In Part 1 of this series, we introduced a three-layered model to improve team dynamics. The bottom layer focuses on improving relationships within the team, the next layer improves communication, and only when these two have been addressed are we ready to move on to the top-level; getting the team to deliver in an efficient and cohesive way. In Part 1 we looked at the relationship level – in this article we’ll look at the communication level.
Challenge 1 – Getting People to Talk to Each Other
One of the primary roles of a manager is to facilitate the communication process between the team members. Here are some ideas to get people talking
Work with the team to come up with a set of communication standards. These could cover processes for resolving disagreements, inducting new members into the team, or capturing knowledge. Get the team to start talking to each other by running a workshop to draw up the standards
Avoid the Chinese Whispers effect. Don’t be a link in a communication chain. If someone tells you some information for someone else, encourage them to talk to the recipient direct or chair a meeting between the two parties.
Schedule regularly pulse calls where the team quickly feedback their stat
As much as possible facilitate decision-making by involving the teams.
Challenge 2 – Communicating at a Distance
I run an exercise in one of my management training sessions where we ask two groups to come up with a simple set of slides explaining how to make a cup of tea. One group sits together and the other is split up into two rooms. The latter is only allowed to communicate via post-it messages. It’s amazing how much more difficult the challenge becomes when the team is separated. Many of us underestimate this hidden cost of team separation. Here are some ideas for working with dispersed teams
Shell makes it a policy that dispersed teams should always be met together as a group at least once. They’ve found this helps significantly in communication. They believe that the travel costs are more than outweighed by the benefit of better communication.
Technology can help. It’s amazing how often we use telephone conference calls or emails. Most communication is done visually through gestures and facial expressions. Try and regularly use video conferencing. Applications like Skype are free to use and produce fairly good quality web conferencing.
For Powerpoint presentations use Webex to share the slides and the speaker’s voice across multiple locations.
Using Social Media. Wiki, Facebook, Blogs, and Twitter can all be useful communication tools.
Set up an intranet site with everyone’s photographs. Being able to visualize what someone on the end of an email or telephone looks like is often helpful. One company I talked to insist that all email signatures contained a thumbnail photograph.
Challenge 3 – Elastic Teams
Personnel changes rapidly these days. New people are expected to get up-to-speed quickly and people leaving take important knowledge with them. Some ideas to meet this challenge are:
Create an efficient induction process that quickly imparts knowledge. Make it easily repeatedly – may be in video format
Have exit interviews to capture knowledge and also to discover why people are leaving.
Keep in touch with people once they leave through social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn
Challenge 4 – Working with different cultures
The last time I ran a management course where we discussed how to work with different cultures, rather helpfully we had attendees from Saudi Arabia, the USA, the UK, Italy, and Ghana! It was a good illustration of how international our business world has become. This can pose all sorts of cultural challenges.:
Create a culture of respect and tolerance for one another’s a way of life.
Get different nationalities to present to the rest of the team how their cultures differ and how work-life operates in their country.
Provide necessary facilitates and services to support the team’s cultures, e.g. areas for prayer for Muslim workers or Kosher food for Jewish workers
Bear in mind religious and cultural differences when organizing team meetings and social events. For example, don’t organize pub trips if it excludes Muslim team members.
Challenge 5 – Silo’d Organisation
Creating departments that focus on a particular function is of course a useful and prevalent way to organize people within a company. The downside is that it creates multiple silos for people to work within which act as artificial barriers to communication. Here are some ideas to overcome this:
Network across departments as much as possible to get contacts in different areas of the business
Be clear when working across the department who is reporting to who.
Run social mixers across a number of departments
A manager can’t rely on a group of people communicating; it needs to be something that they are constantly thinking about how to improve.