6 Best Practices of Team Communication
There are hundreds of articles about improving team communication on the internet. So why am I adding to the noise?
Every team is different, and everyone has different experiences even in the same team. Although there are some core tenets of team communication that we all are aware of, I find it interesting to read about insights drawn from personal experiences. I have attempted to do the same in this post.
At Taskworld, I had the opportunity to work with people from over 20 nationalities. I saw our team size quadruple. There were moments of utter chaos and magical teamwork. What fascinated me was how quickly things can move between the two extremes.
For a company that focuses on improving team collaboration for thousands of organizations, getting our own house in order has always been a top priority. These best practices of team communication have helped us create an empathic and high performing culture at Taskworld.
1. Cultivate a culture of feedback
Our founder Fred Mouawad always tells us that feedback is a gift. After all, when you give feedback to someone, you are giving them an opportunity to improve.
Since Taskworld’s inception, we have always aimed to have a radical approach towards feedback. Whether it was replacing annual reviews with frequent feedback sessions or becoming the first task management tool to introduce real-time feedback. We have always believed that a culture where people are generous in both praise and criticism is healthy for team communication.
I don’t think the mantra of Praise in public, criticize in private is the best approach to create such a culture. Teams with great communication among its members aren’t afraid to offer constructive criticism in public. In fact, reserving criticism for only one-one conversations diminishes the impact of public praise because that’s what the team gets accustomed to hearing all the time. Mature teams that have a high degree of trust understand that even public criticism is well-intentioned.
To ensure feedback is constructive, it’s important to ensure that it is directed towards specific actions and not people in general. For example, telling a teammate that they should update their project managers more frequently is more constructive than accusing them of not communicating enough.
2. Respect people’s time
Teams that have higher mutual respect communicate better. Respecting each others’ time is one of the easiest ways to gain the respect of your fellow teammates. This holds true for both time at and away from work.
Don’t contact your teammates for work-related matters on weekends unless there is an emergency. This prevents the culture of “seen-zoning” that can easily spread within the team.
Similarly, start meetings on time and don’t extend them beyond the scheduled slot. Be mindful of disturbing your teammates when they are doing deep work. Don’t schedule meetings if the agenda can be accomplished with a simple email. Learn more about reducing meetings at work.
When people feel that their teammates respect their time, they will cherish communication with them. It becomes harder to this when your typical workday is filled with meetings, after work calls, and pointless interruptions.
3. Clarify roles and responsibilities
A big chunk of workplace arguments results from people stepping on each others’ toes. Mostly, people don’t do this on purpose but due to loosely defined responsibilities. Clearly defined roles lead to higher accountability and more effective team communication.
In many cross-departmental projects, many employees at the same level in the organization might have similar responsibilities. In such cases, it’s important to remember the golden rule of the RACI matrix – there can be multiple people responsible for a task but only one should be accountable.
Work tracking tools are especially useful for this. You can assign specific tasks, set due dates, and follow up on their progress. By clarifying accountability and increasing transparency, they help in making communication more effective and contextual. They also provide automated updates, reducing the need for follow-up meetings.
4. Understand your own cultural nuances
Multicultural teams are no longer exclusive to multinational corporations. Remote work has allowed even smaller teams and startups to tap into global talent. The benefits and challenges of intercultural communication now matter to teams of all kinds and sizes.
Miscommunication and conflict due to cultural factors are common and to some extent natural. What one culture might consider direct communication might be perceived as rude in another. Many teams try to solve this problem by programs to increase awareness of other cultures. This is not easy. Traditionally, when an MNC opened an office in India, they could try to learn the work culture and mindset of urban Indians. But if a startup has people from over 20 countries, this becomes harder to do.
Instead, try to understand the nuances of your own culture and see what behavioral changes you need to make to move closer to the company’s values. When everyone in the team starts doing it, intercultural communication naturally becomes more seamless.
For example, when I first joined Taskworld, I was quick to judge different behaviors at work and attribute them to cultural factors. I would seldom introspect my own decisions with the same lens. Once I started doing it, communication got a lot smoother.
5. Listen to understand not to retort
Listening is the most important yet underrated communication skill. When we listen to someone, usually we listen to retort. Our mind starts working on a response before the other person has finished. We often end up interrupting each other midway.
Our CEO, Reza Behnam once divided our team into two groups of two and asked us to talk to our partners for two minutes. During this time, the listener would pay full attention and never interrupt. After two minutes the roles are reversed. That’s it. A simple exercise that made me realize how two minutes is enough to convey your point if you know that you have the listener’s unwavering attention. Similarly, when you give unwavering attention to the speaker, your response magically gets more measured.
Treat listening as a skill and practice it. This is one of the most important things that you can do to bolster team communication.
6. Identify and empower informal leaders
All teams have managers. But they also have informal leaders who might not be in managerial roles. Despite that, such leaders have a big impact on team morale and communication. They are charismatic and play a vital role in influencing and energizing others around them.
Identify such leaders and tell them about their importance in improving team communication. They can be a great source for identifying specific team communication challenges that might not be evident at the management level. Involve them in initiatives to boost team communication. Their support is especially important during change management.