Communicate to the End Zone

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely spent anywhere from months to years developing and building your team. You’ve searched far and wide for the most talented individuals and the smartest employees, and cultivated a terrific team. However, having the right team players is far from a guarantee that your team members will work perfectly together.

Truly, there’s no such thing as a perfect team environment. In every workplace, there will be team members lacking in the world-class communication skills their team needs. The most common indication?  Those team members under-communicate. Whether they keep information from others out of self-preservation or withhold it to save face, it will damage the team.  From hiding information from one’s teammates while working towards a promotion or keeping things quiet when they’ve accidentally messed up, there will always be employees who don’t communicate effectively. The results of poor or withheld information? Oftentimes, disaster.

We’re going to leave the cubicles and office walls, and visit a metaphor that’s as old as time: the analogy of good, old football. Sports metaphors tend to be synonymous with discussion about teamwork, and for good reason — they work. In professional football (and even on elite high school teams), teamwork and communication is essential. We’ve seen it in Super Bowls, and we’ve seen it with Matt Saracen on Friday Night Lights: without a team who trusts in each other, fights for each other, and listens to each other, we’d have no team.

If a quarterback chose to keep his play choice quiet from the rest of the team in hopes that he could run the ball alone, the game would fall apart. If a head coach chose to leave out valuable game time information from his defensive coordinator out of pettiness, the game would fall apart. If a player chose to play through his pain instead of admitting an injury to his coach, the game would fall apart.

In the midst of a game or in the heat of practice, a player ducking responsibility, playing selfishly, or pushing through pain where he shouldn’t is almost always at the expense of someone else. On successful teams, communication is cherished and trust is imperative. The Super Bowl winners and state championship ring wearers are similar in that they put their differences and motivations aside for the good of the team.

Developing that shared focus — the focus that shifts aside the self and focuses in on the team — doesn’t come naturally to most people, regardless of their talents or their intentions. If leaders are going to build a cohesive and effective team, they have to understand the varied communication styles and internal barriers that hold their teams back and keep their individual members from being all-star communicators. When it comes down to it, truly embracing a transparency-forward, teamwork-oriented, and future-focused culture at your company can overwhelmingly reduce the frequency and the severity of the communication-centric crises that you and your team experience. In fact, developing and embracing a communication-first leadership style is the first step in building a truly dynamic team. When that communication style is modeled from the top down, your team will reflect it as well. Oftentimes, they’ll mirror you more quickly than you would have expected.

Building a group of talented individuals who also serve as the backbone of a collaborative, effective team is no small feat. A smoothly functioning team takes time and effort to cultivate, but whatever your end game may be, building a team rich in great communication and low in conflict is a highly achievable goal. It all comes down to getting on the metaphorical gridiron and modeling teamwork from the top down. Practice effective communication, clear transparency, and forward-facing leadership, and you’ll be on the way to the corporate Super Bowl in no time.