You’ve probably heard this phrase before: teamwork makes the dream work.
It’s got a lovely ring to it, and it also rings true. Good teamwork goes a long way in business – resulting in high levels of productivity, efficiency, and employee engagement.
But, what makes teamwork… work? What makes up a phenomenal team?
According to research, it’s got little to do with the intelligence of the individuals. Your smartest team of employees will not necessarily be your most productive team.
Your best teams have something else: effective team communication. With good communication, they can out-do a team of geniuses time and again. Intrigued? Read on.
Why is teamwork so important?
Before we look at how to achieve effective team communication for better teamwork, let’s clarify why excellent teamwork is so important.
Working as part of a team is quite commonplace in today’s workplace. In fact, in a matrixed organization, people are often part of several teams at any given time. This means a lot of a business’ bottom-line is reliant upon the success of those teams.
Thankfully, if a team is working well together, it will be greater than the sum of its parts. It’ll be productive, efficient, and less likely to make avoidable errors. A well-oiled machine.
Conversely, if the teamwork is poor, the opposite is true. There will often be silos of information, miscommunications, duplicated work, and unnecessary mistakes. The team, in all likelihood, will be weaker than the sum of their parts.
How do you achieve effective team communication?
If you want to improve your teamwork, then it’s time address the way you communicate. The great news is that if you work with a team of brilliant but uncommunicative people, you can still achieve effective team communication. The first step is to create an open, collaborative, and respectful environment.
As with so many workplace initiatives, this starts at the top. Employees look to their leaders and mentors for direction. As such, leaders can do several things to encourage clear team communication:
Work out loud to set the tone for open communication and transparency
Encourage, and take part in, debate and honest feedback on team projects
Respect feedback and new ideas, even if they’re in contrast to their own opinion
Recognize and reward this open and honest communication
By doing this, leaders are making a statement to their employees that their honest opinions are welcome. They’re breaking down a big barrier to effective team communication, as employees learn that they can communicate openly without fear of reprimand or embarrassment.
When this happens—when the communication starts to flow—the team becomes collectively more intelligent. This is the goal. By sharing knowledge and feedback they’re able to efficiently create an end product that’s more robust for having been shaped by diversity.
The practical side of effective team communication
The other part of effective team communication is the communication itself—the way in which team members actually get in contact with each other. If your teams don’t have an easy and well-established way to share and capture feedback, they run the risk of losing a lot of good ideas and flatlining efficiency.
There are a number of different communication channels you can use to improve the effectiveness of team communication. Here are four to consider:
1. Team meetings
Don’t underestimate the importance of getting together as a whole team. Whether your team is spread out across the world or sit alongside each other every day, team meetings can be extremely powerful. They’re a way for everyone to find out what each other is working on and the progress they’re making.
It’s best if people share details, challenges, or successes they’re currently having with their tasks (rather than simply saying what they’re doing). This will generate a dialogue in which others can offer recommendations or learn from one another.
2. Sidebar conversations
Informal communication outside of meetings should be encouraged. A lot of great ideas are often generated and shared in these organic conversations, and they result in nimble action that can have big improvements in a current project.
Just make sure that any changes are shared with the wider team - either through an online group chat or in your weekly team-wide meeting. If you plan to discuss big amendments, or realize that such a discussion is unfolding, then make sure to pause and gather all the relevant stakeholders from the team to chat about it collectively. There’s no point having the conversation twice.
3. Communication tools
Internal communication tools, like the JostleⓇ intranet, enable your team members to connect with each other quickly and reliably. They can have group discussions, share useful resources, or simply check in with each other. These tools are far more effective than email because:
It’s easy to track the conversation in one assigned place
You can tag people so they get a notification that they’ve been mentioned
Shared files remain attached to the chat so you don’t have to go digging for them
You can see who is typing, so you don’t get a bombardment of confused email responses
As well as a useful chat feature, internal communication tools offer many features that help teams stay connected and efficient. They're a go-to place for documenting plans and specifications; sharing best practices; and storing important files.
4. Project management tools
Project management tools such as Trello and Asana are a great way to coordinate and streamline team projects. They make it easy for teams to track the progress of a project as you can assign tasks to individuals, set a due date for that task, and chat about that task in its specific “card”. It’s a very transparent way for an entire team to communicate effectively on a project and move it swiftly from one stage to the next.
One caveat to all of this is to understand that your tools for communicating are only as good as the way your team uses them. You should have well-established ground rules for how and when to use certain tools.
An example of one of these rules might be: “When we’re discussing a specific task or project, we have that discussion in the task’s card on our project management tool”. Another example might be: “When we’re handing a task to someone else in our project management tool, we always tag that person”.
Having simple ground rules in place may seem like a chore but they’re key to ensuring clear and reliable communication. Plus, once everyone knows the rules, they’re easy to maintain as a team. Everyone should work together by kindly calling one another out if they accidentally forget to play by the rules.
Don’t forget that for effective team communication to take place, individuals need to trust that they can speak honestly and openly with each other. If this isn’t happening already, leadership should build an environment in which it can grow.
Leaders should also ensure that the practical communication needs of the team are met by providing them with the tools and ground rules for collaboration. Get all these pieces in place, and your team will be on the way to more robust communication and stronger teamwork.