Improving Team Communication in the Workplace: 7 Tips You Can Try
Workplace communication can often be tricky. Even with the best of intentions, instructions can be misinterpreted by employees, or incorrect assumptions made. Employees must also be made to feel that they can speak up, at any time. Here’s 7 tips on how you can improve your team’s communication in the workplace:
- Put It in Writing
- Monitor Your Tone and Body Language When Communicating
- Listen Closely
- Have Bi-Weekly Team Meetings to Improve Communication
- Have an Open-Door Policy for Your Team
- Use a Messaging and Collaboration App to Increase Speed of Communications
- Host a Team Offsite
1. Put It in Writing
Ever had a conversation with a staff member, and then the assignment wasn’t executed as discussed? Then in a follow up conversation, the person said “I thought you said…” or “I thought you meant…”.
The chances of this happening can be reduced or eliminated by putting the details of all important conversations, especially those involving assignments, in writing. Basically, this is a summary of what was discussed, that can be referenced later by both supervisor and staff member.
Let’s use an example.
Jim runs a construction company in Cleveland. One day while on a work site, he signs some papers that his assistant Bill has brought him. During their conversation, Jim asks Bill to order some more construction hard hats for the beginning of the month, as there will be some people from out of town, and from the city inspection agency, visiting. Jim knows with all the work going on, he currently doesn’t have enough hard hats. Bill agrees to order them.
At the beginning of the month, there’s no extra hats. Jim asks Bill, and Bill says “I thought you said order them at the beginning of the month. I thought you wanted me to wait till then.”
Jim could have easily prevented this problem, by writing an email on his return to the office, after their conversation. It could have looked something like this:
“Bill, as per our discussion, please order six more hard hats. They need to be here, in the office, by October 2nd, as visitors from the city, and from out of state, will be touring our new site on that day. Maybe request delivery by September 28th, to allow a few days buffer, just in case there are delays. Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks, Jim”.
By writing this all down in an email, Jim has effectively communicated his expectations. The ball is in Bill’s court now, to follow up, if he has any questions.
2. Monitor Your Tone and Body Language When Communicating
How you say something, and the way you look when you say it, can be just as important as what you’re saying.
This is very important for people who manage others. Most managers in an organization want to be seen as approachable, but if they’re always angry when communicating, or tense, then that is not going to inspire confidence in their leadership abilities. It will affect their team’s culture, and that team is not going to want to communicate with their manager.
If you have a problem or crisis, then take a few moments and decide how you’re going to approach it, before sharing the news. Practice saying the news out loud a few times, so that when you do actually communicate this information to your team, you can pay more attention to how you’re saying it, and the type of energy you are giving off.
Sometimes, if you’re upset, your team will understand. They won’t understand if you’re rude and abrupt though. Present the problem clearly, and give the impression that although you understand that these things happen, you need their input to help solve the problem.
3. Listen Closely
Part of the communication process includes listening too.
While listening, monitor the tone and body language of whomever is speaking. Maintain eye contact and nod occasionally to show you understand, or as a way to encourage the speaker to say more. While you are doing this, you should also be closely monitoring what is actually being said, so you can ask probing questions later, to get to the heart of the matter.
Listening means not always talking. It means taking the temperature of the room and getting a feel for who has something to say that’s important or relevant, and who agrees with the analysis or suggestions presented. This can help you decide what to say, or how to say it, when the time comes.
Lastly, this process also helps build the confidence of your team. You want to hear your team’s ideas, so they need to think that they can speak openly and without interruption. By not always leading the conversation, your team will learn that you are really listening to them. They will respect that.
4. Have Bi-Weekly Team Meetings to Improve Communication
Bi-weekly team meetings can and will improve the communication of your team. Why? Because this is the time for your team to meet and weigh in on all the projects going on within the department, or to ask questions about the direction the company is taking. This is where their input is asked for, on a regular basis.
A bi-weekly team meeting should:
Have a Set Date and Time
Meet on the same day of the week, and time, every two weeks. Send out a meeting planner and do no mark attendance as ‘optional’. Stress that its important everybody is there, so that everybody can weigh in.
Should Have an Agenda
An agenda should be mandatory for each team meeting. As a skill-building exercise, you can assign a different member of your team to do up the agenda for these meetings. Each member can also lead that meeting. This will help your team to build their communication skills, and grow their confidence.
Start with the Latest Company News
One of the reasons you’re meeting, is so that you can share the latest company news with your team, and respond to questions. Start every bi-weekly team meeting this way. If there is nothing new to report, then just open up the floor to questions, before you get into the nitty gritty of the current assignments.
Recognize Team Members
If a team member has done something important in the last two weeks, such as completing a difficult project or exceeding expectations on an assignment, be sure to recognize that success, and allow the team member to talk about it.
If there’s an employee not participating, you can combat this tendency through status updates. Status updates are private one on one meetings, typically an hour, where the staffer goes through his assignments. You can read more about status updates in this article on productivity tips for work.
5. Have an Open-Door Policy for Your Team
Let your team know you have an open-door policy. This means if a member of your staff wants to talk to you, he can do so, simply by dropping by. Your promise is that if you have the time, you’ll talk to him then, or if you’re in the middle of working on something, you’ll arrange a more convenient time later to sit down for a discussion.
One way you can demonstrate having an open-door policy is by actually keeping your door open. It is unlikely one of your team is going to knock, if your door is closed. And then maybe you will never hear from this person at all. Consider whether your door really needs to be closed, when you are about to close it.
6. Use a Messaging and Collaboration App to Increase Speed of Communications
Time moves quickly. Between bi-weekly status updates and irregular meetings, your team may not get much chance to talk to you, or each other. If that is the case, consider a messaging and collaboration app, like Slack.
These types of apps can send instant messages for you without you having to go through the tedious process of setting up an email every time you want to reach out to your team. You create a channel once, name it, invite the team members, and then update it when information becomes available. All of your team members will be notified, and can respond to your message or create new messages of their own.
7. Host a Team Offsite
All of the above methods can really improve team communication in the workplace, but there’s nothing like an offsite. Take your team out of its regular work environment for a day, and mix some business with pleasure.
Offsites can be tricky, try not to pack too much into one day. If you’re going to have speakers come in to talk to your team, make sure what they are going to say is completely relevant to what your team does, so that your staff can take away some useful information.
If there are members of your team who are estranged from each other, assign them to work with each other, if there’s group work. Also, have a couple of surprises throughout the day – like prizes, or providing a very nice meal that you wouldn’t normally splurge on back at the office. This can really show you value the team, and they will appreciate your thoughtfulness.
Take the time to plan out your offsite, well in advance. Ask yourself first, what do you hope you and your team will get out of the day? If it’s all about brainstorming ideas to support the strategic direction of the company, then plan some relevant exercises.
For your offsite, select a location that doesn’t have a lot of distractions, and is not difficult to get to (you’ll want something that’s accessible by car and transit). If it’s going to be a long day, let the team know in advance and don’t put the nice meal at 5 o’clock, because chances are some team members will have to leave for family obligations, and will miss this special treat. Make that meal the lunch instead.