How to improve communication in your teams and organization.
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October 07th, 2011
Honesty can really get a meeting moving in the right direction. When I’m in team meetings, I often find myself thinking that self-awareness needs to exist before the courage to reveal oneself openly and honestly can happen.
I talk a great deal about the importance of emotional intelligence and the ability for teams to be productive. Teams can move forward on tasks if individuals, who have a deep understanding of self, are willing to;
- Manage their stress levels and their personality traits,
- Be empathetic to the same in others,
- Lead assertively, and
- Demonstrate social skills.
In a meeting recently, a soft-spoken individual came forward with great clarity about who he was and how he saw the world.
“Look, I am a linear thinker and I lead a group of linear thinkers; engineers and financiers. As a result, it is really hard to figure out how to translate what you creative and strategic thinkers are saying. My brain just does not work that way”.
Whether it was a vocal “ah” or “ohh”, a big sigh or the movement of their chair, everyone around the table responded. We all knew that this man’s honesty had shifted all of our perspectives. With his willingness to reveal what he knew about himself, we now had permission to do something differently.
In this case, it allowed everyone to use this information to make their roles in the project more effective. I walked away understanding I needed to be more aware and conscious of taking the time to outline strategies and expand on the reasoning behind each strategy. Honesty really is the best policy.
How about you? Do you have the self-awareness to share something about yourself that might help your team work better together? We’d love to hear what type of response you get.
September 30th, 2011
Sounds so simple, but there is a complexity here that sometimes, when discussing a topic with others around the boardroom table, we often forget. It’s this complexity that can lead to gossip and misinterpretations.
I recently facilitated a team meeting where two individuals were engaged in a topic they were both passionate about. In fact, they were so passionate and energized by their own opinions that, part way into the conversation, they chose to both select ‘sending data’ as a personal strategy.
What I mean by this is that, instead of one person stating their position and then the other person responding with a similar position, these two people dove more deeply into their own viewpoints. With bolder voice tones and intensified body positions, anyone observing them would conclude that they were locked in a heated disagreement.
It was at this point of their conversation that I interjected, as I wanted to find out if their team members were having the same experience I was. I asked each person sitting around the boardroom table if they thought these two were agreeing or disagreeing with one another. Unanimously, they all interpreted that the two were disagreeing.
This surprised the two in question, as they both stated that they agreed with each other. Yet, if I had not asked these two for clarification, everyone would have left the boardroom thinking that a disagreement had just taken place. Wow! This is a perfect example of how quickly one ineffective conversation can lead to messy misinterpretations.
The next time you are in a conversation or a meeting, consider not only how many ‘receivers’ are interpreting what you’re saying, but also how they might be receiving that data.
- Choose effective statements such as: “I agree with you and want to add…” or “we are making the same point and I want to stress…”,
- Use a positive tone of voice and,
- Display welcoming body language to clearly communicate your point.
- Not sure if your point is getting across? Ask someone to reflect back to you what they hear you saying.
We often overlook when speaking in a group, the number of ‘receivers’ who are quietly listening and collecting assumptions to discuss with others outside of this meeting.
Have you been in a similar situation? Tell us how your data was recently received by a larger audience than you intended?
June 27th, 2011
Are you an internal or an external processor? Why is this important to know?
Do you find you need to talk out loud in order to work through issues? If yes, then you are an external processor or someone who needs to think on the outside.
Perhaps you’re more into mulling things around in your head before sharing your thoughts? Then you are an internal processor or someone who think’s best on the inside.
Regardless of which processor you identified with most, the communication loop can really help increase your effectiveness with both internal and external processors.
When dealing with an external processor, the ability to reflect information back to them is really helpful, as it can help them move their processing forward bit by bit.
However, when speaking to an internal processor, you may need to request that they repeat back what they heard you say. This helps them to bring their thoughts out into verbal communication.
How about you? Do you have more difficulty communicating with an external or an internal processor? Let us know.
June 22nd, 2011
Building a high-functioning team takes courage, commitment, tenacity and a willingness to work with one another. In order to improve teamwork, it’s important to try something new, change a behaviour, spice up the team a bit with a new approach and then review to see if it worked or fell short of success.
This week’s teamwork challenge: Listen up!
On some of the teams I work with, I notice that a few people are notorious for interrupting one particular teammate whenever they speak. Interrupting one another is simply a symptom of not listening. When you think about it, it’s actually quite disrespectful and certainly does not create the team culture where everyone’s viewpoint is valued and respected.
The next time you’re in a meeting and about to interrupt your teammate, take a deep breath and bite your tongue. This will give you the time you need to fully listen to their point before you contribute your own thoughts and opinions.
By choosing to think about what you want to say once you have all the information, you’re making a conscious effort to allow your teammate to be heard while you practice your listening skills. This will certainly not be easy to do at first, but remember that teamwork takes tenacity and commitment.
Will you take on the challenge of listening to your teammate in the next 24-hours?
Remember to try something new, change a behaviour, spice up the team a bit with a new approach and then analyze the results. Did it make a positive or negative impact on the effectiveness of your team?
Stay tuned for next week’s Teamwork Challenge Tip #3: Lose Some Weight!
May 04th, 2011
Have you ever been in a meeting and realized that every time a particular individual speaks, the meeting goes off course? Meeting after meeting, you watch this individual and you wonder how this person is able to take the meeting off course every time.
Get your meetings back on track using these three rules:
- State your observation
- Get curious
- Suggest something new
Recently, I facilitated a meeting where exactly what I have just described was happening over and over and over again. I finally took it upon myself to ask the individual’s permission to discuss his meeting behaviours. Once his permission was given, I stated my observation.
“George,* I noticed that when you make a statement, you then add a story to illustrate that statement’s point. Out of that story, comes the second story and then often comes a third story. Do you have an awareness of this?”
George responded, “Yes.”
I then got curious, “Okay, why do you do that?”
George explained “When I’m making my statement, I’m looking for a response from the receiver. If I don’t see a head nod or some eye activity, I think they don’t understand what I’ve said so I add another story. If they do ask a question or make a statement, I continue with another story.”
I repeated back to him what I heard him say and then added “I understand you’re layering the stories because you’re making an assumption that your colleagues don’t understand you because they have not given you a response.”
George reconfirms that I have heard him correctly and then I continue by sharing with him my experience. “I start to lose the point you made in your original statement as I try to figure out how the multiple stories relate to one another…can you see how that might happen?”
When George says yes, I suggest to George that perhaps he could try a different behaviour to test if it would be more effective. “Try making a statement and then perhaps tell one story. Solicit the receiver’s response by asking them to repeat back what they heard you say.”
George was willing to try this on for size. How about you?
*Name has been changed.
April 19th, 2011
Emotional Intelligence is a critical component for healthy teams and productive meetings.
When working with others, I develop my emotional intelligence by practicing a high level of self-awareness. This came in handy the other day when I was on a conference call with two experts on my team to develop a new, web-based tool.
When I say experts, I mean that each one of these individuals has specific strengths that I do not possess. Therefore, when we are on a conference call, it’s really important that all three of us have acute listening skills. In order to be effective in our collaboration, we need to understand the other person’s position as much as we understand our own.
On this particular day, I was quite stretched. It was late in the afternoon and I could feel a cold coming on. At the 60-minute mark into our call, my concentration ability had flatlined.
Instead of hanging tight, I stated “I am full, I need to end this call because I can no longer listen or take in any of the details that are being discussed…are you willing to continue this conversation in the morning?” I then shared the information about my cold, etc.
The next day, one of my colleagues told me that he really appreciated how I ended the call. He admired my ability to be straightforward and stated that, in the past when he had been in similar situations, he often toughed it out in order to get through the meeting. He now realized the consequences to himself and others in doing that.
When you feel full, make sure you let others know so that you can get back together and have another effective meeting at a later date. With this behaviour, you will raise the bar for meeting engagement on your team.
Have you been in a situation where you zoned out of an important meeting because you were overloaded? What did you do? What did you miss? Or maybe you’ve been able to speak your truth and end a meeting before your brain shut down. How did that feel? How did your colleagues respond? We’d love to hear from you!
April 06th, 2011
Does your email inbox make you smile?
For most people, the answer is a definite and resounding NO. For many people, email management is a stressful, brow-furrowing experience.
It doesn’t have to be. With 5 simple tips, you and your team can work effectively and not frown when you open your email inbox.
1. The Subject Line
As this is the first thing people see when they receive an email from you, let them know what the email is about.
Is it regarding a particular client? An upcoming meeting? An issue in the office?
Instead of “The next meeting for our new client”, try
“KLEENEX: Feb 10th meeting.”
If you deal with a number of different clients like I do, putting the name of the client first in the subject line is very helpful. Right away, I know who it’s about.
2. Set up rules in your email program
- Create folders with client names, meeting dates, proposals, etc. In the settings section of your email program, set up rules that state when a meeting or a proposal or a client comes in, it goes directly to their respective folders. The computer then does all the sorting for you.
- Alternately, you can colour-code your emails. One of my team members knows that the yellow highlighted emails are people she’s waiting to hear back from, while the green highlighted ones are upcoming training and the purple highlighted emails are ones she needs to take action on.
Find a system that works best for you and then stick to it.
3. Talk to your team about TO, CC and BCC
Who’s taking an action/owns a particular task, who’s supporting an action and who’s simply being informed on an action. This is where the TO, CC and BCC field’s are quite handy.
When I receive an email where my name is in the TO field, I know right away that it’s something that I’m responsible for dealing with or taking action on.
However, if I see my name in the CC field, I know that someone else is taking action on that task, but that I am to support that action if needed.
Finally, if my name is listed in the BCC field, I know that I’m simply being kept in the loop and no action is required on my part.
4. This step is a repeat of step 2 – Set up More Rules
Just as you created rules for emails to go to a certain folder when they come in, so you can set up rules for emails where your name is in the TO box to go to a folder you create called TAKE ACTION.
Subsequently, where your name appears in the CC field, you can direct emails to a SUPPORT ACTION folder and for emails where you’re in the BCC field, you can redirect emails to your FYI ONLY folder.
Of course, what you name your folders is up to you, but remember to name them in a manner where you’ll take action appropriately.
5. Talk to your team about PRIORITY, MODERATE PRIORITY and LOW PRIORITY.
What do each of these terms mean to you and your team? How are you supposed to act/respond when you receive an email that’s marked LOW PRIORITY?
What about going one step further?
Instead of “KLEENEX: New Client Addition” (Marked as High Priority), try
“URGENT: KLEENEX: New Client Addition”
Within my team, if I send a message with the word URGENT in the subject line, before the client name, the recipient knows that it’s something that needs to be taken care of in the next few hours.
Defining what Priority/Urgent, Normal/Non Urgent and Low Priority/FYI means to your team will determine how quickly a turnaround you’ll receive on that email. Remember that your URGENT might be someone else’s NON URGENT, so be clear on how you’re defining each level.
If you follow these five simple steps, I promise you that your email inbox will become managable. Will it make you smile? Perhaps not, but you will no longer dread checking your email.
What tips and tricks do you use to make your email inbox bearable?
December 22nd, 2010
We’ve been writing this blog for almost 2-years and couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you for your participation.
This past year, we covered team alignment, meeting productivity, the importance of communication and emotional intelligence. Some of our favourite posts have been;
- The Highs and Lows of Emotional Intelligence in Conflict Navigation
- Emotional Intelligence and Teamwork
- How to Prevent a Loss from Destroying Team Productivity
Since we started blogging, our most popular post has been The Secret to Email Productivity for Executives.
What was your favourite post and why? Your comments help keep our blog alive.
Which areas would you like more insight on? Emotional Intelligence? Communication? Feedback and Performance? Accountability? Team Development? Leadership and Followership? Perhaps you have a situation about a topic we have yet to cover. If you’re experiencing a stumbling block or a particularly difficult situation, chances are that others are as well. We love hearing from you, so please keep posting your feedback, comments and questions.
Look for a new post early in the New Year.
Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday season!
November 03rd, 2010
Multi-tasking executives are constantly trying to find new methods for email time management. With statistics like the following, it’s easy to see why:
“A 2008 survey at Intel showed employees receive 350 emails per week on average; at Morgan Stanley, employees get 625 new messages per week. Executives’ incoming email volume was much higher. In some cases, workers spent 20 hours a week just dealing with email.” (Gina Trapani, “Work Smart: Conquering Your Email Inbox”)
Working with teams, I often hear firsthand the stress that email overload places on productivity. Most often, this is a sign that “team email norms” have not been articulated, agreed upon–or worse–are not being implemented.
If your team is overwhelmed with a tsunami of emails, it’s time to get a grip. Improve email time management in your organization by creating personal and team email norms:
Step 1: Schedule a Meeting to Create Team Email Norms
With post-it notes and a flip-chart, brainstorm ideas on how to increase email management effectiveness. Ideas could include:
- Agreements regarding email responses
(see my email management post, “Don’t Throw Your Junk on My Desk”)
- How to use TO:, CC: and BCC
(see: “Email Noise? Create Team Email Norms“)
- Ways to write an effective subject line
Step 2: Prioritize 2-3 Email Management Norms
Once all ideas are spoken and posted, ask each individual to place a dot on their top two ideas. This allows each team member to vote, buy-in, and agree upon the need for email norms to be implemented. Take the two ideas with the most amount of dots and implement them as your new team email management norms.
Step 3: Implement a Two-Week Team Email Trial
It’s important to try out the email norms for a defined period of time and then review how effective the changes have been for team productivity. Schedule a second meeting to alter anything that’s not working and to recommit to norms that are working.
Once you’ve got your team email norms in place, consider your own personal email time management techniques. My recent post, The Secret to Email Productivity for Executives, outlines an email time management technique I practice myself.
Every now and then, I need a reminder to increase my ongoing commitment to managing my email. I’m a huge fan of Gina Trapani, who has the same theory on email management as I do. Sometimes it’s helpful to hear the same message from someone else. I encourage you to take a few minutes to watch her most recent video posted on Fastcompany’s site, Conquering Your Email Inbox:
I hope these tips help you overcome your email management issues. How have you managed to get your email under control? If you’ve tried any of the above tips, how has it worked or not worked for you? We’d love to hear from you!
November 02nd, 2010
Have you ever led a meeting where one of your team members sat slumped in their chair, arms crossed, and not said a word for the duration?
Often we hire individuals to be members of our team because they have a particular skill set. A VP of Marketing, for example, can be highly committed and competent when designing consistent marketing messages… BUT not be committed nor competent when collaborating during a team meeting.
This is a problem.
All members need to be fully engaged in order for meetings to operate effectively. So how do we use our leadership communication skills to provide direction and support for apathetic team members?
Holding a meeting “check-in” is the first vital step. A check-in encourages team members to effectively solve problems, make decisions, get results, and even celebrate successes. And it’s also an effective way to reach out to disengaged team members. (Read my post on using the check-in to increase team productivity.)
As a facilitator, I am often brought in to be the interim leader of a meeting to work towards developing a more effective leadership communication style. Here’s how I use a check-in to that end:
- I clearly illustrate what a check-in includes: “Please tell us what you are working on, how heavy your current project load is, what your “stuck-points” are, and whatever else you think we need to know.”
- When the response is a reluctant two-word sentence, I direct the uncommunicative team member to “say more.” Once the team member is asked to explain more about their project load, I notice that their arms are no longer crossed, and that they are formulating five- to six-word sentences.
- I spend some time with the uncommunicative team member describing how the check-in can help increase team productivity. Once they understand that communicating during team meetings is an important part of their job, they usually become more forthright.
Although you might notice greater engagement during the first check-in you conduct, remember that building effective communication skills is a process. Over time, check-ins usually begin to occur without leadership prompts.
As leaders and peers of team meetings, we need to stand up for effective communication. If there is an individual on our team who is disengaged, we need to use our own leadership communication skills and cross-lead to increase competence.
Do your team meetings involve check-ins? How have you used your leadership skills to engage uncommunicative team members?