Three ways to prevent communication breakdown in teams

Poor communication can have an adverse impact on productivity and engagement

Employees rate bad communication as one of the key reasons they feel disengaged with employers. So how can HR support teams to have more productive conversations and understand each other better? Andrew Filev of Wrike explains.

The best teams are often made up of people with very different personalities and backgrounds, bringing together a variety of complementary skills.

However, these differences – while immensely valuable – can also become a source of communication breakdown in any team, causing damage to relationships, and business.

Wrike’s Digital Work Survey, conducted last year, found that almost a quarter of office workers in the UK considered weak communication as a productivity zapper. Left unresolved, this has a potential ripple effect that could then threaten an entire company culture.

To add to that, according to research by employment law specialist Peninsula, a lack of communication in the workplace is the single biggest reason why employees want to leave their jobs.

The situation can be even more challenging for businesses that have expanded in to other countries around the world, where cultural factors are also a consideration.

There is no “one size fits all” solution, but the following tips will help minimise the effect of communication mishaps.

1. Knowledge is vital

If phrases such as “I thought you were doing that” or “I thought the deadline was next month!” are common in your office then communications clearly lack clarity. To stop that from happening, the trick is to make sure that everyone is on the same page at all times.

This starts with keeping track of what has been said during meetings, summarising the key points and the tasks that were given to each member, and sending a follow-up note to all participants so that there is no doubt about next steps, and where responsibility lies.

It helps to share progress with all members of a team so that everyone is up to date on the status of the project.

With the advent of cloud-based technologies, real-time sharing and updates become useful rather than onerous, as a barrage of email updates might. Notes can be shared instantly with the relevant people as well as updates or simple comments.

This centralised way of working and knowledge-sharing can also help integrate any newcomers to the team.

New recruits will want to learn the ropes quickly and having access to the history of relevant projects will help them to get up to speed and hit the ground running.

2. Improve email or lose it

In many cases, the office’s own worst enemy is email.

Poorly managed inboxes that contain thousands of unread and unorganised emails can often lead to wasted time and resources locating vital information when needed.

Apart from trying to banish email altogether, there are a few simple tweaks that can make a huge difference to employees’ inboxes

First, urge them to keep the headline as short and straight to the point as possible. This will help anyone involved to either find the right email faster or dismiss it without having to go through each one individually. The second tip is to add a short summary of the conversation at the top of an email every time a thread becomes too long. Using internal collaboration tools rather than email can eliminate this extra work.

Wrike’s research has also revealed that the number of IT tools or apps used at work had recently increased for nearly half of UK office workers (46%).

In other European countries such as Germany or France, the adoption of digital tools has reached 60% and 71% respectively. The proliferation of technology tools is significant and growing.

Online conversation tools such as Slack, enable teams to instantly chat internally saving a considerable amount of time (and email) and allow the creation of ad hoc conversation channels that can be used for quick and dirty collaboration.

For a more complete transition, online work management tools are also on the rise, allowing teams to evolve every conversation into a concrete action or a task that anybody on a team can see at all times, saving the need to interrupt colleagues to get an update.

These tools enable teams to create, update, and manage projects with people distributed locally or around the world, with conversations about each project happening within the project itself, rather than over email, or in a disconnected chat channel.

3. Learn, adapt and improve

In the same way every personality is different, we also have different preferred ways of communicating.

When some might feel comfortable just speaking out during a meeting to express an opinion, others might prefer taking their time to formulate an idea and communicate it in a written form. Some people love messaging services. Others despise them. Some people refuse to check voicemail and instead request that people text them.

If someone is leading a team, learning about everyone’s preferences and accommodating where possible is the first step toward improving communication within it.

It doesn’t mean everyone has to communicate in different ways with every person, but it means people can adjust their own communication style when the occasion warrants it. The fact that team members are being heard will inevitably lead to a happier group.

Communication is tricky at the best of times. Being sensitive to the needs of the team is a good starting point. Seamless collaboration among teams will inevitably lead to a more productive and happier team.

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