Leading a team requires deliberate and effective communication in all respects. Managers need to think strategically when they develop their communication plans, even if those plans are very informal. Managers should be encouraged to pause long enough before communicating to consider what tactics will be needed and most effective. Here is a helpful checklist that if practiced will become a durable and reliable communication strategy that will build trust through transparency.
Know your team; they are the audience
A part of a manager’s effort to develop their own sense of self-awareness and emotional intelligence is learning to understand their team’s knowledgebase, cultural norms, and non-verbal cues. Use language that is free of business jargon and unfamiliar acronyms. If you want to use an acronym, remember to spell it out first and provide some context or definition before continually using it. Effective communication requires a common language and vocabulary, using unfamiliar language fosters confusion and frustration among team members.
It is also vitally important to recognise the cultural diversity among a team and consider how communication might be misunderstood or not understood to those with other backgrounds and languages. We all need to learn how to communicate effectively in a multi-culture environment; if we don’t there will continue to be inequities created as different cultures perceive words, tone, and body language differently. Enthusiasm around diversity is growing and expectations justifiably high; at the same time managers must recognise that improving communication is going to take practice. Being able to communicate effectively is a leadership tradecraft and improving it means managers need 1) a feedback loop created by reflective and active listening, 2) to be vulnerable enough to ask for help understanding various cultures, 3) respect — not frustration — in their tone and body language, and 4) determination to learn.
Balance useful content with information overload
We live in an age of nearly infinite content where people at work, and at home, are bombarded by information from a myriad of sources. To ensure effective communication managers must recognise the signs of overload and communication fatigue; they have to seek a balance that delivers useful informative and actionable content without unnecessary details (that can still be made available for those that want more) which serves as noise that disrupts the core message.
If a message is being delivered in-person verbally or by video, managers should limit themselves. Just because a meeting is scheduled to take one hour, doesn’t mean it needs to be filled with one hour of content. Provide the necessary context on the topic to set the stage, deliver the core message, clarify the intended takeaways, and leave room for questions and clarification. Whenever possible leave more room for dialogue than it takes to deliver the message itself; these conversations are where the most effective communication takes place.
When delivering a message digitally via email or chat platforms, be cognizant that the lack of non-verbal cues may distort the intended message. Consider the use of live video conferencing or even recorded video to capture body language and intonation. We’ve seen the popularity of short video clips explode on social media and expect the same to continue in corporate communications. If this is not practical, have a second set of eyes review the communication to get an objective read on tone. Experts say that it takes three positive things to offset one negative, so be conscious and deliberate about what in the message is positive and what might be perceived negatively.
Know when communication should be individualized
Not all communication is meant for everyone, and it is not unusual for first-time managers and even more experienced managers to include a message intended for an individual in a broader remark during a team meeting. For example, someone has complained that their colleague is repeatedly coming in late, leaving the rest of the team to cover for them. Managers should not use team communications as a way to remind everyone they should arrive on time; they should instead give this feedback to the individual as an opportunity for improvement. Another example might be when a team member is struggling more than others with a change being introduced. It can be helpful to work with that individual one-on-one rather than consume valuable time if others on the team are adapting more readily with the change.
Test it when you can
Timeliness is important in much of our team communication; team members don’t want to learn of things without time to adapt the work they are doing to any changes. When practical, it is helpful to test a draft or outline with another manager, an informal team leader, or others, so that the intended message being sent out doesn’t miss the mark. Make sure if a response is needed that clear timelines are set and that you are using a delivery mechanism that doesn’t become a barrier. We all know a manager that assumes we are waiting for their next email. Don’t use email for urgent communication, unless it is in conjunction with other forms of communication. Many organizations are setting standards for email response time, so at minimum keep that standard in mind before assuming your audience will get the message immediately.
Good communication is rarely recognized, but poor communication tends to leave a wake behind it that can take time and effort to calm. Communication needs context, a positive tone, clear takeaways, and an opportunity for a feedback loop. Don’t assume your message has all four elements… test it.
Why Repetition in Internal Communication Is Very Important
Researchers have found that the rise of the internet and a constant stream of digital sources of information is actually causing our brains to retain less information. The phenomenon is considered digital amnesia or less formally, “the Google effect”. The theory suggests that with so much information available and with systems like Google able to help us to quickly locate information we need, our brains quickly discard information if we think we can look it up again later. For this and other well-researched reasons repetition is an important aspect of best practice in communication. The more we say something, the more likely it will be remembered. Again, managers have to be sensitized to information overload and repetition may require briefer and briefer versions, however it is a proven strategy managers should employ regularly.
Helping managers develop best practices for team communications will make them more effective leaders and their teams will appreciate the clarity and transparency it brings to their work.