Effective communication is important in every team and workplace. Almost every job ad you will see asks for good communication skills. While everyone acknowledges the need for effective communication, many teams and workplaces struggle to get it right.
That’s because we’re dealing with people. Lots of people, with different attitudes, personalities, skills and goals. It’s not easy, but you can make effective communication a reality for your team.
Why Poor Communication Increases Workload
Teams need effective communication because without it, people actually do more work. Why is this so? In my experience, poor communication increases workload for the following reasons:
1. Team members complete the same work. If tasks, priorities and roles are unclear, work gets done twice.
“But that’s what I was already working on!”
2. People forget about the work. When teams are busy and not communicating effectively, they assume other people are working on tasks. In fact, some tasks are forgotten and aren’t progressing at all. You think someone is handling them, but they aren’t, and they’ll come back into your queue.
3. Rework wastes time. The only way you know work is really complete is when the customer is satisfied. If communication between your team and your customer is not effective, work might come back at you at an inappropriate time, when you thought it was already finished.
How to Ensure Effective Communication in Your Team
1. Ensure Effective Communication by setting Standards and Expectations
It is very common for leaders to set standards for completing work successfully. However, I’ve noticed that it’s less common to set standards with regard to how team members communicate.
Example 1. If one of your team members meets with an external supplier, you may require them to add an entry into a meeting register. Then everybody in the team knows who is talking to the supplier, and when.
Example 2. Perhaps your team members work on a variety of tasks from a queue. You may require that a team member assigns the task to themselves when they start the work. This means everybody knows who is working on tasks and there is less risk of two people doing the same thing.
Example 3. Maybe your team occasionally performs work for an important stakeholder. For this stakeholder, you might require your team members to provide daily updates on how work is progressing and inform you if there are any problems.
Regardless of the standards you choose to set, one thing must be clear. You must clearly state your expectations for how your team should communicate. Only then will you be able to hold your team accountable for effective communication.
2. Ensure Effective Communication by Increasing Visibility of the Work
One important part of communication that is sometimes overlooked is improving the visibility of who is working on what. This will help your team have more open communication.
Usually you increase visibility of tasks by having regular short “stand up” team meetings, using a shared task management system or keeping a manual task board that everyone can see. This can be extremely useful when someone is sick or goes on holidays, because you will know what you need to assign to somebody else.
At first, this might make your team uncomfortable. The increased visibility may start to expose underperforming team members, so you will be able to start addressing these performance issues. Some team members may even complain that you are “big brother” watching them.
My attitude to this has always been that team members needn’t worry, if they aren’t doing anything wrong.
On the other hand, you may even find that some team members appreciate the increased visibility, because they can be recognised for their high performance.
Some will also feel a sense of justice if “slacking” team members start to become more visible to everyone in the team.
3. Ensure Effective Communication by Confirming that Work is Complete
It’s common for a team to do work for other team inside or outside of your organisation. These are your team’s customers. When your team completes their work, they need to confirm that they have satisfied the customer.
If your team simply finishes the work and moves onto the next task, you may find that the original task comes back again if your customer isn’t happy. This is one of the worst outcomes, because not only is the task still open, it may come back to the team at an inconvenient time.
This puts your team in danger of “context switching”, which ruins productivity. It means your team needs to stop what they are doing, and start something else. This switching between tasks means that they can’t focus.
If your team finishes a task, they need to confirm that it is really complete, before moving onto the next one.
4. Ensure Effective Communication by Auditing
No, I don’t mean you need to hire an expensive auditor. I mean you need to check that your team is communicating the way you want them to.
You can do this by:
- Observing your team in action, and seeing how they communicate
- Speaking to your team’s customers, asking for feedback about their experience with your team
- Checking your systems, to make sure that the right records are in place and the tasks are tracked and assigned correctly.
After you audit your team’s communication, you can then provide feedback that will help them improve. It will also show them that you’re watching… and that you value effective communication!
How have you improved communication within your team? Let me know in the comments below!