The New Reality of Team Communication
Achieving effective communication in today’s workplace is hard.
Think of the times when you discussed something face-to-face with a person speaking the same native language as yours, and still, the two of you managed to misunderstand each other. It’s easy to recall a time like that, right.
As work has become more multinational and flexible than ever, you may work with colleagues who live on another continent and speak another language. Most of the time, you will communicate with your coworkers through asynchronous work and in virtual meetings instead of real-time face-to-face.
While the risk of miscommunication is very real now, don’t worry: We’re here to help you navigate the art of team communication in our new hybrid and remote reality!
Team Communication Defined
Team communication refers to the process of exchanging information among team members. This process can happen through a variety of vehicles:
- Verbal: talking in-person, phone calls, video calls
- Non-verbal: body language, eye contact, facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, posture
- Written: emails, messages
- Visual: slide decks, videos, illustrations
- Active listening: attentiveness, curiosity, non-judgment
Why Does Team Communication Matter?
The better question is probably: How can team communication not matter? For managers, here are five ways better communication will help your team grow exponentially (and some may surprise you):
- Foster creativity: More often than not, an innovative idea comes from an intersection of different perspectives. When your team members are willing to share their ideas and open to other ideas, collective creativity flourishes.
- Boost productivity: This one is rather obvious. Work simply flows much better when one doesn’t have to spend tons of time fixing a mistake he has made earlier due to miscommunication.
- Enable better problem-solving: Believe it or not, a great team that can communicate and work together harmoniously is better than the best individuals at solving complex problems. Effective team communication contributes to strong team dynamics - the magic ingredient in teamwork.
- Reduce stress and increase trust: According to Gallup, a manager’s support and frequent communication can act as a psychological buffer for employees in stressful times. When you communicate effectively and supportively, your people trust you’ve always got their back.
- Promote engagement: People are more engaged with a team when they feel like they can freely share their perspectives and are listened to by other team members.
What Makes Good Team Communication?
To get you started, below is the fundamental checklist for good team communication:
Good communication starts from inside
In his 38-million-view TED Talk How to speak so that people want to listen, communication expert Julian Treasure shares the four pillars of communication: Honesty - Authenticity - Integrity - Love (or HAIL).
- Honesty means always to speak the truth.
- Authenticity is to stay true to who you are.
- To maintain Integrity, you have to practice what you preach.
- Lastly, and most importantly, spread Love in your communication, say things with good intentions for the other person, and refrain from being judgmental.
These four pillars apply to all types of communication.
And then into the details…
Once you have got the foundation right, other things to consider are:
- Choose the right communication tools: Teams or Slack? Notion or Monday.com? Or both? While many team communication tools and remote collaboration tools have their own benefits and shortcomings, choosing the one that matches your specific needs is very important.
- Establish an effective frequency of communication: Define the appropriate frequency of team meetings, project status updates, one-on-one check-ins, and so on for your team. Meeting too often makes people feel annoyed (as they don’t have time to focus on the real work), but meeting too seldom can make them feel lost.
- Be mindful of non-verbal communication clues: While you surely have good intentions when communicating, make sure that your body language is saying the same thing – even on Zoom. Some people have a habit of frowning while listening to others, even when they are in complete agreement. Be aware if you have similar habits, and gently remind your team members when you notice theirs.
Examples of Effective Team Communication
Effective team communication can make not only your team but also the world a happier place. Let us show you why this is not an exaggeration.
Look at Pixar - the maker of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Coco, and a long list of other animation blockbusters (that we believe have brought a lot of joy to our world.) Pixar’s creative power comes from its excellent practices regarding team communication.
At Pixar, transparent and cross-functional communication is key.
"Within Pixar, members of any department can approach anyone in another department to solve problems, without having to go through 'proper' channels”, Ed Catmull - Pixar’s Co-founder.
Catmull also shared that Directors at Pixar always listen to and respect the creative team, which empowers the team to do their best work.
Another example of great team communication comes from the remote-first tech giant GitLab.
In their handbook, GitLab lays out their expectations for team communication that all teams can learn from, including
- Assume positive intent
- Kindness matters
- Express your thoughts responsibly and inclusively
- Own It. If you say it or type it, own it.
- Feedback is essential
- Do not underestimate a 1:1
- Focus on what we can directly influence
Common Team Communication Issues to Avoid
1. The absence of psychological safety
Without psychological safety, the harmonious team communication you perceive may be artificial.
As a manager, if your people always agree with what you say, they are likely too afraid to voice their honest opinions. Make it clear to your team that opposing ideas are welcomed.
2. Lack of clarity and alignment
In team communication, we tend to pay more attention to the way we transfer information (How to say something right? Or when to say it?) than to confirm that the other person has understood what we meant. This leads to miscommunication and hinders team alignment.
An easy way to reduce miscommunication is to ask the following questions at the end of each discussion:
- What do you think?
- Can you please sum up what we just discussed?
- Do you want me to clarify anything?
3. Excessive communication
Remember that having all your team members reply to work emails and instant messaging all the time doesn’t mean that your communication game is strong.
Having project status meetings weekly isn't necessarily better at enhancing team communication than bi-weekly or even monthly.
People need focus time to be in the flow and work most productively, so:
- Let your people know that they don’t need to be always on with emails and messages.
- Organize every meeting with a clear meeting meeting purpose and follow the F.A.I.R. framework.
Otherwise, redundant communication will drain your team’s energy.
4. Working with “difficult people"
Unpopular opinion: No people are “difficult people.”
Many times when we find someone difficult, it is more likely a clash of personalities rather than the other person being “difficult” themselves.
One of the most common clashes is between highly sensitive people (HSP) and the less sensitive ones.
According to executive coach Melody Wilding, the signs may include:
- Conflict avoidance vs. Conflict confrontation: As HSPs are more attuned to others’ emotions, they often avoid conflicts so as not to hurt others’ feelings. Moreover, HSPs usually expect other people to be sensitive to their feelings and may feel hurt when others fail to do so.
- Planning vs. Thinking on the Spot: HSPs also prefer having the time to think through a decision carefully and may appear to other teammates as “slower” or “indecisive.”
In the article Melody suggests some strategies for managers to help HSPs work better in a team:
- See sensitivity as a strength, not a shortcoming: As HSPs are better at reading subtle clues, they are better at spotting patterns and risks. Reading others’ emotions well makes them good negotiators and team connectors.
- Prioritize clarity: Encourage the whole team to create a personal user manual - a how-to guide for others to work with a person, including their communication styles, work preferences, and more.
- Don’t put them on the spot: Send agendas before meetings so HSPs can think about it in advance.
- Help reduce overstimulation: The sensitive brains can take in more information than others simultaneously, which often leads to them feeling irritable and headache more easily. Save the HSP in your team by having a no-meeting day or no-disturbance time during the day.
Strategies to Improve Your Team Communication
1. Create a guideline for communication expectations
The first rule of thumb when managing any team is that you should make expectations clear.
- What are the official communication channels? For which purposes?
- What is the timeframe within which emails or messages need to be responded to?
- What are the etiquettes for letting others know one’s availability? Setting status on Slack?
- Are there official working hours, or can team members reply asynchronously at times convenient for them?
If you need a reference, check out our FlexOS Hybrid Guideline.
2. Establish an open-door culture
In the world before COVID, having an open-door culture meant that managers kept their office doors open so that team members felt like they could come to the managers if anything came up.
In the world of flexible work, an open-door culture may translate to:
- Share your open-door hours: Let the team know the time slots with the day that you’re available for consultation or questions. You can include this information in your signature to ensure all your team members know this.
- Encourage your team to reach out to you: During the open-door hours, you can set your status on Teams or Slack to “Door is open” (along with some fun emojis if you like) so your team can feel more welcome to ping you.
- Make sure you follow through: The most crucial thing to make an open-door policy work is to show your team that whenever they talk to you, they are listened to, and respected, and problems are solved. It's better to postpone your open-door hours when you feel like you’re not emotionally available to offer the above.
As many people are often afraid of sharing problems with their managers, having an open-door culture will help managers identify and solve problems before they get too serious.
3. Have an effective conflict resolution strategy
As we are human beings and are all unique in our own way, it’s normal that we have conflicts when we work together. The more important thing is how to tackle conflicts effectively when they arise.
A well-known strategy is to consider the importance of the goal and the importance of the relationship.
When it’s important to maintain a positive relationship with the person you’re having conflict with, you should Compromise, Collaborate, or Accommodate.
This should always be the case if you want to create strong team dynamics.
4. Adopt the use of Global English
The workplace has become more multinational than ever, and English is widely used as the common work language.
For native English speakers, you may want to switch to Global English to communicate more effectively with your international colleagues.
New to Global English? Here are some tips from Dan Bullock and Raúl Sánchez - the co-authors of How to Communicate Effectively With Anyone, Anywhere:
- Clarity over nice business phrases: Use words and phrases with their literal meaning. Instead of “go the extra mile,” try “do as much as we can.” Instead of “key takeaways,” say “important points.” And needless to say, use idioms as little as possible.
- Avoid using abbreviations: Shortcuts like ETA (estimated time of arrival) or OOO (out of office) can be confusing when talking to a global team, so you may want to write the full phrase out instead.
- Jokes don’t travel: Sad but true, humor usually cannot be translated well to another culture and language, especially sarcastic jokes. Instead, try empathizing with your coworkers, and spreading hopefulness and positivity.
5. Cultivate communication bursts
Christoph Riedl and Anita Williams Woolley, two researchers who had looked into effective communication in remote teams years before remote work became a thing, have found that the most successful remote teams communicate in bursts.
This means they have designated time in a day or week when the whole team comes together and pours out their ideas to develop ongoing projects. In such sessions of psychological synchrony, diverse perspectives meet and foster creativity, which many claim to decline in remote work.
6. Train your teams for hybrid and remote communication skills
Last but not least, even if your company is not fully remote, it’s important to ensure that your team has the sufficient skills to communicate effectively when working from afar.
From time to time, organize training workshops on how to make the most of communication tools like Zoom, Teams, or Google Meet so that your team can use those tools' more fun and productive features.
Besides, some “common sense” in virtual communication is also worth being reminded of occasionally.
For example, you should not write sentences in FULL CAPITAL (because it makes you sound like you’re angry, even when you’re really angry, please resist doing so) or be careful with your punctuation (“Okay.” is different from “Okay”).
Ideas to Spice Up Your Team Communication
All the serious notes aside, well, team communication can and should also be fun! If you’re not sure where to start, here are some ideas to begin with:
1. Don’t be afraid to use emojis
We know emojis have connotations relating to unprofessionalism, but as we shift to this new reality of flexible work, emojis are extremely useful to convey the tone and voice of a message.
A smiley face here and then will only do you good 😁. (To settle how you use emojis, we highly recommend the Favorite Emojis icebreaker.)
2. Virtual backgrounds are not just for special occasions
It’s no new thing now that for some special celebrations like Pride Month or Earth Day, companies will send out themed backgrounds for virtual meetings and encourage all employees to use them.
But more than that, virtual backgrounds can be fun to express personalities. If every team member uses virtual backgrounds playfully to show what they’re up to or how they’re feeling, an online meeting will be much more interesting.
3. Set meeting roles and rotate
Often, there’s a certain dynamic in a team meeting: someone will always speak the most, someone will always agree, some other one will always stay silent, but everyone knows they disagree, etc.
Try to make your meetings more engaging and productive by assigning a different role to each member each time. Some common meeting roles are:
- Organizer: Schedule the meeting and create the agenda
- Facilitator: Make sure everyone stays on topic and achieves the objectives of the meeting
- Timekeeper: Remind the team when the appointed time for each part is running out
- Notetaker: Take note of important points and recap the next steps (with the help of AI notetaking bots like Fireflies or MeetGeek, this should be relatively easy).
4. Feedback Friday
Feedback is a crucial part of team communication because it helps us deliver the best work.
But at the same time, many of us are afraid of receiving feedback (which may hurt our feelings) and giving feedback (which may hurt others’ feelings.)
Having a dedicated day to remind your team that receiving feedback doesn’t mean you’re inadequate will help improve your team's communication.
Some tips for giving constructive feedback are:
- Focus on the behavior, not the person
- Balance the content (between room for improvement and positive points)
- Be specific
- Be realistic
- Be timely
- Own the feedback (use “I” rather than “we” because, after all, your feedback is just your opinions)
- Offer support (so you want this person to change, will you help them?)
5. Don’t forget to break the ice!
A small part of every work meeting should be dedicated to relationship building. Check out our icebreaker tools and templates below:
- AI Icebreaker Question Generator
- AI This or That Icebreaker Game
- Icebreaker Guides and Templates
- 11 *Actually Fun* Virtual Icebreakers for Hybrid and Remote Meetings
Wrapping It Up
Communication is a vital element of teamwork, and with the right communication strategies and tools, you can exponentially boost your team engagement and productivity.
We hope by now, you have felt more confident about improving your team communication, from the basic to more advanced implementation ideas. The suggested tools and guides should be a great starting point!
As always, we love to improve our recommendations with your own practical advice. Contact us if you’d like to contribute.