The older I get, the more I realize that almost all progress in life is not accomplished by individuals but by teams. We hear about the achievements of business superstars such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg on an ongoing basis. What we don’t hear about is that the achievement of these individuals is due primarily to their respective teams. These are the groups of individuals who work in concert with each other to see visions, ideas, and projects through to completion for miraculous results. Of course, someone had to dream and communicate the vision of what in their own mind was possible. This is where much credit can be given to Musk, Bezos, and Zuckerberg.
The ability to lead teams and draw out the best in teams is a tremendous talent to have. Additionally, the ability to effectively facilitate communication within a team can quickly identify someone as a superstar leader. This team could be as diverse as a church group, a volunteer community organization, or a committee/task force within a corporate setting. Regardless of what type of team we may be a part of, we know that effective communication is essential. Without it, the team’s goals could be misunderstood, its efforts uncoordinated, and eventually ineffective communication could lead to extreme frustration with little to no hope of achieving the desired cohesive final result. We all know that communication is a good thing. However, when we are working with a group of people—rather than in a one-on-one setting—there are unique challenges and strategies to consider.
That is why I want to share the following list of 10 nonnegotiable “Golden Rules” that we should all follow in a team environment. This list was developed by Inc. magazine contributor, Samuel Edwards:
- Expect Participation By All Team Members. This first rule is probably the most important, because without it, you definitely will not have any communication to work with in the first place. Everyone on the team should be expected to participate actively in any discussion; otherwise, they have no reason to be a part of the group. Team communication goes smoother when everyone works together. You will almost always come up with more ideas, reach a consensus faster, and expose more flaws in potential plans before you get too far down the road.
- Listen to Everyone. Never underestimate the power of active listening. As we have learned from past discussions, it is not enough to have everyone in the group speaking; everyone has to be listening as well. This will help ensure that no ideas are left on the floor and that no voices are lost in the mix. Listening also proves the value of what people are saying, even if you don’t particularly personally care for the individual speaking. Listening also confirms the value of what people are saying, encouraging further and more active forms of communication from each person on the team. Each person who feels listened to will make a much greater contribution to the team. The end result of the team’s work will be much better.
- Respect Everyone. Every member of the team needs to respect and value all other members of the team. This means giving everyone the chance to speak, playing the role of “devil’s advocate” in a polite and helpful way, and acknowledging one another’s feelings. Without doing these things, inter-group hostilities can start to form. Team communication will inevitably break down as the synergy of the team fades away. Any incident of disrespect should be acknowledged and rectified before it leads to damaging important working relationships.
- Confirm Understanding. Keep in mind that just because you thought you were clear doesn’t mean that you were. Similarly, just because you think you understand something doesn’t mean you do. It is always a wise policy to make certain you confirm your understanding of the issue at hand before proceeding with the deliberation. If we are leading the discussion, we should use the “Pause Button” as needed to create a stop or pause in the discussion to allow time for people to raise questions and confirm their assumptions.
- Encourage Conciseness. Essentially, this means to stay focused with your discussion. Nothing is more discouraging in a team discussion, than to leave a meeting with unfocused next steps or confusion as to the outcome of the meeting. Always be concise in your discussions. Conciseness forces people to get to the point faster and to drill deeper during discussions without wasting time or getting “lost in the weeds.” Unrelated and unnecessary tangents are plan execution “killers.” Nothing will bog a plan down faster than being unfocused and trying to cover too much in a team discussion.
- Choose Communication Channels Appropriately. There are certainly plenty of communication channels to choose from in our modern society. However, not all of them are suitable for the team’s task at hand. As wonderful as technology is, not all technology leads to clear communication. You can probably think of communication channels that may not be suitable for effective complex problem solving or large team meetings. An example may be that hosting more than ten individuals in a conference call is not a good idea. Face-to-face communication still has tremendous value in many circumstances.
- Learn About Each Other. This is where our own team here at HMC has a head start. Most of us have worked together for so long that we know each other’s communication styles and preferences. By the way, that is why Kolbe Assessments are so important in determining what each team member’s instinctive problem solving and communication strengths and preferences are.
- Ask Questions. It is always a good idea to ask questions during a group discussion, even if you think you know what’s going on. Questions inspire more discussion and many times lead toward areas that weren’t fully explored. Prompting questions asked in a polite and professional manner almost always lead to a better outcome. Examples would be questions like “how would we do that?” or “what makes you think that won’t work?” force people to think through their ideas, and lead to fuller, richer overall conversations.
- Assume Discrepancies. You can almost always go into a meeting with the assumption that not everyone in the group will walk away with the same understanding or conclusions as everyone else. Assume and plan for at least one person to get things wrong. This is why individual “to do” assignments and future follow-up with the group helps surface misunderstandings.
- Summarize In a Tangible Way. Every group discussion, regardless of the communication platform, should end with an “action plan.” The “action plan” can be as simple as a summary of what to do next, or a list of key takeaways that were decided on as a group. Be sure to turn this into something tangible such as a list, a document, a recap sheet, etc. that the group can have as an agreed-upon reference.This step will help ensure that the discussion sinks in and the agreed upon action steps are followed through to completion. The rule of thumb here is that almost every meeting you participate in needs to have some type of action to follow. If there is no “call to action” as a result of the meeting, you can safely assume that the meeting was likely a waste of time.
Are there other Golden Rules of team communication that you can think of?
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
George Bernard Shaw