Here's an idea we can all get behind – in an ideal workplace, everyone would get along and work together as a team. Information would flow freely and key players would be involved from the onset of the project. Questions would be answered in a timely fashion and projects would get done ahead of schedule. Essentially, everything would run like clock work.
That's a nice idea, but it isn't reality for most companies. In fact, in a recent survey conducted by Trade Press Services, 72% of employees responded that they don't have a full understanding of their company's strategy because of internal communications breakdowns.
If there's one thing I've learned over my professional career, high-performing teams aren't built on the backs of miscommunication. Highly functioning teams are often built on the foundation of effective communication. Quite frankly, it doesn't really matter how good of a manager you think you are, how "great" your product is, or what patent you hold – if you aren't communicating well, you're fighting an uphill battle that you're ultimately going to lose.
Poor communication breeds a toxic work environment. People feel confused, left out of the loop, and forgotten. Good employees leave, and others leave every day feeling unnecessarily stressed out – all because of an internal communications issue.
Luckily, it doesn't have to be this way. Follow these 6 steps to foster communications and collaboration amongst your team and staff members:
1. Encourage honesty and transparency.
If you don't trust someone, do you talk to them? Probably not. That's the starting point with effective communications – you have to build trust. Of course, trust doesn't happen overnight. Meanwhile, as you're building trust, be open and transparent with your employees and encourage them to reciprocate.
Trust will take time to build, but over time, the effort you put into building trust will prove to be fruitful and fosters a culture where people truly feel as if their opinion and voice is being listened to.
2. Set expectations – both for your team and for yourself.
The majority of people can't stand ambiguity. Yes, I'm aware some people out there don't like specifics and instead like to figure it out for themselves. But, that said, most people prefer for expectations to be set and to understand what it is you're expecting of them.
Looking for a media advisory to be written by 5pm? Set that expectation. Want 5 op-eds placed around the nation in the next 30 days? Set that expectation. Don't just go out and ask employees to get you a media advisory or place some op-eds. Those statements offer no specificity and are so ambiguous I could essentially get away with doing them next Christmas and by your own words, you couldn't be mad.
This isn't the same as micromanaging. You can still give your employees flexibility, and I encourage you to do that. But, give them an idea of what you're looking for. If you're designing a graphic and want a black and white picture on the front, tell them that so they avoid bringing you a full color design that was essentially a complete waste of their time.
On the flip side, talk with your employees about their expectations of you. Yes, I said you. It isn't always about managing down (even though I argue you should manage from beside your employees - but that's a whole other conversation), but instead about allowing your employees to "manage up" and set expectations for what they're looking for from you.
This is really important because every employee is different. Some employees prefer more management and others prefer a little more flexibility. If you ask those things and truly listen to them -- you're going to be a better manager.
3. Utilize the right tools.
Don't use the excuse that "we're remote working right now and it's hard to communicate." First, we've been doing this for a year now. Second, there's eight million tools you can use to organize team communications -- many of which are free.
Platforms like Slack allow you to chat and create working groups (channels, as they like to call them). Other platforms, like Monday.com, are project management tools that help track a team's progress on certain projects and organizes all documents under one platform.
Of course, if you don't have it in the budget for a tool like that, there's no shame in using iMessage or GroupMe to communicate via your team. You can always hop on a Zoom or Google Hangout call, and you can store any and all documents on Google Drive.
There's plenty of ways to stay organized as a team. Pick your channels and how you'll communicate, get everyone set up, and utilize those religiously. Don't waver and just use them when they're convenient for you – use them always and set a good example for organized and effective communications.
4. Consider how your tone comes off.
I'm from the South and admittedly use the phrase "bless your heart" more frequently than I should. Truthfully, it has multiple meanings and there are many times when I mean it to come off one way, but it's interpreted in an entirely different manner.
There are so many times when I read e-mails from people and think, " you are so rude." But, in all likelihood, they probably didn't realize how they were coming off to begin with. That's really important to remember when you're writing an e-mail or Slack message, and is something you should always keep in mind.
To combat this, when writing a sensitive e-mail, or oftentimes even when I write an e-mail that divvies out deliverables, I write the e-mail and walk away from it. I wait for half an hour or so and then come back to it. Some people say this wastes time, but I say it saves me from a headache – and ultimately, that ends up saving me more time.
5. Get the team together regularly.
Anyone have a Carol in the office who LOVES meetings? Let's be real - everything doesn't need an e-mail. Most work can be done via Slack, GroupMe, or e-mail. If you need to chat, jump on a quick video chat or phone call and talk it out. You don't need to fill people's calendars up with meetings all week long.
That said, it is really really important to get your team together regularly. I've always preferred weekly check ins on Mondays to catch up with everyone and make sure we're all the same page. So many times I've caught things in weekly Monday calls that I completely forgot about (get a notebook and write things down like me -- I highly suggest that, too) over the weekend.
These calls don't need to be long. Ask yours staff to take 2 minutes updating the staff, and allot extra time as needed for big rollouts, etc. Allow time for staff to discuss things amongst themselves, and most of all – provide some time to just talk about personal life and what's going on in everyone's "real-world." This encourages communications as a team, but it also encourages staff to take conversations off line -- thus building strongers lines of communications.
6. Be respectful of people's time.
As mentioned in the last step, be respectful of everyone's time. You don't need to fill up calendars with an abundance of check in meetings. You don't need to set up a meeting for every little detail. Instead, set a precedent for a routine meeting and stick to it. Don't change the time constantly and expect others to shift their schedule because of you -- set the time and stick to it.
Internal Communications Strengthens External Communications
A team that communicates amongst themselves is bound to communicate to external communities more effectively. While these six steps aren't the golden spoon to an effective work environment, these six steps are a solid step in the right direction.