How important is good communication in the workplace?
Communication is often one of the things we take for granted … until something goes wrong. Like your wi-fi connection, you only really notice it when information isn’t flowing smoothly.
Some signs that things might be going wrong with communication within your team include:
- Employees going over your head with a complaint – or even suddenly handing you a letter of resignation. This could be a sign that they didn’t feel heard before.
- Crucial project details getting missed – perhaps you thought you’d made it clear that the client required a slightly unusual set of features, but your developers don’t seem to have got the message.
- Information not getting passed on – maybe several of your team members ended up wasting days on something that had already been resolved by a different group.
Even if you feel that everyone is communicating well and that important milestones are being reached, there could still be friction within your team’s communication processes.
Whatever your management style, it’s important that you not only look out for any potential problems but also to continually foster better workplace communication so that your projects can be as successful as possible.
Here are ten ways to do that:
#1: Learn From What You’ve Previously Done or Are Doing
What’s working well with your current communication set-up? Perhaps you manage a team of in-office and remote employees, and you’ve successfully spearheaded the adoption of Slack as an efficient and enjoyable medium for everyone to share information and to get to know one another better.
What’s not working well? You might find it tough to identify this as a manager – so ask your staff for their views. Use an anonymous survey if you think that’ll help encourage people to speak up.
#2: Consider Tools That Will Improve Communication
Slack, mentioned above, is a great tool for keeping teams in touch with one another … but there are other tools that you might find suit your team better.
Trello, for instance, uses a Kanban system of boards, lists, and cards. It can work well for projects that involve lots of different tasks that get handed from one member to another.
You may not even need any tools other than the ones you already have: email can be a great way of communicating information. In some cases, though, you may want to offer team members training or guidance on how to most effectively use a particular tool. (For instance, with email, you might encourage your team to cut down on “noise” by only copying in the people who actually need a particular message.)
#3: Set Up Regular Opportunities for Communication to Take Place
Do your team members have plenty of opportunities to communicate with you? That might sound like a stupid question – you’re probably thinking that they can email you any time, or call you when you’re at your desk.
You may well find, though, that your employees aren’t willing to reach out unless you give them a specific opportunity to do so. They might not even realize they can ask you for help with a particular challenge, like how to spend more time on their deep work while working remotely.
You might want to set up regular one-to-one meetings with all your direct reports (and encourage them to set up meetings with their direct reports). You might also want to foster peer-to-peer communication, perhaps by encouraging everyone to briefly share the key things they’ll be working on – and the key challenges they’re facing – on a Monday morning.
#4: Use Forms and Templates Where Appropriate
If there’s a particular type of communication that happens a lot within your team or in the course of your project, find a way to systematize it.
For instance, if your team is rolling out a new software feature, you’ll want a clear way for beta-testers to report bugs. Instead of just asking them to email, have a form they can fill in that captures the vital information your developers need (which might include things like the operating system and the web browser that the beta-tester was using when the bug occurred).
Even simple requests could be completed using a form, like a request for time off. This can save time with back and forth, as you’re capturing all the information you need up-front.
#5: Consider Running a Communication Workshop
If poor communication has been a problem for a while, or if you feel out of your depth when addressing communication issues within your team, then consider running a communication workshop where you bring in an outside expert to lead or facilitate.
This may come across as a less confrontational or demanding way to address poor communication skills than if the advice came directly from you, and it may well bring up new ideas and approaches that you wouldn’t have thought of.
#6: Make Sure Employees Can Speak Up About Issues
Do your subordinates feel confident coming to you about problems and frustrations? If you’re not sure, or if it’s rare for people to approach you, make sure you foster a culture where you encourage them to speak up.
This might be as simple as asking everyone to suggest one thing that you could do to make their life easier in the coming week … or it could involve a discussion of some aspects of their work they don’t fully understand. Sometimes, the problem comes from the very start as some employees might not be sure what is specific about their non-disclosure agreement or what is the right way to submit a vacation ticket.
Make sure people know that you won’t be annoyed (or worse, angry) if they bring up a problem that you’re inadvertently causing yourself … or if they raise something that you might have expected them to resolve weeks or months ago.
#7: Identify and Address Communication Issues Quickly
Sometimes, it’s tempting as a manager to hope that communication problems resolve themselves without your input – especially if you’ve got a lot of other things to deal with. You might be vaguely aware that there’s some tension between employees, or that a particular team member always seems to be slow to respond to requests, but you might not want to spend time and energy tackling in.
If communication issues are left to fester, they can lead to resentment or even serious conflict within your team. Once you start to notice a problem, aim to address it as promptly as possible. If you can’t address something immediately, at least let your team know that you’re working on it.
#8: Create a “Knowledge Base” of Information
Your company may well already have a knowledge base or a company wiki where information is stored and shared. Make sure you’re using this as much as possible to store information about your project, so that team members can quickly and easily find what they need to know.
Encourage team members to document key processes, and to record key information. (If they don’t have access to do so directly, work with whoever administers the knowledge base to find a good way to request new additions.)
#9: Explain the “Why” of Communication … Not Just the “What” and “How”
If you’re asking employees to make a change to their communication style, they may well be resistant. Perhaps they find it simple and easy to make requests via an email to a colleague who they get along well with, but you want them to shift to doing so through Slack.
Don’t just explain what you want them to do, or how you want them to go about it. Explain why. For instance, perhaps it’s important that requests all go through Slack so that you can monitor whether there’s a particular bottleneck causing workflow issues, or so that people can receive a prompt response even if one team member is in a meeting or out of the office.
#10: Create Opportunities for Employees to Get to Know One Another as a Team
Depending on your team set up, you might find that employees don’t actually know one another very well. Perhaps there’s high turnover at your company, or maybe your team has been brought together from a number of departments to deliver a particular project.
You should take the lead in helping your team to get to know one another. This doesn’t need to involve weekend-long retreats (indeed, most employees would probably prefer it doesn’t)! Instead, you might arrange something like bringing in breakfast on a Friday morning for everyone to have a chance to chat informally.
Bonus: Consider Your Non-Verbal Communication
When you’re thinking about workplace communication, it’s easy to think it’s all about the words: what someone says, or writes.
Non-verbal communication is important, too. (For instance, if a team member consistently met other people’s reasonable requests with a huffy sigh and an irritated tone of voice, you’d want to address that.)
Sometimes, you might not be aware of what you’re communicating non-verbally. Something as simple as your expression could make a huge difference to how approachable (or not!) you seem to your team members. Making a point to smile more is a very simple, but powerful, way to improve your own communication.
Good workplace communication makes all the difference: it allows projects to go smoothly, and ensures that employees feel heard and have problems addressed promptly.
As you consider your own team’s communication, think about which of these ten things you could start doing this week:
#1: Learn from what you’ve previously done or are doing
#2: Consider tools that will improve communication
#3: Set up regular opportunities for communication to take place
#4: Use forms and templates where appropriate
#5: Consider running a communication workshop
#6: Make sure employees can speak up about issues
#7: Identify and address common issues quickly
#8: Create a “knowledge base” of information
#9: Explain the “why” of communication … not just the “what” and “how”
#10: Create opportunities for employees to get to know one another as a team
Even taking one or two small steps can help. What could you do to improve communication in your organization today?
Erika Rykun is an independent copywriter and content manager. She is a believer in a high-quality networking, avid reader and runner.