs, Entrepreneur, Content Marketing Institute and other places. He also blogs on his personal website: www.robertkatai.com.