The case for improving team communication

The importance of team communication can’t be overstated – good communication encourages team input, strengthens relationships with coworkers, creates common understanding amongst team members, and produces team members who feel appreciated and respected.

Communication patterns are determinative of team success
MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory cites communication as playing a critical role in building successful teams. In fact, their research over the last eight years deems patterns of communication to be the most important predictor of a team’s success, as significant as all the other factors (intelligence, personality, skill and substance of discussions) combined.
The insight is that the key to highly successful team performance lies not in the content of a team’s discussion, but in the manner in which it was communicating.

‘What’ versus ‘How’
It seems counterintuitive that how we communicate should be so much more important to success than what we communicate. Their case for focussing on ‘how’ was based in observing our evolutionary history where language is a recent development and layered upon older signals that communicated dominance, interest and emotions among humans. Today these ancient patterns of how we communicate still shape how we make decisions and coordinate work among ourselves. We are prompted to consider how early man may have approached problem solving; if some people sitting around a campfire (as a team) fail to contribute observations or to signal their level of interest or approval, then the group members have less information, weaker judgement and will more likely to undermine group survival.

Overcoming limits of observation
Mere observation simply can’t capture every nuance of human behaviour across an entire team. Too often we rely on intuition of what makes a team greater than the sum of its parts. Umano helps teams overcome this limitation, allowing us to measure and monitor a team’s communication patterns through their online interactions in the trusted tools used every day. By applying analytics and machine learning to curate specific team interactions in chat channels, issue trackers, wikis and code repositories, Umano can identify communication patterns that make for successful teamwork.

Success factors profiling team communication
Umano reveals that successful teams share several defining factors in the way they communicate. They are observable, quantifiable and measurable and promote communication that is:

  • Readable – the team shares content that is clearly understood, keeping jargon and acronyms to a minimum level;
  • Polite – the tone of communication is respectful, which is in turn motivating and supports engagement;
  • Balanced – everyone on the team is interacting roughly in equal measure, keeping interactions short and sweet with all team members displaying equal opportunity to contribute; and
  • Responsive – responses and feedback are provided with minimal delays, promoting focus and momentum.

Data-informed action
Monitoring success factors related to team communication can help you improve your team’s performance. Through data-informed conversations, your teams will accelerate their learning and seek to take action for greater improvements. Perhaps most importantly, teams can be taught how to strengthen their practices in this area.

Proven strategies to help your team to communicate more effectively include:

  • Be clear so that actions designed to improve team communication addresses both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’
  • Make sure that team members receive answers and feedback early enough to be able to maintain momentum, focus and ensure items don’t get missed
  • Create opportunities for sharing communication practices from teams that perform well using Umano’s success factors
  • Cultivate a team that encourages questions and learning from mistakes, linked strongly to sharing information within a team.