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Team Communication Takes Work

Written by: Caroline Crouch Henne

I recently had a 60-day review here at Echo to talk about how things were going during my first 2 months.  It was a helpful conversation with both my onboarding manager (Barb Groff) and Echo’s CEO (Molly Yanus) as we talked through some of the specific areas I’d been ramping up in, such as software trainings and our standard project templates.  But, one of the pieces of feedback that surprised me was their encouragement to be more proactive in my communication during meetings or other team times – in their words, they were “missing” some of my perspective in those settings and wanted to make sure I was being heard. 

Different Teams need Different Communication Strategies

In some ways, this feedback to “speak up more!” made me laugh – in my previous project management jobs, I often felt like the most talkative person in the room, always trying to elicit more input from teams of software developers who were often not excited about being in meetings.  I would open my meeting agendas with funny comics, require all virtual attendees to turn on their cameras, and call directly on each person at least once to hear their status or opinion.  A fellow project manager and I tested methods like virtual whiteboards and anonymous surveys as a way of getting everyone’s participation, and I enjoyed dropping in silly GIFs and puns during our team Slack exchanges to draw everyone in. 

Coming to an organization where the group is much more naturally talkative has been a fun change, but I do find myself hanging back more in meetings.  Especially when so many other people are busy and have more experience or stronger opinions than I do (at least I assume), why take the time to talk more  and potentially take everyone down a rabbit trail?  I voiced this feeling to Barb and Molly, and they agreed that meeting efficiency is an important value (especially for us as project managers!) but also suggested that I’m probably selling short my own perspective.  As we talked more, I also realized that I feel more confident speaking up when I’ve had a little chance to think through something first, and even write something down (an exercise we actually did in the Teams chat as part of the retrospective).  For me, meeting agendas are also helpful in this way for preparation, as they give me a sense of what will be discussed, what I might want to say, and how a particular topic fits into the rest of the meeting time-wise. 

Work With Your Team’s Communication Styles

The truth is that everyone has different strengths and preferred modes when it comes to communication – not everyone in your organization is naturally going to speak up during meetings or volunteer their thoughts without being asked to do so.  Team managers need to think about how to make space for everyone’s communication style (as my managers are doing for me).  Group meetings tend to feature the perspective of those who speak loudest and most frequently, but structured meeting agendas with clear objectives, start/end times, and a meeting “enforcer” to run it all can help keep the most talkative folks in check.  There are also many good options for drawing out more reticent team members even in the midst of meetings, such as typing into group chats, sticky note exercises, and round robin Q&A’s.  

Communication Strategies for Team Success

At Echo, we often work with organizations that are undergoing major changes, starting large new projects, or undergoing large planning exercises – all situations where it is important to get buy-in and input from your entire team, not just the most verbally communicative members.  It takes work and commitment from leaders to meet their whole team where they are as far as communication – and support all team members in becoming better communicators within their organization.  This may mean more “speaking up” or input from some members, while others learn to spend more time listening or considering others’ input.  Here are some ideas for encouraging communication within your team:

  • Anonymous surveys before meetings
  • Structured agendas that are circulated before meetings
  • Submit written feedback via a team chat
  • Whiteboard exercises
  • Feedback and goals specifically focused on communication for team members

 The payoff for working on your team’s communication is huge – it builds trust, encourages more diversity in perspectives and creativity in ideas, and encourages everyone on the team to become a better communicator.  Your communicative team will be more consistently “on the same page” and much better able to rally around major changes or new efforts and push them forward. 

We’d love to help your organization work on the team communication and growth that leads to successful changes and major project success – reach out and let us know how we can help at [email protected]