Part of what makes a team great is the mix of different personalities and perspectives each person brings to the table. But those differences also mean that misunderstandings and miscommunications are bound to happen at some point. And when they do, it can put a real strain on your team, jeopardizing the success of your project—and possibly even your organization.
When team communication starts to unravel, what do you do? And how do you minimize the number of mishaps along the way?
Here at Wrike, one of our main goals is to make it easy for teams to communicate and work together. Add in the fact that we're a distributed team, and we’ve had our share of communication breakdowns. Here are the team communication strategies and solutions we’ve picked up over the years through first-hand experience.
Set Goals & Expectations Up Front
Collaboration runs a lot smoother when you all start out on the same page. So don’t leave kickoff meetings or brainstorming sessions assuming that everyone is clear on roles, action items, deadlines, and objectives—or you’ll more than likely end up hearing, “Isn’t Jeff supposed to do that?” and, “I thought this wasn’t due until next week.”
Record action items, assignments, and deadlines during meetings in writing. At the end of each meeting, summarize who’s responsible for what and when, and send a follow-up note so that everyone is 100% clear on what happens next.
Better yet, assign tasks from within your work management software. The Monterey Bay Aquarium uses Wrike to document priorities at the start of every project, so that team members can easily refer back and see exactly what they need to accomplish. Katy Scott, Digital Learning Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium says, "The clarity of knowing what the expectation is and then coming back is integral in terms of moving forward at a steady pace."
Quit Working Out of Email...
Too many messages, too many attachments, too many vague comments without clear context… email is a breeding ground for communication failure. Besides, all that digital clutter is unnecessarily stressful!
Move team communications to your work management tool, where you can discuss work and attach related files right on the task. Or switch to team chat apps like Slack or HipChat where you can create department- or project-specific channels to discuss work.
"Without Wrike, it becomes threads and threads of emails. With Wrike, we have a central location for stakeholders and content creators to communicate; work out the timeline, content, design, or copy issues together." - Brian Lam, Marketing Operations Coordinator at Hootsuite
…Or Make Email More Productive
For some teams, scaling back on email communications just isn’t realistic. But simple tweaks to your email etiquette can go a long way towards improving team communication.
For one, keep subject lines short and to the point. If the person only read the subject line, would they know exactly what you want them to do? This allows people to scan their inboxes and prioritize work efficiently, without having to click into each message—and it makes it easier to search for the email later on.
Another tip: if you’re replying to a long email thread or adding in a new participant, summarize the key points at the beginning of the email in bullets or a numbered list. This makes it easy for new recipients to quickly get up to speed and understand exactly what you need from them.
Learn Your Team’s Preferred Communication Style
Some members of your team will want to hash things out verbally, or bounce ideas off of a big group. Others will prefer to listen and reflect on what others have to say, and then record their thoughts and ideas on paper.
Learn how each member of your team prefers to communicate and accommodate them whenever possible. Doing so will allow them to share their thoughts more effectively, so that their colleagues can truly hear what they have to say.
Set Up a Knowledge Base
Maybe you’re bringing on a new team member who needs to learn the ropes fast. Or perhaps you want to capture lessons learned to improve the way your team works. Or you just want to head off miscommunications by giving your team access to accurate work information. Whatever the case, making it easy for your team to record and share knowledge is a tried-and-true way to improve communication.
Here at Wrike, we use an internal knowledge base to give everyone easy access to up-to-date information, accurate instructions, and time-saving templates.
Here's how our internal knowledge base works:
- Each bit of knowledge or lesson learned gets loaded into a task and included in the Knowledge Base folder, which is shared with the whole company. These tasks are unassigned and set as backlogged (there's no due dates associated with them), so they're always available when we need to reference them.
- We include each item in subfolders for departments or projects. Since tasks can live in multiple folders at once, we don't have to search through every folder to find the item we need, or miss out on helpful information that's hidden in another team's folder.
- For easy reference, related files are attached directly to tasks, with clear versioning so information and instructions are always up-to-date.
Techniques + Tools = Better Team Communication
You don’t have to be a mind reader to have great communication with your team (although it would certainly help). Using these simple strategies, paired with the right communication and collaboration tools, will help build relationships in your team, promote the sharing of new ideas and best practices, and improve the process (and results!) of team collaboration.
Sources: Inc.com, FastCompany.com