Coaching teams within an organisation is one of the most on-demand areas of Coaching. And when it comes to teams, the number one aspect that dictates the results attained by that team is effective communication amongst its members.

In this article, we discuss some elements of effective communication within a team environment and provide a range of strategies that coaches can successfully apply when working with teams.

What is effective communication?

Effective communication does more than just convey information. In an effective communication transaction a message is conveyed with shared meaning. It may be helpful to reflect on the following key areas to assist you in developing or enhancing your communication with other team members:

The message you think you are sending may not be the same message being received. Within a team environment, members still bring their own experiences, beliefs and interpretations. When communicating a message, expect to be misinterpreted and make adjustments to your message to account for potential areas of misunderstanding.

Seek feedback. As misinterpretations are common in communication, it is often advisable that you continually seek feedback to ensure that your messages have been received accurately.

Make it your priority to express rather than impress. The aim of communication is to express an opinion, idea or to transfer knowledge.  It is important to remember that your primary aim is to get your message across, try not to obstruct it by being focused on sounding impressive or knowledgeable.

Choose the right medium. Effective communication means choosing the appropriate medium for your message. Some information is best conveyed in a team meeting, whilst other information may be received more appropriately in an email or memo, other information should be communicated face to face. Select the medium to suit the message and the person you are communicating with.

Be conscious of your non-verbal communication. Be conscious of what you are conveying non-verbally. Avoid diluting the impact of your message with mismatched or incongruent body language. Where possible, adjust your body language to align with your message.

Why is communication important for a team to be effective?

Team communication processes that function effectively can increase team motivation, foster trust and respect between members, greatly improve decision making processes and contribute substantially to the overall productivity and performance of the team.

Yet, communication processes that are ineffective can decrease member motivation, lessen team commitment, increase team gossip and lower productivity. Effective communication processes, therefore are vital to team performance.

What makes a communication process effective?

Effective communication processes are:

Regular. Regular communication within, and between teams helps members to maintain focus, allows all members to keep up to date with team progress and ensures that difficulties or setbacks can be dealt with promptly and collaboratively.

Transparent. Transparent communication processes provide all team members with the same information where possible and keep all members adequately informed.

Transparent processes maximise the likelihood that team members will be aligned in their concept of where they are going and how they are going to get there. Failing to adequately inform all team members, equally, may greatly compromise their ability to contribute equally to team processes and decision making.

Focused and related to team goals. Communication processes that are focused and related to team goals encourage team members to similarly remain goal focused and outcome directed.

Modes of communication

Within the work environment, communication can occur through a variety of modes depending on personal preference. Some of the more popular modes for team communication are:

  1. Team meetings
  2. Newsletters
  3. Email updates

When using these modes it is important to remain mindful of the 3 characteristics that make communication processes effective (i.e. should be regular, transparent and goal focused).

1. Team meetings
One of the primary forums for team communication is the team meeting. When conducted with structure and purpose, regular team meetings can be an effective and productive means of team communication.

However, team meetings can evolve into a drawn-out procedure that fritters away valuable time and results in decreasing motivation, frustration and productivity. To conduct an effective team meeting the following principles should be considered:

What is the purpose of the meeting? Prior to the commencement of the meeting, all team members should be aware of the meeting’s purpose. Set an agenda and stick to it. The meeting should remain focused on team goals and objectives. It may be necessary to note down some of the areas of discussion that arise as side issues or tangents to the purpose at hand. These issues may need to be addressed in a later forum.

Are members aware of what they may be asked to contribute to the meeting? It is helpful for team members to have a clear idea of the kind of information they may be asked to contribute. Contributing facts, knowledge or recommendations may require different preparation than contributing opinions or brainstorming.

Team members, who are provided with an idea of what they may be asked to contribute, are thus provided with an opportunity to prepare accordingly. If you put team members on the spot – it can decrease their commitment.

Has a meeting agenda been distributed to all members prior to the meeting? In addition to understanding the purpose of the meeting and their likely contribution, team members should all be furnished with an agenda prior to commencement of the meeting. A meeting agenda will state the purpose and focus of the meeting as well as outline the proposed topics and areas for discussion.

Has a time-frame been established prior to the commencement of the meeting? Team meetings should commence and finish on time. When members are aware of a finishing time from the outset they are better equipped to budget time accordingly.

Finish the meeting on a note of accomplishment. The completion of a meeting should be a reflection of what has been accomplished within the meeting’s time-frame. The original goal or objective should be revisited and comment should be made on its achievement (whether the achievement was partial or full).

2. Newsletters
Newsletters can be a creative and effective method of regularly conveying information to fellow team members. Newsletters may also serve as a useful mode for distributing information from your team to other teams.

Constructing an effective newsletter
In the process of constructing an effective team newsletter, consider the following points. Decide on the basics early on:

  • What is the purpose of the newsletter?
  • Who are its intended audience?
  • How frequently will it be circulated?
  • How will it be circulated?

Clear concise information. Effective newsletters are concise and easily understood. They should provide relevant information that is both up to date and useful.

Informal and humorous. Newsletters do not necessarily need to be formal documents. A light, humorous tone may encourage regular readers and consequently increase the newsletter’s effectiveness.

It may be helpful to remember that newsletters are an ideal tool for highlighting team achievements and recognising individual accomplishments.

3. Email updates
Email has fast become the one of the most widely used mediums for business communication. Mastering email correspondence is one of the simplest and most effective ways of ensuring that your messages are not only read but followed up accordingly.

Inboxes are often overloaded with numerous messages of varying importance. If you are sending emails as a means of communicating with your fellow team members you will want to ensure that your message gets read and is clearly understood.

Constructing an effective email
To construct an effective email it may be helpful to remember the following key points

Make use of the subject line. The subject line provides an opportunity to inform the receiver of the purpose of the email. A subject line ideally should describe exactly what the email is about. An appropriate subject line will maximise the possibility of your message being read.

Use concise language. Like any written business correspondence it’s important to keep business emails concise and to the point. Often the viewing area for emails is limited, so if possible limit messages to a few short paragraphs. Everyone is busy – don’t waste their time – be clear and concise.

Make any required follow up clear. If your email is a request for action or follow up from a team member make this clear in your message. Remember to include any contact details (such as phone or fax numbers and addresses for snail mail) that the receiver may require.

Respond to emails in a timely manner. Prompt responses to emails not only promotes efficiency but often encourages team members to respond in a similar timely manner.