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How bad communication kills teamwork

Sep 16, 2016 | BRIEF

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Team communication“Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” – Andrew Carnegie
This article isn’t going to teach you how to build the highest performing team in your line of work. Instead it’s going to help you focus on the most important ingredient your team needs to succeed in accomplishing any and every goal. It’s all about team communication…GO TEAM!!!

Let’s start with some science

There are several factors that contribute to the success or failure of your team: talent, skill, experience, relationships…etc. But it turns out that there’s one factor that trumps all the rest, communication. Harvard Business Review conducted a study on how communication patterns affect team results.

“With remarkable consistency, the data confirmed that communication indeed plays a critical role in building successful teams. In fact, we’ve found patterns of communication to be the most important predictor of a team’s success. Not only that, but they are as significant as all the other factors—individual intelligence, personality, skill, and the substance of discussions—combined.”

The study goes on to explain how you can measure team communication in dollars, productivity and even creativity. Check out this interview with a very smart guy from MIT on how they equipped several team members with electronic badges to collect data on their individual communication behaviors. The future is now people!
I’m going out on a limb here but…if good team communication is the most important factor to successful results, then poor team communication is the highest contributor to poor results.
I asked Brig. Gen. Rich Gross, retired military leader and former legal advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff…aka he knows a thing or two about team communication…how poor communication habits affect his teams.

“When team communication breaks down, you often have a tremendous waste of resources — a loss of time spent working on the wrong priority or project, or resources (money) spent on something not required or desired. There’s also lost opportunity cost, as that time and those resources could have been dedicated to something else. I once made an offhanded comment, wondering out-loud about a legal issue, which resulted in a colleague who overheard it doing hours of legal research and writing an info paper on the topic — a paper I didn’t need. I’ve seen that occur time and time again in the senior levels of government. One careless comment from a senior official can spawn hundreds of hours of time wasted by those who work for them.”

I know Rich and can tell you that he’s very intelligent and incredibly talented (I gotch your back buddy!) But it’s easy to see that one small communication error can lead to a big waste of time and poor results. So where do we start? What can we do to improve that one vital factor, communication, that will generate the greatest results for our team?

Are you asking the right questions?

1. Have you shared a clear vision with your team? One of the biggest motivators for a team is to share the vision or a common goal. When everyone sees the finish line, they have a much better chance of crossing it.
2. Do you focus on results instead of activity? Here’s Rich Gross again with some valuable insight. “Very few people know how to run an efficient and effective meeting, and too many people equate holding a meeting with accomplishing a task, as if the meeting is the end unto itself. A meeting is merely a tool to pass information and foster collaboration, and often, another tool (e.g., email, shared documents, etc.) can provide a more effective way of accomplishing the same tasks.” The idea here is to not communicate just to communicate. If you’re running a meeting, state the objective of the meeting up front.
3. Are you delivering your message consistently and frequently? You might remember the “Rule of 7” from the advertising world. Basically, we have to hear or see the message 7 times before we buy. The general idea applies when communicating to our teams. Make sure your team is hearing the same message (your vision, goals and expectations) consistently and frequently. I’m not saying you should call 7 meetings. Start with a meeting, document and send it, have someone develop a visual aid and share it that way…etc.
4. Are you listening to your team? The famous words of ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus still holds true “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” Actively listening to your team is one of the most basic things you can do to engage and motivate them. A great way to start listening is to schedule short “check ins” (15 mins with individuals) where you do nothing but ask questions and get feedback. Your goal is to listen deeply, try to understand any issues and ask for their ideas (when relevant) to solve them.
5. What would your team say? You might want to ask your team a few questions while you’re at it. “What’s your top priority right now?” “Are we clear on expectations?” “Have our meetings been effective?” “Any ideas for how to improve?” It’s important to know how effectively you’re communicating from the team’s perspective. You won’t know until you ask (BONUS: You can combine and ask these questions during a check in).

Keep team communication simple

Don’t feel like you have to do it all at once. Start with the first question. Make sure your team is aligned around a common goal. You’ll see an immediate shift in their motivation as they develop a sense of purpose.
If you’re looking for a few simple tools to improve team communication. Download our free BRIEF Essentials toolkit here.

About the author: Matt Cornelison is on a mission to help people master concise communication at The BRIEF Lab. He specializes in storytelling and coaching executive communication. He works with top Fortune 500 companies from Harley Davidson to elite Special Operations Units within the Military. Follow Matt on Linkedin.



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