Woman working on laptop.
Ask couples what the secret to a happy marriage is and, more often than not, you’ll get the same answer: good communication. The same goes for any kind of relationship, be it at school or in the workplace. Proper communication is vital to team success.
For all the good that proper communication can do, poor communication can do just as much harm. Communication failures can strain or even end relationships, throwing an otherwise well-oiled organization into chaos.
With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that miscommunication in the workplace can short-circuit productivity. Here’s where to look for team miscommunications, as well as some ideas on how to fix them:
Written communication is just as important as its verbal counterpart. Poorly phrased project specifications confuse team members, leading to errors, the need for clarification and even counterproductive arguments.
Clear, concise writing is more important than ever with so many employees working from home due to Covid-19. Teams that once relied on verbal communication are using emails and instant messages to ask questions and relay feedback.
Before you criticize others, brush up on your grammar skills. Complete some exercises designed to help you write more clearly.
Time Zone Mixups
Many remote teams are facing another communication challenge: managing multiple time zones. Is that meeting at 10 a.m. CST or EST? What’s 10 a.m. CST in California (Hint: Subtract two hours)?
Mixing up acronyms is easy to do. Encourage everyone to attach a time zone to every meeting they schedule. If the problem persists, ask them to print out and post a chart on their wall.
For general communication needs, set core hours companywide. This ensures that each team member will be able to reach those in other time zones at least once a day.
Any time you charge your team with a task, you need to set clear expectations. Without them, the final product likely won’t look like what you had in mind.
The most important expectations to set revolve around a project’s purpose. If you ask a team member to develop a job description for you, they need to know: Are you going to post it straight to a job site? If so, it needs an editor’s eyes. But if you’re merely thinking through growth options, a quick-and-dirty description will probably do.
The second most important expectations are success metrics. If you ask your social media team to create engaging content, how will you measure that? Likes? Conversions? Be specific, or you may be disappointed.
No one likes to play the blame game. Even a little “he said, she said” can create tensions on the strongest team. To keep everyone working together well, don’t make unproductive accusations.
Teach your employees accountability. Everyone is responsible for the consequences of their actions. If they make a mistake, they should own up to it. And if they notch a win, they deserve credit for that, too.
As a manager, being understanding about mistakes goes a long way. Create a culture in which everyone feels comfortable admitting to their shortcomings.
No communication is miscommunication. Failing to discuss issues the team is facing, no matter how ugly or frustrating, is a recipe for business failure.
When in doubt, talk it out. If it’s not clear whether a customer’s issue has been solved, don’t let it slide. Reach back out and ask.
This is particularly important with ethical issues. If someone is disobeying your mask-wearing guidelines, don’t turn a blind eye just because the HR manager isn’t in the room. Silence only allows bad behavior to continue.
Every extreme has an equally dangerous counterpart. While not as obvious, overcommunication can be as harmful as a lack of communication. Nothing kills productivity quite like micromanagement.
The two extremes of communication often coexist. Your team is more likely to remain silent when being micromanaged because it’s a chance to work without constant supervision. Don’t be overbearing, and you’ll get better results.
Your team needs feedback in order to do their best work. However, not all types of criticism are equally valuable. Criticism that doesn’t suggest a better alternative is just an attack.
Be constructive in your critiques. Always be sure to pepper words of encouragement and praise into your feedback, no matter how poor someone’s performance.
If harsh criticism is needed — and sometimes it is — frame your feedback as questions. “What would you do differently next time?” is both less aggressive and more conducive to learning.
The better you communicate with your team, the better they’ll communicate with one another. Set the example. Look for miscommunications you might be guilty of before pointing out others’ mistakes. Building a more productive team begins with you.