As a leader, are you aware that your style and charisma gets good results from some of your team members – but crickets from others?
Perhaps you're sick of:
unleashing a volley of follow up messages for impending project timelines?
channel-shifting across six messaging applications?
the same three voices hijacking meetings?
Touche. You are not alone.
Leading a team complete with all their glorious personalities and preferred ways of doing things is an art that can be sharpened by refocusing and undertaking a proper spring clean of procedures.
Let’s start with the foundations. Compelling communication is a simple equation resulting from two cornerstone concepts - clarity and collaboration.
You can only have clarity if there is a clear distilled message and the message is received as it was intended. Less words. Plain english. Rinse and repeat.
You can only have collaboration if everyone is engaged and able to contribute. Is the best of the collective represented in the outcome?
While 75% of employers rate collaboration and teamwork as "very important," a study by Queens University of Charlotte found that 39% of employees think that people in their organization don't collaborate enough.
And screwing up comms is not only frustrating, it’s expensive. A study of 400 corporations (with 100,000 plus employees in the US and UK) estimates that communication barriers cost the average organization US$62.4 m per year in lost productivity.
Here are 5 Good Soul tips:
1. Give everyone a mic
The number one thing staff value in the workplace is the feeling that they are contributing.
Why keep having 20-person meetings where a small fraction of attendees do the talking?
So, create a culture and supporting processes that enables every person to feel valued and be heard.
engaging icebreaker exercises promoting collaboration towards a project outcome
post-it voting exercises where attendees contribute without using their voice
“round the room” exercises where everyone contributes
offering timed slots for individuals to book outside the meeting
facilitating smaller, more intimate meetings for shy, introverted team members to contribute - not everyone feels comfortable shooting from the hip in front of others
one-to-one meetings for VIP advisors or highly specialized contributors where a large group may get lost on the detail
surveys and polls to glean feedback and insights without being influenced by others
“after-work feedback” for those unable to attend the meeting to review, edit or comment on findings
applying “the morning after” rule - leaving a meeting open for 24 hours to canvas any additional thoughts attendees have post-meeting.
A tech startup in the US did just this and solved the dilemma of “silent partners” by asking each participant in meetings to come up with a crazy idea to reach the desired goal – be it impossible, too costly (or even illegal or slightly unethical).
This was both a clear ‘ask’ of each member of the group, without the normal resource or creativity constraints of the business.
The team then spent a few minutes developing each individual idea and had great fun doing so. This process not only got the ‘grey matter’ going, but also made everyone feel like they were contributing. Bonus. One of the crazy ideas made it all the way to market as a successful service for customers - there is a big moral to that story!
2. Build a bullseye
A study by the University of North Carolina and featured in the Harvard Business Review, stated 71% of senior managers surveyed considered meetings unproductive and inefficient.
Why? Because half the time the group has no idea why they’re there. Cancel the eye rolls by being very clear about what the project is and who is contributing what.
So while there’s a lot to be applauded for impromptu problem solving and out-of-the-box brainstorming - make sure all attending are armed with a voice, a vote, and a reason to be there. It’s also important that if a decision is to be made during the meeting or key information may change the trajectory of business that the conversation is informed ahead of time.
Eliminate ‘time-wasting’ by facilitating meetings that have:
a clear agenda with challenges and expected outcomes
pre-circulated information with enough time to do due diligence
the correct mix of departments, roles and seniority to make the right decision.
Even the most extrovert, confident types – who seem to thrive when the chips are down and quick solutions are needed – perform better if they are in possession of the full facts and bigger picture. The more focused the work, the less veering off in and around the conversation.
Gift the introverts and process-driven analyst-types and data-crunchers more processing time to allow them to bring their best work and brain power.
“I could say that making clothes is my way of communicating, because I was always so shy.” – Jean Paul Gaultier
3. Invert the hierarchy
Often those closest to the fire, with the freshest eyes, or representing the new generational shift - are able to see around the next corner and into the future.
Junior members of a team may have great ideas and ready-made solutions – but they may also feel uncomfortable to speak up and share them.
While top-down models might have worked for visionaries like Steve Jobs, not every brand can do what Apple did and we now exist in inclusive times where the Fortune 500 quote “diversity” as key to their future-proofing and problem-solving muscle. Today, it doesn’t pay to be ‘North Korea’ with your comms. Instead, establish and encourage bottom-up communications, as a possible vehicle to unearth your organization’s next big thing and bring that to leadership which, once vetted, can get behind to align and drive it through the business.
Inclusion also builds trust and boosts morale. A team with a feeling of ownership and buy-in to a project is a powerful thing. According to a study in the UK, bottom-up approaches have more impact on behavior change than top-down.
And some of the world’s largest organizations and brands rely on the bottom-up approach. Take Google, where the engineers drive the tech giant’s innovation agenda and have a huge influence in the company's direction of travel.
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” – Peter Drucker
4. Cut the noise
In a world of phones (does anyone still answer?), video calls, virtual meetings, emails, text messages, Slack, Trello, Asana, Google Drives, WhatsApp, instant messaging services, other collaboration tools…choose the tool best for your business and culture and stick to that.
Create one source of truth! This combats two of today’s evils - overwhelm and everything happening in real time.
Streamline by establishing the main tools of communications that work best for you and factor in things like wifi availability, train them in with simple guidelines (version control, urgent vs. non urgent issues, admin authority) and stick with them. The less time spent channel shifting, the more time spent on the actual work.
If you have 10 different ways to relay a simple message you are in trouble. Increase your ability to #getshitdone.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw
5. Champion transparency
It is counter-productive having a collaborative approach if the team is blind.
Transparency offers the optics to a project that show relative contributions, inform contingency planning and circulate key success metrics (e.g. financials, customer feedback, completion percentages etc.).
This instills trust which, in turn, generates honesty, information-sharing and more collaboration towards higher common goals. High performing teams hold each other up to bring the best out of each other. They create a product ecosystem that successfully and respectfully resolves the invariable conflicts that arise in the project and have a higher likelihood of obtaining a better outcome. Foster this vibe to evolve as an organization and to honor your valued staff.
You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible. Anton Chekhov