Business Basics: How to improve communication and collaboration between teams

27 February 2018

This month, we talk to Jurgen Muress, director of consultancy Develop2Lead. With a wealth of experience advising organisations at senior levels, Develop2Lead specialises in leadership development, talent management and organisational development.

how to improve communication

Communication is a critical challenge for businesses of all shapes and sizes, especially when they are in the process of scaling up – which only increases the importance of clear dialogues and effective collaboration. Having helped businesses to build productive relationships that foster growth, Jurgen is perfectly placed to offer advice on increasing alignment.

Here, Jurgen answers our questions on how to improve communication and collaboration between different business teams.

Hi Jurgen, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Firstly, could you explain how businesses fall into bad communication habits, and how they can prevent this decline? 

In my experience, businesses don’t want to communicate badly – it just happens as a result of other issues. One critical problem that can occur is leaders losing touch with their employees by treating communication as a top-down process. It’s all too easy for leaders to ‘feed’ their employees what they believe they need to hear; this might include a focus on ‘good news’ and carefully managed messages, rather than genuine two-way communication.

Two-way communication requires a set of behaviours that encourage dialogue. Some businesses forget that simple behaviours such as listening, asking questions and building rapport are key to good communication. Developing these organisational competencies by offering training to managers can have a significant impact. Don’t forget that simply getting out of your seat and doing an old-fashioned walkabout also works wonders.

business team collaborating on project

Finally, having a carefully selected set of processes and communication tools is vital. Too many businesses rely on email as the default communication device, but there are many web-based tools available at low cost to help people collaborate across teams. 

What are the benefits of training and team-building sessions for businesses looking to build greater and more coherent communication channels? 

Before introducing such sessions, it’s essential to first establish a set of communication standards and develop a culture that supports teams. Having everyone understand ‘how we do things around here’ is vital and helps people hold each other to account.

Team training sessions can target specific skills such as listening and building rapport. These skills will support better communication across the business, but also help in other situations – such as interactions with customers and other stakeholders.

Team building specifically can assist with the development of trust and truly opens communication channels. Carefully facilitated sessions where team members can share hopes and concerns will draw people together. When people get to know each other’s’ values and preferred working styles it becomes so much easier to focus on the task at hand.

 sme team planning activity

Teams within the same business are often positioned to compete against one another. In such a culture, how do you maintain open communication channels and high levels of trust?

It’s always best to start with some of the basics: 

  1. Provide team members with clarity on personal roles and responsibilities so that everyone is clear about how their personal contribution fits in with others.
  2. Create greater understanding of common goals with other teams and where collaboration is required to reach those goals.
  3. Encourage cross-team meeting opportunities. Stronger personal relationships born of shared interests go a long way to developing trust and opening ways of communicating on difficult issues.
  4. Resourcing cross-business projects using members of different teams helps bring different perspectives to the table.

For managers looking to inspire and build trust in new team members, what steps can be taken to create a healthy and trusting atmosphere?

Get people together face-to-face whenever possible. Use these meetings to get to know each other. Help your people to understand your values, motivations and what’s important to you. Don’t be afraid to show what you’re worried about! Show your human side – it will encourage team members to do the same and help contribute to the solutions! 

Set out a schedule of when you will meet with individuals and when the team will come together so that you set a rhythm for communications. Be open about progress on targets and obstacles that are getting in the way. Listen to concerns and acknowledge team members’ successes.

Include everyone. This can be tricky when people are working remotely, so use video and other technologies to draw people in. Encourage them to speak up and keep them involved and up-to-date. 

manager speaking to team

Some professionals like to limit time spent on email and communication tools to a few set hours of the day. Do you believe this helps productivity? Or do you think it prohibits interaction?

Well, we all know that it’s easy to fall into the trap of filling up days answering emails and interacting digitally! So yes, disciplining yourself with regards to your electronic communication habits is important.

 Clearly, there are many tools that do support productivity when used carefully, particularly when they are structured around priority team goals and projects. But I would argue that if the people you work with are in close proximity, then interacting directly is preferable; such conversations foster trust, innovation and clarity, all of which are critical to dealing with complex subjects. 

executives conducting breakout meeting

A big communication issue faced by many businesses is teams working in different locations and time zones. Do you have any advice or recommendations for teams and individuals who have to communicate with others who may be many hours ahead or behind? 

It can be almost impossible to get team members together physically, but it’s easier than ever to do so virtually using video and meeting tools such as Skype, WebExor and GoToMeeting. These tools create opportunities for dialogue but can require somebody to be working antisocial hours if your team is spread across multiple locations. 

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It’s critical to plan meetings carefully and consistently, and to share the burden of unsociable hours across the team. So, be very aware of each other’s time zones. Every Time Zone is just one of many useful tools that help teams do that simply. 

project leaders discussing strategy

Remote teams should invest extra time to create clarity on actions and accountabilities. This will increase productivity by avoiding the need for additional follow-up before the actions start. Keeping track of progress is important, and this is where asynchronous tools like email, Google Docs, Yammer, Slack, Hipchat and Dropbox are helpful. These allow small and large teams to collaborate, log what’s been done, question, comment and share ideas. 

If you’ve enjoyed this article, don’t forget to read the rest of the Q&As in our Business Basics series. You can find a selection of recent articles using the following links:

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The views, opinions and positions expressed within this article are those of our third-party content providers alone and do not represent those of Gazprom Energy. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Gazprom Energy accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.

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