3 Crucial Communication Tips for Team Leaders
Communication is often defined as the process of reaching a mutual understanding through the exchange of information and feelings. In our personal lives, communication enables us to connect with family members, friends and neighbors, and to better understand the world in which we live. At work, it is the way we connect with co-workers and customers, and better understand the purpose and values of the organization. As Paul J. Meyer of the Success Motivation Institute said, “Communication – the human connection – is the key to personal and career success.”
Still, as important as communication is, it remains an area of improvement for most individuals and organizations. People mistakenly assume that communication is only about the words we use, when in reality, true communication goes beyond what we say to include when and how we say it.
Effective communicators focus on:
- Being clear and providing complete information so that misunderstandings are avoided
- Matching the approach, method, tone and timing to the message that needs to be delivered
- Asking for feedback—to ensure that the message has been effectively conveyed and received
For leaders charged with managing a team, this is especially true.
Here are 3 areas where a team leader’s communication skills can make a significant impact: (1) communicating bad news, (2) communicating good news, and (3) communicating the “big picture”. Over the course of time, every manager will face each of these situations. The tips below can help apply the principles of effective communication above to all 3 areas.
Most leaders would say that one of the hardest parts of their job is to be the bearer of bad news. Unfortunately, this is something that comes with the territory of being “leader.” Although difficult, the ability to manage “bad news” situations properly will benefit your team greatly.
Alternatively, the improper handling of a negative team announcement can take a bad situation and make it worse. Think about a time in your work life when bad news was delivered. How did you feel during and after the meeting? When it was all said and done, were you anxious and angry? Or, did you at least feel somewhat relieved to know what was going on and appreciative that you were being kept “in the loop”.
When delivering bad news to the whole team, here are some tips you may want to use:
- Have a staff meeting so everyone hears the news at the same time. This is important because you want your employees to hear the news directly from you.
- Tackle the topic head on. Trying to avoid it just wastes time and risks that rumors will start.
- If rumors have already started do your best to layout the facts of the situation. You could say something like...
- “I understand there are rumors about layoffs. As you know, Jackie and Ken in Receiving were let go last week. Right now, there are no additional layoffs planned. I will try to keep you informed as much as possible.”
- Answer questions. Your employees will have plenty of questions so come prepared with answers.
- Acknowledge feelings of uncertainty. Depending on the situation, some of these people’s jobs could be at stake. It’s important that you are sensitive to how they might be feeling.
- Reassure the team that you will share information as it becomes available
After delivering bad news, leaders can’t ensure that all team members will feel 100% at ease with the situation. The best thing to do is keep the lines of communication open and find ways to help people stay as focused and positive as possible.
While not as difficult as breaking bad news to a team, bringing good news still requires a bit of strategy and planning if you want to give it effectively.
It’s extremely important for your team (and for people in general) to hear good news—especially when it is connected to the hard work they’re doing. Don’t miss out on opportunities to motivate and reward your staff with news that will make them feel excited, appreciated or uplifted.
Here are some ideas and tips on how to convey good news to your team…
- Celebrate victories. You should show your team that you recognize when they have done a good job. It shouldn’t matter how big a task it was, a win is a win. And even the smallest of victories can lead to bigger victories in the future.
- Communicate good news twice:
- First, brag about your team to others; share their achievements and accomplishments.
- Then, tell your team that you’ve told others about their success. This will help your employees feel important and make them want to continue working at a high level.
- Be specific with your praise. Don’t just say “great job, team!” Show team members that you are aware of what went into the successful result by saying things like “it was not easy to overcome the bad weather and get that project completed in 90 days—thank you for your hard work and ingenuity.”
THE BIG PICTURE
A big part of the leader’s job is ensuring that their team does its part in achieving organizational goals. To make that happen efficiently and effectively, everyone on the team needs to understand the big picture, including what success will “look like” and what kind of plan is in place to get there.
It’s kind of like working on a jigsaw puzzle--things go a lot easier and faster when you can look at the picture on the puzzle box and see what it is you’re trying to build.
Here are some tips on how to communicate the big picture to your team…
- Tell your employees what you know: about the company, the industry, trends in the field, etc.
- Share information that you receive (unless it’s confidential). If its relevant and applicable for your team, don’t keep it to yourself. But know that not all information needs to be shared.
- Communicate news that will enrich your employees’ understanding of how their jobs fit within the company and the industry.
- Give team members the chance to ask questions. You may not always be able to give an answer but by being given the chance to ask, they will feel more connected to the organization’s goals and purpose. Employees’ questions sometimes uncover rumors or misinformation that might be circulating or help clarify for the whole team information that is confusing.
A team is much more powerful when they feel aligned with the organization’s overarching values and goals. By communicating the big picture you motivate your team and increase the likelihood that team and organizational success will be achieved.
For more on Team Communication see our:
Manager Moments: How to Build a High-Performing Team - Module 4: How to Improve Team Communication,
and Communication Counts: Speaking and Listening for Results