“Oh, she didn’t copy me on purpose.” “He’s withholding information to make my life harder.” “Making us guess what he’s thinking is just a big power play.” “Why would she put something that important in email?” “What’s that supposed to mean anyway?” “Why did she copy my boss?”
Some teams spend more time second-guessing the intent behind poor communication than working to improve it.
3 Communication Mistakes Screwing Up Teamwork
“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
-George Bernard Shaw
1. Assuming mal-intent
Sure people play games… but not most of us, most of the time. Don’t let an innocent oversight like being left off an email or out of a meeting degrade trust.
I’ll never forget the time a peer executive left me off a meeting invite. Our departments had some competing priorities, and I was sure it was intentional. I stewed on it for weeks. Finally after I’d let the fuel from my fabricated fable of his intentions combust into full-on stupidity, I blew a gasket when he asked me to move one of my meetings around so he could attend. As the drama unravelled, it became obvious that the original oversight was just that, an oversight.
We cleared the air and it never happened again. I could have saved both of us a lot of angst by just picking up the phone and asking to be included.
2. Hiding behind email
Email is fast and easy, but rarely effective for important communication. Never assume “they got the memo,” and your work is done. Don’t use email as a way to communicate bad news, or as a way to escalate over a peer’s head by copying their boss.
The best communication happens five times, five different ways. Email’s a great supporting tool, but rarely plays well as the lead medium.
3. Failure to write down decisions
I’ve seen great teams with excellent communication skills break down because they miss this simple step. High-trust teams will often raise a lot of creative ideas, debate pros and cons, and then challenge the decisions some more. All healthy. Once the debate has concluded be sure to summarize the final decisions, along with next steps and timeline.
With all that discussion, I often find team members each leave with their own memory of what was decided, which may or may not match the recall of other team members.
Writing down and reading back key decisions and next steps is an important way to keep the team all moving in the same direction.
Communicating well builds the most important ingredient of any successful team–trust. Take the time to establish clear expectations around how your team is communicating, and to discuss where it’s working best and how it’s breaking down.