A key characteristic of high functioning teams is good communication. Team members combine their unique experiences, perspectives, and strengths toward a common goal, and that means ensuring everyone in the group understands the same message.
However, communication becomes exponentially more challenging when you grow the size of the group. The more people who have to get the same message, the less effective your communication will be, according to Sandra Beck and Dr. Bill Cross, who presented a session on the modern workplace at a recent SHARE event.
The presenters illustrated it this way: a group of just two people has only one communications interface between them. When you add a third person to the group, you create three interfaces – each person in the trio has to be able to understand and communicate with their respective partners. Add a fourth person, and the number of crisscrossing interfaces has grown to six. The number of interfaces continues to scale as the group grows, leaving higher potential for miscommunications.
That’s just the start of the problem. Staying on message can become an even thornier issue once you add the other variables that affect intrapersonal communications, but Beck and Dr. Cross had several tips that can help managers navigate these challenges.
Factors Affecting Communication in Modern Workplaces
Culture is a big variable in business communications, the presenters said. Cultures have their own set of social, spiritual, and political customs, as well as faux pas that are important to be aware of. For example, in the Netherlands, disagreements at full volume are not unusual; but in Japan, raising your voice would be considered the height of rudeness. Expectations of personal space also vary from culture to culture, Beck added. Gender is another major variable that can impact the way teams view problems, propose solutions, and collaborate.
Generational differences are also very important to consider as workforces become more diverse. Right now, there are potentially five different age groups extant in the U.S. workforce, ranging from the oldest (Veterans, born in the late 30s and early 40s) to Millennials, who were born in the early 90s to early 2000s.
Each generation has its own set of experiences, strengths, and communication styles, and it’s important to keep each in mind depending on your audience.
Tips for Improving Group Communications
To get the most out of your teams, Beck and Dr. Cross suggest implementing a few core principles:
Individualize your approach: Diverse communication requires you to match the formality of the communication to the culture in which the communication is taking place. That also applies to the communication avenue. You may be comfortable with email, but if half the people that work for you are comfortable with text messages, you may want to consider that option, too.
Understand the differences in values and social etiquette at play within the team: Be conscious of the varying priorities and motivating factors of the people on your team. While some individuals may be driven by recognition for a job well-done or are looking to climb into leadership positions, others may place a higher value on playing a supporting role on the team.
Ask, don’t assume: It also helps to take the time to clarify communication styles and preferences with the members of your team, so you’re that interacting with each in a way that makes them feel comfortable.
Above all, Beck and Dr. Cross advise managers to stay willing to learn from and teach all of their team members, no matter their background. Acknowledge the differences in communication styles and strengths, and don’t take it personally if there are minor stumbles along the way. Working together productively means finding opportunities for common ground.
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