How to improve communication in your team
When we think of agile leadership, we know that effective communication is key. And in a world of hybrid work and increased technological advancement, it's never been more important.
So here's my advice on how to improve communication within your teams.
Let's set the scene
Communicate well and teams move at speed. They can problem solve, adapt when needed and everyone can play their part in contributing to group success.
But communicate poorly and things fall apart. Deadlines get missed, people start pulling in different directions, small problems build up into crises. Basically it’s not good.
So given how much impact communication has on a team, how do we know if we're communicating well and what can we do to communicate better?
Measuring team communication
It's time to be data-driven, and the good news is that measuring if you're communicating well is very easy!
There are 2 things to look at:
1) "Are we delivering?"
Do deadlines get met, do KPIs get hit, does product get shipped? If the answer is yes, then communication within the team is not a problem. If no, then possibly communication is to blame, but we don’t know for sure yet, it could be other reasons too. So to find out we look at number 2.
2) Ask the team “Are we communicating well?”
This is such a simple and basic question but as we get caught up in the day to day – and especially when we are busy – we usually don’t stop to ask each other.
If you answered no to either (or both!) of these questions, then we’ve got work to do. But don’t worry you aren’t alone, and even if you answered yes to both today, it could change tomorrow. So, let’s look at what we do to improve communication.
Two factors to consider in improving team communication
There are 2 main factors to consider in improving communication, how we communicate and what we communicate.
Let’s start with how.
How – team rhythms
Team rhythms are a fantastic way to ensure communication never drops, especially when you are busy.
I know for me when I’m under the pump at work, one of the first things that stops is my communication. I put my head down, block out my calendar, don’t answer my phone to get things done. This may not be bad behaviour, it may be necessary for me to perform in my role, but it doesn’t eliminate my responsibility to communicate effectively as a leader!
This is where team rhythms save me.
A rhythm is a regular, recurring meeting at the same time where attendance is assumed and required. It has a set agenda and allows the opportunity to communicate if needed, but if not required the meeting can be cut short.
The idea being when everything is going well it may not feel necessary, but when things are going bad, they are the most important part of the week. I know when I am busy I can’t skip these, it also means when I am busy my co-workers know they can bring up things in the meeting rather than having to interrupt my day.
Examples of rhythms:
- Monthly updates (board, executive)
- Fortnightly product meeting
- Weekly team meeting
- Daily stand-up
- Weekly Teamgage discussion (couldn’t help myself 😊)
And remember, we aren’t talking about meetings for meetings sake (NOOOOOOO!!!) we are talking about people coming to share results, discuss issues and solve problems.
I want to repeat it because it is so important: if there is nothing to report or discuss, everything is smoothly going to plan, then you can CUT THE MEETING SHORT and give people time back in their day (people who do this are my heroes). The point is you don’t know that until you all get together and COMMUNICATE!
How – ask your team questions
OK, I may be slightly biased here given I’m the founder of Teamgage, but I've seen first hand how powerful it is to regularly ask team members “how are we doing?”.
If you want better communication, follow this up with your team. For example, what could we try this week to improve our communication? Do you think we need to talk more or less about the work? Are these meetings effective? And, one of my favourites, could this have been a Teams/Slack message? 😁
The best way to improve communication is to find the right way to regularly ask about it. It’s that simple.
What we communicate to teams
This topic is definitely more nuanced depending on what your company does and who your team is. This is something you are going to have to work out using your knowledge and skills. Having said that I do suggest the following:
1) Top down – focus on the big picture, the vision and where we are headed.
Why we do what we do. I honestly don’t think you can talk about this too much. If you are sick of talking about it, it might be the right amount!
2) Team member to team member – focus on summaries.
Report the numbers, the progress and the blockages or where you need help. Everyone is busy, no one likes a team member who shares every detail with everyone, likewise no one likes working with someone who doesn’t share what’s going on, the good and bad. Think about what they need to know to help you, or to do their job and how can you make this succinct for them.
3) Bottom up – If top down is about repetition, bottom up is about brevity.
Reality is your leader always has more to do than time in the day (side note – what is that about? We need to talk about that later). Think about what they need to know in order to help you. If you don’t need help, what info can you provide to show them you are on track, give them confidence that when you say it is fine, it is – numbers, progress summaries etc.
If things aren’t fine bring ideas to the table. I love it when my team has a blockage and they raise it with me and suggest a solution. It’s not always implemented but even in that case they learn because I explain why that isn’t the best option and then explain why we are going to do something else. If I just tell them what to do next no one is developing.
Communication is fluid and will be better and worse at different times. So remember to self-reflect often, is the volume of communication right and is what we are sharing right? And if you get really stuck, ask your team – how are we doing?
In my experience the conversation that follows always provides insights and then taking action is simple!