Even if you have three team meetings this week and an inbox full of messages from team members, there may still be a few flaws in your group’s communication. It’s the quality — not the quantity — of team communication that counts, practice-management consultants say.
And most teams admit they fall short in this area. “I have never met a team that thought they had 100% effective communication,” says Kristin Arnold, president of Quality Process Consultants Inc. in Toronto.
Here are a few ways to strengthen communication and build a more effective team:
> Keep in touch
Avoid over-blown “emergencies” by making sure communication among team members is constant, says Jennifer Britton, president of Toronto-based Potentials Realized. “Sometimes, we have these problems that really are under the water,” she says, “and they erupt much bigger than they should be because communication has not been ongoing.”
> Specify action
Ongoing communication is important, but all information must be going to the right people. In more traditional, hierarchical structures, information flows up or down a chain of command. But in a team environment communication is more circular and complex as messages are sent en masse rather than to a specific person, says Arnold. The mass emails can make it difficult for individuals to determine which information is relevant to them.
The solution is to set ground rules governing group communications. For example, insist group emails include precise information on the action that’s required.
> Determine preferred communication styles
Build stronger understanding in your team by considering how individuals prefer to communicate. “Some people like details, other people in the team may just want the big picture,” Britton says.
To discover team members’ preferred communication styles simply ask new members joining the team what works best for them. For a more in-depth analysis for yourself or current team members, try one of the assessment tools available from most human resources representatives or on the Internet.
For example, Britton suggest, use a “communication style inventory,” available through your firm’s HR department, or one of the many free or low-cost questionnaires available online.
> Assess strengths and weaknesses
Build a stronger team and communication strategy by assessing as a group what works and what doesn’t. Are the staff meetings effective? Are team members able to get a hold of one another easily? Also take note of obstacles to communications, such as people failing to respond to voice mails and having too many people in emails.
When having these discussions take what Arnold calls the “QTIP approach” — quit taking it personally. “We’re not talking about anything that you’re doing personally it’s just about how we get the team better,” she says.
> Set an example
Ensure that you are a consistent model of communication for team members. Do you send out timely and relevant information to the team or do you hinder communication within the group?
“Are you always sending out emails at 4:30 in the afternoon,” Britton asks, “requesting a response by end of day?”
This is the second in a three-part series on teamwork. Next: Decision-making