Team communication is one of the biggest challenges faced by project managers. You might think that a reduced budget or a tight deadline is your worst enemy, but even if they are both under control, your project might fail due to a simple misunderstanding.
To prevent it and secure the best outcome for your project, let’s analyze seven proven ways to optimize your team communication. These suggestions will cost you very little (if anything), and you’ll be able to implement them within a few days.
1. Reserve emails for external communications
Emails will never be out of fashion in the business world, even though many experts predicted their death with the spread of instant messaging. 124.5 billion business emails will be sent per day in 2018, a number 3% higher than 2017. And there is no indication that these numbers will decrease soon.
But it doesn’t mean that you should only rely on emails for team communication. For instance, they can make management more difficult because:
- Discussions can get very confusing, as emails were originally only for one-to-one interactions
- Hard to maintain a history of conversation and search for later decisions
- The inclusion or exclusion of people from a thread can be challenging
Another reason to leave emails out of your project management is the fact that they are used for other purposes besides internal communication. Every time that your collaborators stop what they are doing to check their inbox, they will see your messages, along with many others. You can see how this might become a distraction or, at least, compete with your request.
Therefore, when it comes to internal communication, consider choosing a team collaboration tool that allows you to make business more efficient and enjoyable.
2. Choose the best tool for your project
No project is the same. As a result, no tool will work for every project. This is probably why some reviews of online tools might have made you even more confused – they explained the benefits of the solution without clarifying to whom they are recommended.
To reach a conclusion and identify a solution tailored to your team culture, consider your company’s goals, the nature of your project, and your management style.
- What do you expect to improve in relation to your team communication?
- Which online tools do you currently have in place, and why aren’t they working well?
- How often does your team need to communicate?
- Which type of information will they share: notes, files, documents?
The answers to these questions will point you in the right direction. Some teams will work better with instant messaging chat organized by task/project. Others become more productive through visual tools, colored statuses, and icons. And there are teams that might require more advanced project management systems with templates, file sharing, and chat features.
It’s also true that, in some cases, it will be necessary to associate two or more tools to achieve different goals. Remember that what worked for a previous project might not work for a new one.
3. Invest in time management guidance
A new team communication tool might become one more task added to an already busy schedule, but implementing one will be worth the time saved in the future.
To avoid the waste of valuable hours, help your team to improve their time management skills. Once you decide which communication tool you are going to adopt, ensure that your team knows the following:
- How to use it
- How to make the most of its features
- What the tool is for in relation to the project
- How often you expect to receive updates
- How detailed these updates must be
The features of any communication tool can be learned through tutorials, and most services will have several resources available. But they won’t help you when it comes to a tailored time management plan adapted to your project needs. It will be your job to create it.
4. Create an online etiquette
Not everyone knows how to behave online. And it probably wasn’t one of the requirements on the job post you used to hire your collaborators. However, it’s also true that good manners permit communication to flow without unnecessary conflicts.
As the project manager, you are responsible for setting the standard – your team members are likely to copy you. No idea how to deal with it? Let’s go through some pieces of advice:
- Keep your tone professional, friendly, and approachable in all situations
- Group conversations are for information that interest everyone in the group. Issues that will be solved or dealt with by only one person, and with no direct impact on other people’s work, should be discussed privately and shared later
- Remember that it is hard to recognize irony or sarcasm through written language. You might end up misunderstood
- Avoid naming-and-shaming on public channels. This type of issue requires face-to-face conversations
If you know beforehand that it’s likely that a topic will get out of hand, you can send a general announcement saying that there will be time and place for further discussion. On the other side, if your biggest challenge is to make your team take conversations more seriously, then read the next topic.
5. Allow Playtime
Dealing with projects and their deadlines can be very stressful. And you know that stress is helpful only in small doses. It’s also believed that humor is one of the keys to success at work and that it can improve your company’s results. For these reasons, you should add an allowance for playful conversations to your communication plan.
You don’t want jokes, animated gifs, and party photos interfering with daily tasks. The happy medium here is confining them to a specific tool or chat. If your current communication tool has something suitable, great. If not, you can adopt another one with this particular goal.
For instance, if you are using an instant messaging tool, create a group and name it accordingly – banter, happy place, watercooler – to ensure that everyone knows what this is about. But don’t be afraid of setting some rules to keep it professional, and, if you can, try and make contributions from time to time. It will help you to bond with your team and make the work more enjoyable to everyone.
6. Create feedback channels
Another thing you must take into account is the need for creating feedback opportunities. Regardless of how well you know your team, and how outstanding your communication skills are, you will benefit from listening to other people involved in your project. Otherwise, they might not talk to you, or they will only come forward to complain when is too late unless you offer the right environment.
Your feedback channel doesn’t need to be within to your project management system. Plus, be aware that not everyone can say hard truths in front of a large group, despite being right. Meaning that you will need to create flexible ways to receive assessments if you don’t want to miss crucial information.
Still, it’s vital that you learn to deal with criticism because some topics you hear might be about your leadership. Prepare to act on feedback or to clearly explain why nothing is going to change. Allowing people to point issues out, and then leaving things as they are will only increase noise and discourage future comments.
7. Accept that people are different
No matter how well you prepare your team communication plan, there is always the possibility that it won’t work with some people. People are different in the way they interact with others, and you will need to understand it if you want them to continue to be part of your team.
Consider the following personality traits and their general impacts on daily tasks:
- Tasks in your project that require analysis and thorough research might be more suited for an introverted professional
- Tasks that require sales and negotiation skills, might be a better fit for an extroverted personality
In this scenario, when it comes to team communication, the first group is likely to elect written online discussions as their favorite, while the second one would rather hold a video conference. Would you be able to accommodate both?
At the end of the day, it will be your call as the project leader. And you probably will favor solutions that combine strong results and your own preferences. But you should try and remain flexible.
- Check if you can offer a mix of channels or choose a tool you can customize
- Understand that not everyone will speak all the time, especially if they are using a method they aren’t comfortable with
- Give your team the opportunity to follow up later on the same subject via different channels
All these suggestions together should help you to adapt your communication to the style of your team. You just need to remember that what you want is the information.
With team communication, you need to listen more than talk
There is a lot to be said about team communication, and it’s good that you are concerned about it. Not understanding the project due to a lack of communication is one of the top concerns of project managers. But the final takeaway on how to improve is to remember a famous saying from the Greek philosopher Epictetus, “we have two ears and one mouth for a reason: to listen twice as much as we speak”
Learn from other companies why they are giving up on internal emails and adopting online project management tools and team communication applications. Find out what will work with your team, and how you can use new channels to optimize time management and receive valuable feedback. And do it while still allowing fun time and respecting your collaborators’ individuality. This is the best way to improve your team communication and to ensure the success of your project.