Originally posted with Forbes Coaches Council, December 2019.
Putting together a team that works well together, tackles their goals efficiently and produces meaningful results might seem like an easy equation. Hire top talent, and let them work. But even the most gifted employees will flounder without one key component: clear, consistent communication.
Let’s imagine a team that doesn’t have clear and deliberate communication, especially one that is populated by a lot of high performers. What’s the most likely outcome? Each person will come to the table with their own ideas (that they are determined to “win” with), their own agenda (often one that gives the individual — not the team — some advantage), a desire to be the leader of the group and a distrust for the motivation of all others.
On the other hand, a group that has been properly aligned, motivated and clearly tasked will be more likely to see the advantages of working together, sharing and constructively criticizing ideas and taking leadership over specific roles rather than other people.
So, how do we get there? It starts with a few key steps for you, as the manager or team leader.
- Understand the goal of your team. Be specific, action-oriented and results-based — e.g., “We need to increase our sales by 15% over the next three quarters,” or “We need to replace our website and offer a more customer-friendly online experience.” By being specific in what exactly needs to be achieved, you and your team can develop a plan to help get you there.
- Be clear about the next steps, timelines and responsibilities. Make sure that every person walks out of the room with total clarity about what they need to do next. This way, there are no gray areas that could potentially derail and delay the project. Everyone knows what to expect and when to have it done.
- Give your team the freedom to take ownership of their portion of the goal. As you do this, encourage them to loop in others as needed for collaboration, gut-checking or reinforcement, and make sure everyone knows when exactly you need to be looped in on decisions. For example, maybe you need to weigh in on anything that requires a budget commitment. Or maybe you want a daily or weekly briefing on progress. Just be sure to trust your team’s capabilities and be clear with the level of supervision you want them to have.
- Reiterate your goals and expectations over the course of your project. Making sure that everyone stays aligned toward the final product might mean sounding like a broken record. But it is inevitable that when we get in the weeds of a specific task, we might forget the “why” of what we are doing. That’s where you come in. Make sure the why doesn’t get lost.
As a leader, you must encourage, motivate and direct the entire team. Think of your role as similar to a presentation. You need to clearly communicate the overall goal, persuade your audience of the stakes of the problem, show the specific next steps to take them to a solution and make the team feel invested in making that solution succeed. Never assume that everyone, by virtue of being employed by the same company or within the same business unit, has the same understanding of the goals and expectations. State the obvious; you’d be surprised how often it turns out to be news.
Without clear, persuasive communication, you very well might get a team to cooperate. This team will put in the work and won’t get in your or one another’s way. They’ll deliver what they are supposed to — in the bare minimum.
But if you can use your persuasive powers to bring your team into alignment, you’ll see a team that does more than just cooperate. Your team will collaborate. Ideas will be exchanged; motivation will be high, and a successful outcome will be much more certain.
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