Teams only perform as well as they communicate. If you have smooth and efficient communication, then tasks flow easily from person to person. However if communication is problematic, the process gets muddled, deadlines are missed and work quality is poor. These bad communication practices will hurt your team morale and culture if left to languish.
Unfortunately, communication problems are hard to detect – especially if you’re part of the problem. You see the symptoms, but you won’t understand the root cause until you look through someone else’s eyes.
Here’s how to tell when communication is not going well, and how to address it early enough to prevent it from doing too much damage.
Identify inefficient communication
The first step to fixing communication problems is learning how to identify them. Here are some signs of communication inefficiency:
- Live meetings for topics that aren’t a priority
- Frequent interruptions to workflow
- Undocumented deliverables and deadlines
- Tasks are discussed, but don’t get done
- Long, drawn-out online discussions that don’t solve the issue at hand
As you can see, problems can exist both online and offline. The weaknesses can be attributed to either an institutional or process problem, or they can lie with a single person or team.
Once you’ve identified communication issues, here’s how to fix them:
If it’s not urgent, no need to chat in real-time
Meetings are a waste of time, except when they’re not. The key to efficient communication is knowing what deserves a meeting and what doesn’t.
Is the topic something that demands everyone’s urgent attention? Do you require live feedback from everyone involved? Will everyone benefit from participating in the meeting?
If you answered no to any of these questions, it’s probably better for you to share the information in a channel that doesn’t require real-time participation. Consider email or tools with strong messaging features like Slack or Asana. When you use these channels, you don’t interrupt people’s workflow. They can view the message and respond when it’s convenient for them.
Using these tools also provides a record of the conversation that you can refer to later on. This is especially important in projects that require a lot of changes or shifting responsibilities, as it lets you pinpoint and track where issues in communication arose Which leads me to our next point.
If it’s not written down, it won’t happen
Let’s play a game called “toss in the air.” This is how you play: Your team agrees that an item or issue needs to be addressed. But nobody actually steps up to take responsibility, nor does the job actually get done.
If it’s not written down, it’s likely that it won’t get done. Don’t let great ideas that result from brainstorming sessions disappear We suggest setting up an “idea bin” or organized backlog of projects to help ensure accountability. Services like Google Sheets and Airtable are perfect for this purpose.
Don’t rely solely on online communication
As efficient as online communication is, it doesn’t solve everything. Sometimes online debates go on for days – even weeks – as team members talk asynchronously. Discussions can bounce back and forth over the message board or email, but the problem doesn’t get solved.
In such cases, its best to have a live conversation instead, either over the phone or in person. Following that, post the decisions made online for everyone to see.
Online messages can also come off more negative than they were intended to be, as they are stripped of body language or tonal context. So if the debate isn’t getting solved effectively online, encourage your team to discuss it face-to-face.
If you want a fast, effective way to improve your team’s efficiency, start by encouraging efficient communication. Just the act of reducing meeting length and frequency already gives your team more hours to get things done. And when you supplement this by shunting non-essential conversation online and documenting all important talking points, then you’ve streamlined your communication process to be as non-obtrusive as possible.
Now, when the team assembles in the meeting room, all the meeting chair has to do is provide the most important updates, ask for consensus on a couple of key decisions, and hand them off to the responsible parties. The meeting doesn’t drag on, and people leave with a spring in their step.
Do you have any tips you’d like to share on efficient communication? Tweet is @unitoio!