A guide for transparent leaders: How to improve team communication

Nick Darlington,

Writer

2 November 20210 min read

Better team communication is crucial for employee happiness and the success of any company. This article details why it matters, what good team communication looks like, and how you can improve it.

What do the following two scenarios have in common?

  1. John is often late for his company’s weekly team video calls and always looks unprepared. His coworkers think he’s lazy and disorganized.

  2. Sue is a software developer constantly fighting with the sales team who prematurely sell software solutions and make unrealistic promises to clients. This puts unnecessary pressure on the software team, who often burn the midnight oil to deliver on time.

Yes, you guessed it, they lack effective team communication.

John’s teammates don’t realize he’s dealing with personal issues and always coming straight out of another meeting with no time to gather his thoughts. Time zone differences also mean he has the meetings in the evening after a long day, so he’s tired.

Similarly, the sales team doesn’t understand that each product has a distinct development cycle. Had they spoken to Sue, they would have better understood the timelines and known they shouldn’t sell products that are not yet fully market-ready.

Team communication clearly matters.

It’s crucial for the success of any organization. Not only does it improve workplace dynamics, relationships, and employee happiness, but it impacts efficiency, collaboration, and team performance.

In fact, team communication is an essential ingredient in high-performing teams. According to research conducted by Front in conjunction with Dr. Ron Friedman, high-performing teams communicate more frequently and openly than other teams.

This transparency—one of Front’s core values—creates a safe and supportive work environment where employees can share their emotions. It also builds trust—the glue that holds teams together and improves team communication over time.

Of course, saying team communication is crucial is one thing. Actually improving it is another. It can be demanding, especially as teams are often so dynamic, consisting of employees with strong personalities and different backgrounds.

However, it can be done—and in today’s article, we’ll show you how.

But before diving into how to improve team communication, it’s helpful to first understand what good team communication actually looks like.

What does good team communication look like?

Good team communication is multifaceted, consisting of many different elements. The below seven elements are by no means the only ones but are definitely among the most important.

7 essential elements of effective team communication

Good communication is:

1. Transparent. Team communication is open and honest. Transparency helps create a safe place where employees are comfortable sharing positive and negative emotions and dishing out and receiving constructive criticism and honest feedback.

2. Frequent. As a general rule good, effective communication occurs often. This means that as a manager, you should have weekly check-in meetings with your team, which can help identify the early stages of burnout.

3. Inclusive. Inclusive team communication helps you avoid groupthink and contributes to better ideas, happier employees, and more desirable business outcomes.

4. Cross-departmental. As you saw, the sales team would’ve benefited by first consulting with the software team. In most companies, departmental teams do not operate in silos and need to communicate with other departments to make sure they’re working together for the company’s benefit.

5. Empathetic. Transparent communication should not come at the expense of empathy. Before jumping to conclusions and pointing fingers, employees need to recognize that there may be an underlying reason why someone is underperforming or acting the way they are.

A case in point is scenario one in the introduction. Instead of judging, John’s teammates should’ve been more empathetic, gently asking why he’s late and checking in to see if everything is okay. This isn’t always easy, and the person won’t always open up. But if you create a company culture that encourages it, it becomes easier over time (more on that later).

1. Directed. The right information needs to be provided to the right people so they can make the right decisions. For example, the sales team will need to know about any specific sales targets you set.

2. Clear. The message should contain no ambiguity. Employees and teams should know exactly what’s expected of them. Keeping messages succinct helps achieve this clarity.

6 of the best ways to improve team communication

Now that you understand what good communication looks like, let’s look at a few ways to improve it. Just remember there’s no magic bullet here, and change won’t happen overnight.

Once you’ve implemented an idea, remain patient and remain persistent. Most importantly, be willing to adapt when things don’t seem to be working for you.

1. Create a culture that encourages employees to share feedback candidly and with care

We mentioned the importance of transparency. We also noted the importance of communicating with care. It turns out that the best teams embody both these characteristics, sharing both positive…

  • 82 percent of high-performing team members often or always compliment one another, compared to 71 percent of members of other teams.

  • 41 percent of high-performing team members tease their teammates, compared to 28 percent of members of other teams.

...and negative emotions:

  • 35 percent of high-performing team members complain to each other, compared to 27 percent of other teams.

  • 38 percent of high-performing team members use curse words while communicating, compared to 27 percent of other teams.

It’s crucial to create a culture that encourages this. A few ways to do this include:

  • Creating time for feedback. Set up regular check-in meetings that emphasize open communication. To create good vibes as a manager, you can take the lead and share your emotions with the team.

  • Write it in the company handbook. For example, Front has a ‘culture book’ that lists transparency as one of the core values. Take a peek at it here.

Related reading: 5 tactics to improve workplace communication.

2. Model the behavior you want to see in your team

Whether you want to encourage transparent, consistent, or empathetic communication, the key is to set an example.

You need to model the behavior you want to see. Do that, and you silently give your employees permission to do the same. This means, for example, that you need to:

  • Be open to being vulnerable. Communicate openly and share your emotions with your team to encourage them to do the same.

  • Be consistent in your communication by setting up weekly team meetings that you also attend.

  • Show empathy by connecting with staff beyond simple “hellos.” This is a crucial lesson that Dan Springer, CEO of DocuSign shares for those leaders who want to become more empathetic. Consider availing yourself for one-on-one meetings for those who may not initially feel comfortable communicating openly in the team meetings. Also, “encourage the people around you that really care about you to give you feedback, particularly when you miss stuff and on your insensitivities,” explains Dan.

3. Promote diversity and inclusion, especially for remote teams

Teams that communicate and perform well prioritize diversity. According to McKinsey, organizations with executive teams in the top quartile for gender diversity outperformed the fourth quartile by 36 percent.

But diversity doesn’t necessarily equate to inclusivity. The opposite often happens, which leads to unhappiness, groupthink, stale ideas, and sub-par business performance.

And if this lack of inclusivity exists in-person, it will likely also exist in your technology, explains Jodi Detjen, inclusivity expert, author, and professor.

“Technology isn’t neutral.” Jodi mentions how less than ten percent of it is developed by women and people of color, meaning biases are naturally ingrained in many products we use.

“On Zoom, you can’t take up physical space, but you can take up air space. In Zoom, you have to be much more alert to see the problems,” explains Jodi.

To promote inclusivity in remote collaboration, here are a few strategies:

  • Mention anyone wanting to speak can use the chat to let the host know.

  • Take turns to share ideas by instituting a round-robin during team meetings.

  • During brainstorming meetings, build in moments of silence so all teammates have time to process that information.

Take note: You can easily adapt these strategies to in-person, face-to-face meetings. For example, anyone wanting to speak can simply raise their hand.

4. Use collaboration tools that encourage easy communication, transparency, and accountability

As mentioned, communicating frequently is a crucial aspect of good team communication. It’s also apparently a pivotal ingredient to the success of high-performing teams who reported exchanging:

  • Ten phone calls per day on average, while other teams reported six.

  • 19 emails per day, while other teams reported 11.

  • Three messages per day on task management software, while other teams reported one.

It’s essential that companies use the right team communication tools to make this sort of frequent communication possible and efficient—from video conferencing software like Zoom to a customer communication platform like Front.

For example, Front provides:

  • A shared inbox for better visibility, transparency, and accountability. Everyone can see who’s replying to an email at any given moment, and emails can be assigned to those responsible for them. Clear accountability for projects can also be set through assignments on email, so there’s no confusion about individual roles within a project, which helps prevent misunderstandings, miscommunication, and any team conflict later on.

  • Team collaboration features so teammates can easily chat on email threads and @mention colleagues without creating a new direct message.

Related reading: How to improve email transparency for your team.

5. Boost morale through team-building activities

The happier and more comfortable employees are with one another, the better they communicate and collaborate, which leads to better team performance.

It’s no surprise then that the research we did with Dr. Ron Friedman also found that high-performing teams build deep bonds and friendships that extend beyond the office.

One key way to build these bonds and improve team spirit is through team-building activities. The idea behind this is simple:

  • Team building helps teammates get to know each other beyond knowing each other’s names.

  • The more they get to know each other, the more they trust each other.

  • And the more they trust each other, the better they communicate, collaborate, and perform together to meet customer expectations and business outcomes.

Here are a few team-building activities you can implement today:

  • Get your remote teams to catch up over a virtual cup of coffee.

  • Create a teamwork playlist that helps coworkers work productively and reveals their taste in music.

  • Get everyone to create and share their bucket list with each other.

Related reading: 5 virtual team-building games and activities for remote employees.

6. Set clear boundaries for meeting

“Hey, quick question…”

We’ve all been on the receiving end of a message like this from a well-meaning coworker that ends up being anything but “quick.”

Chances are you’ve been guilty of it too.

Receive one too many of these, and the frustration builds. Over the long term, it can cause serious friction between teammates.

Scenarios like this highlight the importance of being mindful of your employees’ time, setting boundaries for meetings, and choosing the proper communication channels, so you’re not wasting your coworkers’ time. In the end, it’s all about respect.

For example, if you have a “quick question,” that’s, well, actually not so quick and requires a lengthy answer, and a back and forth discussion, then you’re probably better off setting a meeting. Just be mindful of setting a clear agenda for the meeting, scheduling it for the shortest possible time, and ending with clear action items.

After all, high-performing teams don’t waste meeting time; they meet with purpose and care:

  • 77 percent have a clear agenda compared to 60 percent of other teams.

  • 54 percent have a meeting ritual, compared to 33 percent of other teams.

Related reading: Front’s guide to internal communication.

Improve team communication today

There are no two ways about it: Team communication matters. Companies that actively champion it will see better workplace dynamics—from how employees interact and collaborate to how they dedicate themselves to achieving company goals.

Improving team communication is, of course, a never-ending process. You have to monitor it to ensure you’re maintaining it, and there will always be something you can implement to improve it. So, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not quite where you want to be.

Rather, treat it as a constant learning process where each improvement you make brings you just a little closer to where you want to be.

Read more on how to build a high-performing team in our recent research with Dr. Ron Friedman.

Written by Nick Darlington

Originally Published: 2 November 2021

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