How to Improve Team Communication with Digital Technologies
Whatever the size of your company is – be it 1 or 10 or 100 employees – effective team communication will be an essential element to a successful business life and a high level of productivity. According to the infographics from Weekdone Ltd, 41 percent of people believe “lack of communication between staff and management” is one of biggest issues organizations have while managing their employees. There is no doubt that collaboration and communication are the factors that will make-or-break the digital team.
1. Start from yourself (an obvious yet effective way)
Let’s begin with some ‘old-school’ skills which have not lost their extreme importance nowadays. There are a number of basic things you can do to improve your personal communication skills:
1. Be an example to others.
Managers must be the champions of positive communication, transparency and work engagement if they want employees to follow their example. Or at least try to be. :)
2. Become a thoughtful and responsive listener.
To be honest, most of us are bad listeners. We interrupt. We prepare our response instead of listening to what the person is saying. We think we already know what the speaker is going to tell us. But it is hard to understand what someone needs if we do not provide them with our attention. That is why the key meaning is often missed.
3. Watch employees’ body language carefully.
Communication is not just about talking. Body language can tell you even more than words do. Observe how your colleagues act while talking: expression on their faces, gestures they make, the way they stand or sit. Non-verbal signs may help you to better picture the situation your employee is talking about.
4. Take into account communication preferences.
Not everyone likes to communicate the same way. Respect the choice of communication channel your colleague seems to prefer while reaching them out.
5. Never personalize problems.
Dealing with an issue that has an emotional component, use the ‘24 Hour Rule': don’t send any messages to others until you have had a day to reflect. This rule will help you to operate only with facts and be free in choosing a tone of communication.
6. What you also should never personalize is criticism.
Whether you are giving or receiving criticism, it should be based on facts, not emotions.
In other words, consider the feedback as something intended to get a different result, not a personal attack. Furthermore, provide positive feedback when a job is well-done, and find ways to manage around without being too bossy.
7. Manage individuals, not groups.
When a manager’s decision is directed to everyone, it is directed to no one. The lack of specificity allows each employee avoid personal responsibility. As a consequence, this type of resolutions fails to get desired results. Use group communication for providing general information. Nevertheless, it should not be used for individual management or criticism.
8. Assign tasks clearly and (as we already know) directly.
The message sent and the message received may bare no similarity to each other. Everyone has their own mental ‘filter’, and not everything comes out the way we plan. Many negative situations can arise from making incorrect assumptions, especially in an email or a text message. Good managers follow up and give corrective comments to ensure that each of their co-workers is on the same page and working toward the same goal.
9. Never stop improving.
Like a muscle, effective communication is something you must constantly be working on.
By mastering these nine simple communication rules you can significantly boost productivity in your office. Want more takeaways on how to empower communication? Check out these 50 ways to improve team communication at work.
2. Create a communication-friendly space
Sharing ideas and initiatives or speaking up about feelings should never be taboo. What you need to encourage your team to express themselves is creating a communication-friendly environment. You are working with humans, not robots.
1. Encourage open door policies.
An open door policy means anyone in the company can talk to anyone at any given time. That might sound a little bit obvious, but does it really happen in your organization? A good open door policy means everyone feels comfortable reaching out anyone.
2. Set the example of friendly and proactive communication.
Ask questions, challenge ideas, communicate your feelings, etc.
3. Support social interactions.
Motivate employees to eat away from their desks during lunch. As a consequence, they have a chance to communicate and build relationships with each other.
4. Make feedback feel natural.
By encouraging constant feedback, your organization sends a message that it is open to constructive criticism and values employees’ input. All you need is a medium to supply regular feedback. What tools does the market have to offer?
Surveys are probably the simplest way to get feedback from your team. Don’t hesitate to ask about everything you are interested in, from how a new brand of coffee tastes to what your employees think about you as a leader. For instance, SurveyMonkey and 15Five are handy tools for crafting surveys. Moreover, you can use a software like OfficeVibe specially designed for improving team collaboration and communication. Among many features, it offers the opportunity to gather employees’ feedback seamlessly.
A recent study reveals that 80 percent of today’s workers favor instant and regular feedback over traditional annual reviews.
3. Rethink your meetings in a video way
Meetings get a bad reputation in terms of performance. On the other hand, you may agree that there is nothing more efficient than an effective team meeting. How can you accomplish this? Make sure that you are holding or attending a meeting where:
- all stakeholders know what is being discussed,
- a strict time limit was specified,
- all participants were prepared to the topic beforehand.
These golden rules on productive meetings can be enhanced by the other ones:
1. Schedule regular meetings and keep them constant.
Scheduling meetings at the same time on the same weekday leads to creating a habit. Habits provide your employees with something they are familiar with. Eventually, that in return reduces stress.
Schedule one hour every month to chat with your employees instead of relying on annual reviews. You may be surprised how much your team members have to say about where they are at, how they feel, and what they might need from you to perform best.
2. Create video meeting space.
Video conferencing is a great business tool especially for distributed teams because it is effective and affordable. Remote workers can feel as in-person employees by adopting video communication tools like Skype or Google Hangouts.
Instead of wasting your time and money on traveling or phone bills, video meetings allow your workers to ‘meet’ digitally. Although face-to-face meetings are important, group video calls are one of the best ways to maximize performance. They optimize the way you arrange meetings with non-office workers. But don’t forget to implement the golden ‘old school’ meeting rules. ;)
4. Don’t Miss These Tools to Empower Team Communication
A monthly newsletter used to be a standard for corporate communication. Nowadays this approach is probably not enough for even the most conservative companies. On the other hand, a daily social feed might be too much for some teams. A balanced internal communication strategy should aim for consistent work conversation routine that uses the right medium. Your team needs to pick a few basic tools to support the internal communication:
1. Synchronous communication.
Instant messaging is changing the game for digital teams, and there are plenty of options to choose from. Start by setting up a synchronous communication tool to give team members immediate access to discuss ideas and get answers to multiple questions in a timely manner.
Setting up an employee online communication with business messengers can provide a centralized place for work conversations. This will encourage staff to become more engaged with the business goals and share their thoughts and updates that won’t get lost in a messy email box. This will also benefit distributed employees by enabling them to stay informed and feel that they are part of a wider team.
Take time to choose a communication platform which will meet your team’s needs perfectly. Compare the tools by their affordability and features. These days Slack is the most popular however you can use various Slack alternatives to cut your expenses and receive pretty much the same value.
Tip. If you decide to integrate digital technologies and communication tools into your workflow, it could be useful to utilize platforms that offer mobile applications. If your team members are able to download tools on their work devices (such as mobile or tablet), they will be able to stay connected on the go. By choosing tools that offer mobile apps, you can provide a higher level of accessibility, connectivity and communication.
Businesses generally make better decisions when they're based on conversations or discussions between many people. Mobile devices open up participation because they allow those who aren't sitting at a computer to join the dialogue. (Forrester Research )
1.1. Extra tip: don’t over-communicate.
After work hours, keep a number of emails you send to your colleagues to a minimum. While your messages are likely very important, it can also most probably wait until the following workday.
2. Make your workflow accessible.
Teamwork may become messy and disorganized without a centralized space to manage all the individual components of a project, especially if co-workers are located in different offices or work remotely. It can be easy to become confused about who is doing what, how far along they are in the process, where information is located and how much work is left.
Without a roadmap or planning tool, managers get sucked into hours of meetings that could be eliminated by having an updated overview that’s accessible at any time. Project management tools such as Basecamp or droptask can help you coordinate all the activity in one easy-to-manage tool.
3. Design guidelines for using said tools.
After your team has picked its toolset, it’s time to have a clear conversation about how the tools will be used. Having a written reference for how all communication tools are used empowers team members to operate with confidence, knowing they’re all operating within the same framework of understanding how a team functions.
4. Keep the communication process dynamic.
Okay, you’ve now defined your toolset, set guidelines for using the tools, and wrapped process around meetings. What next? Teams are constantly evolving and changing, whether it’s because of strategy decisions, product launches, or hiring changes, so it’s important to make sure your team infrastructure is also dynamic. Check in regularly to make sure guidelines are still relevant. Updating processes is key for keeping team members engaged.
5. Measuring the effectiveness and impact of activities for improving team communication
It is a common situation that steps on improving internal communication bring long-term returns in the form of team engagement and ultimately – revenue. But as a manager, you should understand the interim results. Here are a few ways to review the impact of team communication on overall performance.
- Analyze recent changes in productivity, sales, income.
- Conduct surveys on employee happiness.
- Inspect the latest staff retention rates.
If the interim results show promise, scale your efforts. If you are not satisfied with them, try to utilize other tactics on improving team communication.
Generally speaking, it takes a lot of time, actions and planning to set up an infrastructure that will keep your team synchronized. Here is one last look at your team communication blueprint:
- First, master your personal communication skills.
- Then, create a communication-friendly space and build a healthy feedback culture.
- Little by little, optimize your meetings with the using of video conference tools.
- In the meantime, empower your team with communication and collaboration platforms.
- Eventually, measure the effect of your efforts and try to find their clear-cut practical value.
Using these simple strategies, combined with the right communication and collaboration tools, will help build positive and effective relationships in your team.