Communication is King: 7 Ways to Improve Team Health
The letter C seems to have cornered the market on things that are considered kings! Charles, Charlemagne, Cash, and Content to name a few. Today, I’m proposing another member for the royal family of C — Communication.
Yes, communication is vital to any relationship, especially the relationships found in teams.
Teams have a unique dynamic. Unlike family, you don’t have to live with these people. And unlike a close knit group of friends, you don’t always get to choose your teammates.
As a leader of a team, large like an organization or small like a group of software developers, the way you cultivate communication behaviors will make a significant impact on the team’s effectiveness and productivity, not to mention the average tenure of team members.
Communication is more than just verbal. As has been frequently discussed, it is also conveyed in body language. But today the discussion centers around the long game, the most impactful form of communication that exists: action.
As leaders, our actions speak much, MUCH louder than our words do, especially over time. The more exposure we have to our team, the more our actions begin to overshadow any other form of communication.
Therefore, the 7 most critical ways communication fosters and supports a healthy team are all related to action. Yes, the actions of every team member are subject to these principles too, but as the team’s leader the overall health of the team rests on what you communicate through your actions.
Let’s look at 7 communication related ways you can help create and sustain a healthy team:
TRUE TO TEAM VALUES
Every organization and every team have values. Sometimes they are implicit and other times they are literally written on the wall of the office. In either case, the values of the team (whether trickled down from the larger organization or a set of values just for the team) need to be understood by everyone on the team.
Discuss them. Work together to define them if you wish. Remind each other of the values once they are agreed upon.
But then…But then! Please! Please! As the leader, act in a way that is true to the values.
If trust is a value, be trustworthy for your team. And extend trust to the other members of the team. Yes, sometimes things you commit to will simply not come to fruition — and it was completely out of your control. Be upfront with your team when this happens.
Sometimes, others on the team will fall short of delivering something they’ve committed to or behave in a way that’s inconsistent with trustworthiness. As the leader, offer understanding but not excuses. Acknowledge the lack of trust, but then extend an olive branch of understanding and coach towards next time.
If a pattern of untrustworthiness persists from a member, they will eventually move on from the team. There’s no need to judge too quickly. Genuine problems will become evident soon enough.
Although having a member on the team that consistently misses the mark on values is challenging, as a leader, your own actions repeatedly missing the mark on the values will become a deep and scarring thorn in the team’s side that will ultimately weaken it and cause others to leave.
I’ve used trust as an example because it’s such an important value, but you should be true to every value the team ascribes to as part of its culture.
Transparency with your team is vital. A lack of transparency creates an unhealthy separation between you and the team you are supposed to be leading. When others begin to think you are leaving them in the dark or hiding things from them, they stop trusting you, they stop listening to you.
Being transparent communicates respect. Yes, sometimes you are prohibited from sharing things you would like to share with your team. But, anytime you have not been officially prohibited by your leadership, treat your team with enough respect to include them.
Keep them aware of potential upcoming projects or changes within the company. Explain that certain projects have the eye of the executives and need more attention.
Transparency has the element of honesty in it as well. You are not transparent if you aren’t honest. It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: Always be honest with your teammates.
Transparency lets the team know you respect them as peers even if they report to you in the org chart.
At first glance, this one might sound like a repeat from the values discussion a moment ago, but it’s different. The values discussion did mention consistently being true to the team’s values. But here consistency is about you personally.
Some leaders are approachable and understanding one day then reclusive and shockingly disagreeable the next. It’s true, everyone has bad days. But this is more of a Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde paradigm. It’s not about having a bad day once and again. It’s a regular revolving door of emotion and the team shows up to work not knowing who they are facing — possibly experiencing a meeting by meeting shift in personality.
I learned years ago, I would prefer to work with someone who was always gruff than someone who changed emotional hats everyday. Of course, a kind and benevolent attitude is my first choice. But you get the point.
Anyone who struggles with being an emotionally consistent person should seek outside counsel on how to work on becoming consistent for their team.
COMPASSIONATE AND SUPPORTIVE
Leaders are supposed to lead. But, you cannot effectively lead people you don’t care about. Jump in and see every member of your team as an individual. Learn about their families. What are their kids’ names? Learn about their life goals or hobbies. Learn about your teammates as people.
You don’t have to confuse compassion and support with being their friend. You may not enjoy the same things. You don’t have to help them move into their new house. You don’t have to hang out outside of work. You can care for someone without being best buds.
If a teammate has aspirations to pursue something in another department or another role even within your team, help them work through it and pursue it if possible.
Alan White, one of the recent guests on my podcast, says “Never lose sight of the individual!” This has become one of my favorite sayings and I couldn’t agree more. Truly great leaders will also agree with Alan. There is no one to lead if not for the individual.
Leaders often act as coaches or mentors to teammates. Whether you feel equipped to mentor someone or not, you can often fill the role by just being honest, encouraging, and supportive. That’s the point here.
Care more about the than the work and both the person and the work will be better for it.
Since the term agile has become overused and now has a technical definition as a project management framework, let’s discuss being quick to adjust to new things — or flexibility.
Most companies and organizations are subject to rapidly changing needs and demands. As a team that desires to add value to your organization, you too need to be able to rapidly adjust to new things as they come your way.
Sometimes it’s as simple as a new feature request or insight into a new area of data. But other times it’s a major change in company policy or pursuit of a new market niche.
Whatever the change — if it’s legit and good for the org — your team needs to be willing and capable of shifting to accommodate the new. Yes, it may delay an existing project. It may derail a goal your team had on it’s list for the quarter. And, yes, again, it may frustrate members of your team in a deeply, attitude adjusting way.
While you also need to protect your team from distractions (see below), you need to respond to these new and valid requests with an attitude of ‘can do’ as you set the example for your group. Help them navigate the emotional rollercoaster that can ensue with such changes instead of jumping in on the pity party wagon with them.
BLOCK THE NOISE
The counterpoint to flexibility is blocking the noise. Work to shield your team from distractions. We all know how many requests can come to a team over the course of a week, but most of these are genuinely no more than distractions. While you can’t block all distractions from stealing time from your team’s core work, you can deflect most of them.
This helps prevent overwhelming the team and can also prevent feelings of apathy from rising up. Anytime a team is pulled in too many new directions for a long enough period of time, it naturally develops a certain level of apathy toward new requests. It can become challenging to notice the legitimate requests that need our attention from those we casually set aside.
Working to protect your team from the noise of pointless ad-hoc or even project based assignments is an important job as the team’s leader. Diligently providing this cover will secure team health and longevity.
Finally, actionably communicate a passionate focus on your customer.
If you’re in sales or directly related to producing your product or service, your customer is the company’s customer. However, those in support roles — data, infrastructure, administrative, etc — still have customers. Their customers are the internal teams and personnel they directly help and support.
For example, if you lead a business analytics team, then your customers are most likely executives or sales leaders or someone in finance. You provide insights that help them direct their portion of the business. Eagerly strive to serve your customers, whoever they are, the best way possible.
Be passionate enough about your customer to be infectious and the same passion will spread throughout your team. Help your team understand the importance and value in the services and products you provide to your customers.
It’s important to keep your customer in the know with status updates or demonstrations and provide a capable feedback loop for them to affirm and challenge your end product. This gives your customer a voice and gives you an advantage in keeping them happy and appreciative of your team’s work.
Leading your team in a strong admiration of your customer is one of the best ways to foster team health and productivity.
Well, that’s 7 ways to improve your communication with your team as a leader. Your example will spread to the rest of the team over time. Other than the rare occurrence of a team member who just can’t get into the groove, you’ll find team problems usually start (and end) at the top. Leading well helps the team and yourself.
Here’s to happy and healthy leading!
Originally published at https://rodcastor.com on March 26, 2019.