You can have all the potential in the world, but without good communication, you won’t be successful.
The above statement could apply to a newlywed couple or an NFL coaching staff. It doesn’t matter whether yours is a team of two or 200—you can’t achieve cohesion without first establishing common ground through communication.
What does that look like? The answer might vary depending on the size, industry, or ambitions of your organization. But there are a few must-have qualities these teams share. These include (but aren’t necessarily limited to):
- A baseline of trust and respect
- An understanding of different communication styles
- A sense for where and when to stretch as a team
Let’s walk through these staples of effective team communication—and how they help well-oiled units get things done.
A baseline of trust and respect
You may have heard of the trust triangle, a common rubric leaned on to set expectations and help teams establish healthy communication guidelines. The foundation of the triangle is trust itself, but that trust lends to other important cornerstones:
- When you trust each other, you assume good intent.
- With good intent, you can engage in healthy conflict.
- Even when there’s disagreement, that trust allows you to commit to team decisions.
- Once those commitments are made, you can hold one another accountable.
- With that accountability (rooted in trust), you can achieve results.
Sure, it can take time to get here. But those first two steps—trust and conflict—are where teams learn to communicate well. You really can’t get very far without first assuming good intent. If you truly believe everyone within your team has the same goals in mind, then you can freely express different points of view. You may disagree, but you’ll be less likely to get caught up in petty disputes, or lose sight of the bigger picture.
With a team culture rooted in trust and respect, you can speak candidly without fear of retribution or resentment. That might mean saying: “I disagree, but I trust you to carry this out with all of our best interests at heart.”
A team that doesn’t trust each other will communicate a lot less clearly—or worse, stop communicating with each other altogether.
An understanding of different communication styles
Teams that communicate effectively understand that not everyone will have the same preferred style (or mode) of communication.
In the vast majority of cases, your team features people with a range of different behavioral profiles. Some with higher dominance drives will be quick to influence conversation, while others may prefer to absorb information first, then share their perspective.
As a manager or supporting team member, you need to account for this range when you communicate—both individually and as a group. Avoid forcing people out of their comfort zone where possible, and instead, talk through decisions according to each person’s preferences. The most effective teams figure this out. Take the Adapting Team, for example:
“Generally, a diversity of behavior sets up this team to handle whatever comes their way,” noted Lisa Black, Services Product Manager at The Predictive Index. “If they don’t have someone whose behavioral needs naturally align with the work that needs to be done, they likely have someone who can stretch to tackle the work.”
Remote work can further complicate things. If your company has gone fully virtual indefinitely, then you’ve realized a few things by now. For example:
- Not everyone is going to speak up as freely in a large group.
- Not everyone is comfortable with video conferencing.
- Some people are more visual communicators than others.
- Some people will be more inclined to take their time with responses.
Consider these behavioral differences when you relay information to your team. Try to lead with empathy, and an understanding of what communication style each person prefers.
Does your coworker have an “In a Meeting” icon up as their Slack or Gmail status? Then don’t expect an immediate response. Consider sending them an email, or scheduling time separately, to ensure you communicate your message successfully. Be respectful of what everyone has going on.
The medium matters, especially when you scatter team members across the country, only engaging virtually. Take the time to understand your colleagues’ behavioral styles, and how those behaviors impact communication. That sort of awareness will pay off.
A sense for where and when to stretch as a team
Self-awareness doesn’t only apply to the individual. In fact, behavioral awareness manifests on three key levels. Teams that communicate and take action efficiently know to account for:
- Their team
- The work their team is doing
Steps two and three require an understanding of how individual behavioral styles play out at the team level. You can gain that understanding by unveiling your Team Type. This process will help you visualize the strongest behavioral drives and tendencies of individuals within the team concept. Then, you can plot them against the goals and strategy you’ve set out for your team, and identify areas of misalignment or shortfall.
Say you have a group of people who are mostly high-dominance, with lower formality drives. As a group, they may be innovative and daring. But their high risk tolerance could also lead to issues, especially in a more regulated industry.
That team will need balancers—people who recognize the need for structure and adherence—in order to achieve its goals. It also needs some of those risk takers to stretch, even temporarily, going beyond their comfort zones while keeping the team’s best interests in mind.
What does that look like in communication?
“There may be rules and regulations that must be followed, whether for safety reasons, legal reasons, or more,” Black noted. “It’s critical to understand the risk boundaries in which you’re operating so you know where there’s freedom to learn from mistakes, versus making dangerous mistakes that could irreparably harm the business.”
Go back to trait No. 1. The teams that trust each other will recognize why someone is reminding them of these rules and regulations. They understand that the Guardian, for example, is there to provide balance, not impede progress. And they value that person’s strength in communicating the need for balance.
Communicating your intent is much easier when it’s assumed you’re coming from a good place, and there’s an understanding of how everyone’s wired. Teams with that next-level awareness are the ones that are aligned, and the ones that get things done.