Effective Strategies for Fostering Team Communication

Sharply worded missives issued from the corner office are a one-person edict, but reality is that most workplaces operate more efficiently -- and with greater morale -- when bosses foster team communication. A number of strategies exist to boost that communication among colleagues.

Vision, Values and Buy-In

Mission, vision and value statements help gather a team around the big ideas that drive what they do and ensure everyone's on the same page -- a crucial first step toward fostering communication, according to Susanne Gaddis, Ph.D., a certified speaking professional and CEO of The Communications Doctor. But it's not enough to just speak the same corporate language. "To create an effective team, everyone on your team must understand (them) and buy in," says Dr. Gaddis. And that's as basic as co-workers who "agree to a set of behaviors that will help rather than hinder the organization," she says.

Understand and Accommodate Style Differences

Among those helping behaviors: understanding and accommodating style differences. Take, for example, Arthur in accounting and Chloe in creative. "If a creative, non-deadline type individual is working with a highly organized, extremely structured individual, they need to talk upfront about the level of communication needed," says Dr. Gaddis. They'll also need to agree on the channels they'll use to keep each other informed -- such as daily, weekly, or monthly phone calls, text messages or face-to-face meetings, she says. And sometimes as the coach, and/or boss, you'll have to arrange -- and maybe even guide -- the initial discussion.

Do a Thankful Three-Step

Provide -- and encourage co-workers to provide -- three-step feedback, says Dr. Gaddis. Here's how it works:

  • Step 1: Say "Thank You!"
  • Step 2: Let the staff members know what they did that mattered.
  • Step 3: Let them know what the impact of their behavior had on the organization.

Example: "Thanks, Rita, for sharing the great article you found on effective team building. The ideas have already made a huge impact on how I'm communicating with my team," says Dr. Gaddis.

Rethink Team Meetings

Use focused, stand-up meetings to foster team communication -- instead of the traditional, sleep-inducing, sit-down-athons. Some call them "scrums," and there's even a "Scrum Alliance" that offers tips, training and certification in the way of the scrum. The idea: Stand up, circular "meetings" are held once a day for no more than 15 minutes and all participants must contribute. Just three things are covered: What they've accomplished since the last daily scrum, what they plan to accomplish between now and the next daily scrum and what's impeding progress, according to Renee Mzyk ,Scrum Alliance director of operations . But it's definitely not a planning meeting or a technical discussion -- both of which can get bogged down in details and bring effective team communication to a halt.

Speak the Right Body Language

Nothing says "I don't care what you're talking about" like sending a text or folding your arms when other team members have the floor. Instead, try these techniques, offered by Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D., a keynote speaker, executive coach and media expert on the impact of body language in the workplace. She's also a leadership blogger for Forbes and author of "The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help -- or Hurt -- How You Lead":

  • Face people directly (heart to heart). Even a quarter turn away signals your lack of interest and makes the speaker shut down, says Dr. Goman.  
  • Remove barriers between you and the other participants. Phones, paper -- anything that blocks your view. Or even better, come out from behind your desk and sit next to them. 
  • Maintain positive eye contact. Greater eye contact almost always leads to greater liking and inclusion.  Shifting your gaze or scanning the room indicates you're not listening.
  • Use palm-up hand and open arm gestures when speaking.  These silent signals of credibility and candor are perceived more positively than arms crossed and hands hidden or close to the body, says Dr. Goman.
  • Synchronize your body language with the person you're dealing with. Subtly match the other person's stand, arm positions and facial expressions -- this signals you're connected and engaged. 

Avoid "Groupthink"

What did Pearl Harbor, the U.S. invasion of North Korea and the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba have in common? These historical "fiascoes," as author Irving L. Janis puts it, may have been caused by excluding dissenting voices from government planning discussions in a flawed approach he called "Groupthink." On the other hand, such policy successes such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Marshall Plan demonstrate the value of other points of view, according to Janis. The bottom line: Entertaining dissension over new ideas or policies may very well foster team communication by drawing in reluctant participants -- and help you make better decisions -- so encourage it.

Skip the Scowl

Avoid scowling or frowning while discussions takes place since these reactions don't foster team communication, either. For one thing, when you frown, "attendees will probably think you don't like what you just heard -- and will keep their opinions to themselves," says Dr. Goman. "In fact, whenever you show any nonverbal display of anger, irritability, or annoyance, people are more likely to hold back their ideas, limit their comments, and look for ways to shorten their interaction with you." Instead, focus on whether there's truth in the statement. You can always tactfully address the way it was presented later one-on-one if need be.