Building a high-performing team through effective communication

You have communicated effectively when your listener clearly understands the views or ideas you presented. Communication, like other soft skills including active listening, empathy, respect, integrity, fairness, patience, self-discipline etc., will be, throughout existence, an aspirational skill, so unquantifiable, no one can attain perfection at it. The overall demand of speaking and listening to the words, watching the gestures and being deliberate about understanding all said and unsaid, are some of what keep communication a skill forever aspirational. This background is important for team leaders, coaches and managers working to drive the performances of their teams towards achieving set project goals.

In a workshop I attended in 2018, an Associate Director with a leading telecommunication infrastructure company, Isah Hamza Adamu, drove home some points while sharing his two decades of experience in maintaining respect, patience and fairness in communicating with, especially the least performing members of his team. Isah said, “ineffectively cascading the pressure that characterizes telecoms projects to members of your team, by way of speaking at the top of your voice, dips performance. I try to understand what the challenges of every member of my team are and I engage them on that basis purely; guiding, leading, coaching and motivating as fairly and as respectfully as I can.” Isah further emphasized, “the moment there is a raise in voice, the team perceives me as controlling and bossy, and no result comes in which is not an impression I would like to leave. Speaking without asking and waiting for a team member’s feedback and clearing all misconceptions that may have arisen, is controlling and I think that is a subtle approach to identifying an incompetent leader. One should communicate goals clearly, not confuse the team by shouting and generally being clumsy in your words,” he concluded. Every word of Isah in quotes could be taken to the bank. Seek to collaborate will embed lots of respect in communicating with your team.

Communication is what ninety percent of every project endeavor entails. From contract negotiation to project execution, premium should be placed on how effectively conversations go from buyers to sellers and from project managers to their teams. In traditional projects, there usually, are misconceptions from the beginning, as all things are documented and the entire project scope is regimented by buyers and sellers. Project charters are absolute and frown at changes.

This has proven inadequate as a method for running projects successfully. Reason is, oftentimes, the ins and outs of what is to be done are foggy at the beginning of a project work. Assumptions and unknowns at this stage are much and only become clearer as the project progresses. Unless a team lead communicates clearly and works collaboratively with his team and the management at this stage, there may be a gulf of misunderstanding. This is a situation where everyone (management, team members and the leader) believes they have a shared knowledge of the project scope and technicalities to be adopted for its execution, until the end when the management is wondering what has been built and the team is wondering why the management is not accepting it. Collaborating with your team involves communicating management’s requirements continuously, getting feedback and refining the project scope and execution strategies iteratively, until all parties understand what the finished product should look like.

On the performing organization’s side, the team leader or manager must be able to adapt his communication style to fit every situation that arises while building a highly performing team. Bruce Tuckman, an American psychological researcher (1938 – 2016), identified four stages of team formation; forming, storming, norming and performing. The competence of the team at the forming stage is low and their commitment, usually high. The team builds some competence as they step into the storming stage.

Commitment at this stage is usually very low as conflicts arise often. When the team starts norming, commitment varies among members while competence is intermediate. The team members at this stage are learning to work harmoniously. The final stage in the Tuckman’s stages of team development is the performing stage, where the team’s competence and commitment levels are high. At every point of these stages, the communication style adopted by the team leader must be different.

Ken Blanchard, a leadership expert and author of “The One Minute Manager” and Paul Hersey (author) proposed in their situational leadership model, a directing style of leadership at the early stage of team formation. Communication from the team leaders should be such that presents a clear picture of what is to be done. The leader must be directly asking questions to know where the team challenges lie. His overall communication must be adapted to suit a lowly competent team, else the morale at this crucial stage would be badly damaged.

The storming phase of the team’s development is characterized by conflicts and harsh dialogue. At this stage, a team leader should, although not mollycoddle the team (as Mike Griffiths puts it in his book, PMI-ACP Exam Prep), adopt the communication style of a coach, acting as a safety valve, helping the team resolve conflicts without damaging relationships.

The investment of the team leader begins to show at the norming stage, where the team becomes self-directing. He assumes the communication style of a supporting leader, communicating the need to not deviate from the norms that his team has formed for themselves. It is at this stage that he begins to build in them, a consensus-driven mindset and collective ownership of deliverables.

At the performing stage, the team leader should give the team autonomy. Communication as well as leadership should not be directed in style. A performing team is an empowered and a self-managing one. At this stage, it is key the team leader adapts his communication to that which is employed in a delegating leadership style. He communicates the work to be done and challenges to be solved and trust the team enough to execute appropriately. A lot of laissez-faire style or what you might call a liberal approach to people management should be adopted here.

In closing, organizations should invest adequately in the communication skills of their employees, especially the team leaders who must adapt these skills to the leadership styles appropriate for every stage of team development. Team leaders must recognize the novices, the advanced beginners, the competent, the proficient and the experts among members of their teams and adopt the best method in communicating with them, while directing, coaching, supporting and delegating as necessary.

Segun, a telecoms expert, writes via [email protected]

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