The team you’ve built features the most talented individuals you could find. But that doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing for it. That’s because teams don’t mesh as easily as we’d like them to. They are still, after all, individuals, with individual styles and approaches.
Invariably, some team members’ communication style will be less than world-class. Under-communicating is a common problem that occurs among teams with or without the intent to create problems.
Some withhold information believing that sharing should be restricted, and on a “need-to-know” basis. Others have self-preservation in mind, withholding information to insulate themselves from potential blame or responsibility. Others still seek to gain a competitive advantage over their coworkers by keeping their colleagues uninformed and in the dark.
Whatever the reason for withholding information, the results are often disastrous and long lasting. How can we build better-communicating teams? Let’s turn for a moment, as we have done throughout my “Dynamics of Conflict” webinar series, to the analogy of 19th century sailing vessels to see how they would handle such communication lapses.
The captains and crews of those vessels practiced a culture that ensured that such lapses would not happen. The stakes were too high. When something went wrong in 19th century sailing vessels, it was often a matter of life or death. Effective communication among everyone involved was essential if problems were to be solved: They focused forward, on solving the problem and on ensuring it never happened again, instead of backward, on who or what caused it.
If someone ducked responsibility or impaired the ship’s functioning by trying to make themselves look better, it was often at the expense of others. Crew members quickly learned that getting the vessel safely to its destination was far more pressing than anyone’s individual self-protective instincts or personal ambitions.
Developing that kind of shared focus, putting the organization’s goals first, does not come naturally to most people no matter how well their talents fit the organization’s needs. If leaders are to build a cohesive, effective team, it is crucial that they understand individuals’ varied communication styles and the internal barriers that keep team members from communicating effectively. (Incidentally, understanding and developing strategies for navigating those communication styles are the focus of my upcoming webinar, “The Dynamics of Conflict – Managing the Team.”)
Embodying the kind of future-focused, teamwork-oriented communication style of transparency, openness and sharing information can greatly reduce both the frequency and severity of crises you experience. And, it’s the first step toward building dynamic teams. As you model this communication style to your team, those who tend to withhold information will start to “catch” that more effective communication style from you.
Getting a group of talented individuals to work together as a collaborative, effective team is not a given. A smoothly functioning team takes time and effort to build.
Better communication, less conflict and dynamic teams are achievable goals. It begins with fostering a forward-looking problem-management style and continues with modeling the communication you want your team to develop. Practice these and you’ll soon find your “ship” sailing successfully full speed ahead!