Having effective communication in the workplace is the cornerstone of establishing trust within teams and making productivity improvement gains in their performance. Sometimes you only find this out the hard way!
In this article, I’ll explain the importance of communications and how to improve it in the workplace.
The importance of communication in the workplace
Effective business communication techniques are important for the simple fact that they establish trust and rapport amongst employees and team members.
By staying informed, individuals are naturally more trusting of their colleagues and more sure that any dependent work is being done. Rapid communications can also mean that issues and risks/opportunities are being quickly raised and can be acted upon by the appropriate management level.
The opposite (poor communication) leads to disgruntled team members, inefficient use of computer services, missed deadlines and the potential of increasing employee attrition rates.
However there can be a number of barriers to establishing these levels of trust:
- Incorrect project assumptions not established.
- Team members located in different offices/buildings/locations/countries.
- Issues with intercultural communication in the workplace.
Improving communication in the workplace
- Set a shared vision: All teams need to have a clearly defined goal, objective or vision defined by their managers. The goal should be communicated to all team members and referred back to over the duration of projects to ensure the team are all working towards the same objective. These objectives may relate back to the company’s own innovation strategy or specific products lines so are crucial to the overall success of the company’s output.
- Align team expectations to goals: Discussions need to be had with team members as a group or individually to align expectations with regard to what needs to be done on the project, how it will be done, by whom and by when. These discussions help reduce the chances of wrong assumptions being established, especially early on. Discussions should be performed as part of your project change management procedures to make sure everyone has a clear understanding of what tasks and activities are expected of them when changes to plans occur.
- Communicate clearly, regularly and equally: These are fundamental communication skills in the workplace no matter what communication channel is used. All messages need to be clear in order to ensure there is no ambiguity or lack of understanding. Regular communications (by phone, e-mail, reports, etc.) ensures that constant progress updates are be maintained and that issues/risks are rapidly being raised. Effective communication in the workplace is made more difficult with remote teams as global team members will gain more information. For remote team members to feel that they are a strong part of the team, they should be communicated with as equally as local team members. Be sensitive to understanding what is good communication in the workplace environment like when team members are not in the same office.
- Use synchronous/asynchronous mediums appropriately: Synchronous communication methods (e.g. telephone, video conferences/audio conferences, real-time chat) provide rapid feedback and two-way discussions that are ideal for reducing ambiguity, debating subjects and establishing assumptions and goals. Asynchronous communications (e.g. e-mail, voice-mail or collaborative team rooms) are ideal for informative messages such as updates, reports, etc. but not ideal when time is pressing since you may not receive a response straightaway. You really need to become aware of what communication techniques are important and applicable for the type of message you’re sending (e.g. e-mails are not suited to debates on issues – this requires a phone call or IM chat).
Tools for improving communication in the workplace
The most successful tools to use are those which allow face-to-face communication skills to be actually seen (e.g. video-conferencing/video-messaging). These ensure that any non-verbal cues and facial expressions can be read along with audio/text.
- Skype: Provides voice and video calls as well as text messages and instant messaging facilities.
- Instant messengers: There are several applications to pick from (Google Chat, MSN Messenger, etc.) which allow you to have a synchronous conversation with team colleagues, just so long as they are online at the same time.
- MS Live Meeting: Commercial tool for having group meetings in several locations.
- Lotus same time: Facilitates a collaborative workspace environment for users across multiple teams. Can prove to be very useful for 24/7 support teams in multiple time zones. F
Intercultural communication in the workplace
There are basic cultural differences which can cause for communication issues across multicultural teams whether they are all located in the one spot or working from different from old locations. The importance of communication in the workplace becomes even more critical in these circumstances as you need to carefully consider how culture should affect communications and team processes.
Here are some tips for getting to grips with multicultural teams:
- Discuss with team members, or subgroups of teams, possible cultural differences. These can relate back to basic cultural differences (such as those defined by Hofstede).
- Establish how these cultural differences may affect interactions amongst the team and performance. Factor these into any team processes that may be affected (e.g. around time zones, holidays, availability of technology, decision-making process, work hours, etc.).
- Discuss how these differences may potentially affect team norms, the exchange of information, decision-making and communications.
REMEMBER: Effective communication in the workplace really boils down to setting clear goals for teams and making sure management are keeping all team members informed on a regular basis through clear messages. Communication channels within the team will naturally form as individuals collaborate so you should try to nurture this through regular meetings and conference calls to establish team identity, trust and open communications.
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