7 Questions to Improve Your Team's Communication

Nothing will improve your team’s productivity faster than better communication. Having a deliberate process and cadence of communication will save hours of lost time, productivity and drama.

If you don’t have a formal plan, or haven’t spoken with your team recently about how communication is going, it’s worth taking the time to communicate about communication. Gather your team together for a focused hour and talk about the questions below, and then build your plan. It’s helpful to revisit the strategy once a month to see how it’s working and determine if anything needs to be revised.

7 Questions to Improve Your Team’s Communication

“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
-George Bernard Shaw

1. What’s working/not working?

Start with the basics.

  • What is working well about the way we are currently communicating?
  • Where is co​mmunication breaking down?
  • What do we need to be talking about more? Less?

2. Who are our stakeholders and what do they care about?

Giving your stakeholders the right amount of information how and when they want it reduces their anxiety and gets them off your back. And let’s face it, when you stay in front of the need-to-know curve, you look smart.

If you don’t know what your boss (or her boss) really wants to know–ask. Also if you produce and distribute reports and updates, it’s often wise to ask who’s looking at them. I knew one manager who just stopped sending all the mandatory reports his team was producing for three months, and no one noticed! I’m not suggesting this approach, but a quick check-in may save you some valuable time.

3. What more information do you need from me?

Start with you to ensure you’re giving the team everything they need. Then it’s good to go around the room and have everyone ask this question. Be sure you’re clear on what you need from each team member and what they need from one another.

4. How will we use email?

If you haven’t talked about this explicitly, I’m sure there are strategies you could use to be more impactful.

5. When will we meet (in person or by phone) and why?

Every meeting should have a purpose (tied to improving results or relationships). If the purpose of some of your meetings is simply to update, brainstorm alternative communication strategies.

6. How will we ensure our meetings are effective?

Talk about the best way to monitor meeting effectiveness (see meeting NPS). Do you start each meeting with clear objectives and desired outcomes? Do you stick to the agenda? Are action items clearly documented with responsible parties and follow-up dates?

7. How will we resolve conflict?

Talking about how you’ll address conflict and disagreements before you have one can go a long way in improving team dynamics. Agreeing in advance that you’re open to feedback and the best way to deliver it will also help promote healthy dialogue. Introduce tools such as the expectations matrix to help structure discussion.

So many teams settle for good communication when it could be great. Or worse, assume miscommunication is just part of working in a team. Checking in on the process every now and then will reap huge dividends in future productivity.

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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

14 Comments

  1. I’ve never been a fan of meetings, but this is one that I hope teams everywhere carve out the time to have. Too often teams are in crisis mode or day-to-day status update mode… talking about how to work together effectively and set the ground rules is indespensible.

    ~Alli

    • Alli, I agree. I hate many meetings too. But I do find a little time talking about how we communicate can make future meetings and other interactions so much more impactful.

    • I have come to realize that I am in meetings almost every day, both at work and in my community. It’s almost as though meetings are my most common means of social interaction. 🙂

      What I’m finding is that I feel great — and have fun — when I’m at an effective meeting, so the many meetings where I am a leader I put serioius work into using good meeting “mechanics” so that the meeting will produce effective strategic and tactical decisions, clear tasking, confidence and commitment, and forward movement.

      On the other hand, some meetings that I have little influence over are real stinkers. What I do there is to offer supportive feedback for making the next meeting “even better.”

      I hope your world of meetings is mostly bright, not bleak. 🙂

    • Paul, I think you nail it when you say you put “serious work” into making your meetings effective. That’s awesome. Imagine a world where more folks did that?

  2. Later today I will host a virtual meeting that is part “status” meeting and part “accountability” meeting. I don’t know where this fits with your thinking about meetings. I would like to have a product at the end of the meeting, but I know we are still waiting for the customer to acquire a vendor rep (and invite vendor rep to future meeting) and this hasn’t been done yet. The other topics will be status and quasi-have-you-completed-X-yet meeting. So like accountability. I know that canceling meetings is exactly appropriate if parties are not all “present” but at the same time, it’s helpful to have a weekly cadence to a 9 week project. Any thoughts?

    • David, thanks for asking. I would wonder if there is a way to get the status and hold people accountable without the meeting? If most things are on track, it does seem like it could be a time waster to just report in (I think meetings are best for discussion and decisions). With that said, if you think it’s important from an accountability perspective, I would try to keep it as brief as possible, and give people the rest of their time back. I ‘m involved with a large consulting project, and the project manager wants us to meet via video each week. The meeting is schedule for an hour, but since all is going smoothly we typically knock it out in 15 minutes.

    • I appreciate hearing that 15 minutes for catch-up is appropriate if things are on track & no decisions need to be made. I ended up putting at the top of my personal agenda, “Product: Define ___” and I started the meeting by saying my goal was a definition of X, but first, let’s get status on a few other things… It went very well and your blog got me thinking about productivity in meetings, so Thanks!

  3. Establishing trust so the team knows their voice will be heard.

    Many times leaders say they have an “open door policy” when in fact the team doesn’t have the confidence their voice will truly be valued.

  4. I am a meeting hater! I’ll do whatever I can to avoid them…the reason? 90% of the time they are a waste of time. Communication needs to be on-going and collaborative and too often everything is “on hold” until a meeting and then too much is crammed into too little time.

    When dealing with large groups I have found that breaking the larger team into smaller groups of 2 or 3 works very well. One person from each small group can hold a succint conversation with me and we can cover an amazing amount of territory. I don’t waste everyone else’s time and the feedback is instant.

    Like Donald Rumsfeld, I try to keep these informal “meetings” to less than 15 minutes and always standing, never sitting at a table.

    It’s a good way to always be on the move, keep words to a minimum, and make progress.

    • LaRae, thanks for sharing your great tips. I’m a big fan of the divide into small groups approach too. In fact, I have to do that in my MBA class, otherwise some folks never say a word.

    • Amazing comments, LaRae. Meetings should produce some result. I am beginning to take on more leadership responsibility and I have to keep this in mind. The more time we engage in a meeting, the less time we have to produce a product outside of the meeting. Bottom line? Always be product-focused. (Then again, isn’t camaraderie a goal sometimes? Even so, important to be mindful of long and short term goals.)

  5. Learning to or having a plan of how you can deal with conflict is a major point for me, you can create a much healthy team culture by establishing this ahead of time and saying, “if there is conflict between someone, this is how we deal with it”. A lot of people don’t do this, and because teams of full of people, who at some point will have some sort of conflict with one another, they can easily create an unhealthy culture within your team.. Thanks for the post!

    • Raymond, Glad to have you extending the conversation. Thank you. I agree, a lot of people don’t do it, but it’s well worth the effort.

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