Google’s Project Aristotle studied the characteristics that create effective teams at Google and offered tips for helping teams take action to increase team effectiveness:

  • Psychological safety: Team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable. (Actions: Solicit input and opinions, and share personal and work style preferences.)
  • Dependability: Members reliably complete quality work on time. (Actions: Clarify roles and responsibilities, and develop concrete project plans to provide transparency into every individual’s work.)
  • Structure and clarity: Members have clear roles, plans and goals. (Actions: Regularly communicate team goals, ensure team members understand the plan for achieving them, and ensure team meetings have a clear agenda and designated leader.)
  • Meaning: There’s a sense of purpose in the work or the output. (Actions: Give team members positive feedback on something outstanding they are doing, offer to help them with something they struggle with and publicly express your gratitude for someone who helped you.)
  • Impact: Work is making a difference. (Actions: Co-create a clear vision that reinforces how each team member’s work directly contributes to team and organization goals, reflect personally on how work impacts users or clients and the organization, and adopt a user-centered evaluation method.)

In other words, the best teams communicate effectively. And it starts with leadership. In a Quantum Leadership Group survey of 195 leaders in 15 countries over 30 global organizations, communication was involved in six of the top 10 leadership competencies. Unfortunately, in a recent study by Clear Company, 86 percent of employees and executives cited a “lack of collaboration” or “ineffective communication” as the source of most workplace failures.

Communication is critical for leadership success, but most leaders don’t communicate or collaborate well. Communication is “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior,” according to Merriam-Webster. The key word is “exchange.”

One reason why communication is ineffective is because we rely too much on email, which is often misinterpreted. Humans are much better at communicating and interpreting tone in vocal messages than in text-based ones, and face-to-face requests are 34 times more effective than emailed requests.

What can leaders do to be more effective communicators? Here are three tips.

Have More Exchanges.

“Great leadership is practiced one conversation at a time,” wrote Tacy M. Byham and Richard S. Wellins in a CLO article. Great conversations impact the bottom line. In fact, a DDI and The Conference Board study found “that organizations that value interactions are 3½ times more likely to have a strong leadership bench and twice as likely to be among the top financially performing companies.”

Seek Mutuality.

Mutuality is seeking mutual purpose and an understanding that leaders and employees are working toward a common goal. Both parties must care about the interests of the other person, not just their own. Communication often fails because people jump to the worst possible conclusion about another person without considering the other person’s circumstances or point of view.

According to psychologist Judith V. Jordan, the main channel for mutuality is empathic attunement, the ability to understand another person’s momentary psychological state . “It is a process during which one’s self-boundaries undergo momentary alteration,” says Jordan, “which in itself allows the possibility for change in the self. Empathy … always contains the opportunity for mutual growth and impact.”

Communicate With Intention.

Communicating with intention penetrates both sides of a listener’s brain. According to neuroscientist Sophie Scott, we divide a person’s message into sections and store (remember) each part in a different part of the brain. The words are stored and processed in the left temporal lobe. The vocal dynamics – how the words are delivered – are stored in the right side of the brain, the area also associated with music and images. The words alone are not enough. Lack of vocal intention will cloud your message and leave your audience confused at best and unmoved at worst.

As management guru Peter Drucker said, “Communication always makes demands. It always demands that the recipient become somebody, do something, believe something. It always appeals to motivation.” We all communicate every day of our lives, whether we choose to or not, and we all want something as a result of the messages we communicate.

Effective leaders must motivate a team, facilitate change, define a culture or overcome adversity. Great leaders must be great communicators. They have to create a vision that others will follow. Their words must be supported by strong and active intentions, and their objectives must be clearly defined, appealing to the aspirations and emotions of their team members. Without intention, employees will not understand a leader’s ideas and will not champion their proposals. And teams will remain ineffective.

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