Communication might be the cornerstone of success for every business, but that doesn’t mean we’re always getting it right. With diverse personalities coming together, different working styles and the stress of office politics, it doesn’t take much to unbalance a team.
Of course, good communication isn’t just one strategy- it’s ingrained into every aspect of the working day. From getting teams to work together to developing strong manager/employee relationships and ensuring staff receive the right messages from the top, company communication is a complex challenge. And unlike other aspects of the business, you need to be mindful of personal preference, feelings and the impact of words and actions. So if you’ve been using the same techniques for years, it’s time to shake up your strategies and give your team a new lease of life. We’ve collated six communication techniques that can support brands to succeed, helping them to develop better, stronger and more efficient teams.
A recent study showed that 72% of employees felt that their performance would improve if they were offered the right feedback. Of those interviewed, 57% said that constructive and critical feedback was most helpful, as it offered them the opportunity to grow and develop. Whilst it’s crucial for employees to be discussing their performance with their managers, it’s also important for the company to receive its own feedback. Since the rise of websites like Glassdoor, which give employees the chance to rate every aspect of the businesses they’ve worked for, transparency has become part and parcel of good communication.
In addition to offering regular one-to-ones, companies could try introducing feedback groups or a suggestions box, where managers commit to making a set number of positive changes every month. Whether it’s the need for more flexible hours, changes to benefit packages or changes to the culture of the office environment, listening to employees in an open and safe space is a vital part of company progression.
If you want to probe deeper, or ask specific questions about the organisation, anonymised surveys are an effective way to generate honest feedback. Although some companies view them as outdated, they’re still a highly effective tool for working out ways to improve communication strategies. Depending on the size of your organisation, you can personalise surveys for individual employees or departments, targeting them with the questions you really want to ask. For example, if your accounts team is struggling in a specific area, you can gain feedback that will target this problem and improve communication between employees in that team.
Feedback groups can also be used by managers to communicate messages about team performance. While individual constructive criticism should always be done in private, groups can be a good place to discuss issues that are impacting a large number of employees, as people won’t feel singled out. If everyone has been making the same mistake, there’ll be a collective effort to improve. It’s also an opportunity for managers to celebrate the successes of their team members, recognising their achievements in front of their peers. When done fairly in a group situation this can boost team morale and performance. It enables employees to understand more about each other’s roles and appreciate the job their team members are doing.
Research shows that poorly managed workgroups are up to 50% less productive and 44% less profitable. We know that team building can have a huge impact on these teams, leading to a more cohesive working environment in the long-run. But what about its impact on communication? Rewind 15 years and team building activities had lost some of their appeal. Described by business leaders as stale and pointless, traditional games and company picnics weren’t having the right impact on audiences. But since then, we’ve seen a change to the way team building events are delivered, and it’s been revolutionary for company communications. When you have a clear objective in mind of what you want to achieve, as well as a strong, interactive activity and debrief, team building can be one of the most effective tools there is for developing strong communication.
For example, many teams face challenges when team members are unable to see the strengths of their fellow employees. An activity like a treasure hunt or a series of challenges allows people to show off any hidden talents and work with their fellow team members in a game-based environment. It also gives people the chance to try new activities and take on new roles in a safe space, without worrying about mistakes. It allows more confident team members to support new or inexperienced staff and help them to find their way and better understand their point of view.
Effective team building also helps to boost confidence, something that was evident among the England team at this year’s World Cup. After years of disappointments, new manager Gareth Southgate introduced a new style of team building this year, which took the men’s football team to the semi-finals for the first time in decades. While previous teams have been criticised for their lack of ability to work together, this year’s players are now renowned as the definition of ‘team’. In addition to regular team building on and off the pitch, Southgate used the support of psychologists to improve confidence and communication among the team, something which paid off during the penalties against Columbia. An office might not be quite the same as international sport, but the same principles can still be applied. Good communication starts with a cohesive team, and managers should be working with as many specialists as possible to deliver a solution that works best for their team. Whether that’s working with psychologists like Southgate or simply finding new and innovative ways for teams to practice working together, team building is an essential part of developing a strong workforce that communicates well.
Companies have been incorporating gamification into team building for several years now, but a bigger investment in this area could lead to better communication across the business.
Gamification is particularly useful when it comes to delivering important company messages to employees, especially when there’s a large amount of information to get across. When we participate in activities that engage our bodies or minds our body releases feel-good endorphins- which is why exercise is so beneficial. Research shows that e-learning games have a very similar impact, as participants get a rush completing new levels. As well as being fun, gamification actually helps the learners retain more information, which is ideal when you’re trying to communicate an important message. For example, if you need your employees to have in-depth knowledge of a new product the company is offering, a gamified experience could be the fastest and easiest way to help them learn quickly and become enthusiastic about the product. Gamification has been proven to support internal communication, by embracing the ‘learning by doing’ interactive approach. In addition to being a great way to learn about new products and services, it can be used to boost uptake for internal communication programmes like Yammer, Linkedin and other social media. By setting competitions and challenges, managers can encourage more participation online, which develops a new sense of community within an organisation.
In a tense, deadline-fuelled environment, it’s no surprise that relationships in the office are often tested. With so many different personalities pitching in, when things go awry, the environment can start to feel a bit like a pressure cooker. While close employee relationships boost job satisfaction by up to 50%, arguments and strain has exactly the opposite effect, with people more likely to leave their role and reduce productivity. Luckily most workplace clashes are easily fixable when they’re caught early. Personality tests like Myers Briggs are a useful way for employees to better understand their own personality type and how their working practices impact others. But ultimately staff members still need to find ways to communicate- even when they’re on different pages. Games allow them to explore these relationships without the pressure of work getting in the way, and can even help to resolve long-standing disputes and encourage communication.
Integrating digital solutions
According to recent research by Forbes, digital disruption is key to success in business. It’s no longer enough to try out the new trends a year later and hope they fit with your business, you have to take that innovation and integrate it into your brand. Technology is the word of the moment, and a PwC survey now shows 41% of millennials would rather communicate electronically. With the buzz of new tech trends ongoing and the list of products to try seemingly endless, how do companies integrate the right services into their brand to improve communications?
Jim Alexander, head of learning at Wildgoose, says technology needs to bring people together rather than be used in isolation. “It’s not about the technology itself but the way it’s being used to boost interaction and communication between employees. You need both the tech and the human element in order to be successful,” he explains. As well as ensuring there’s a clear objective for using technology, businesses need to make sure the new product they’re trying isn’t a standalone. For example, if you’re using robotics at an internal event, they could be part of a wider game which involves delegate interaction or some kind of learning element. Equally VR and AR can be used to take people on their own journey, which they then have to feedback on to colleagues.
Meanwhile technology can also be used to improve processes, which can aid office communications. Collaborative apps such as Trello, Workplace and even social media can help teams to work together on projects, sharing information and offering feedback to junior members of the team. If you’re wondering what’s right for your brand and your people, it may be worth investing in an expert opinion before you go ahead and splash out on new tech. Write a clear list of the communication objectives you are trying to achieve and carefully evaluate what you’d like the technology to be able to do. Once you’re clear on your goals, you’ll need to work closely with your teams to make sure they understand exactly how and why they are going to be using the new tools you’ve chosen.
Creating a happiness culture
If you want to build a company that communicates well, you’ll need to make sure your employees feel valued. When people feel that they are an important cog in the wheel, they’re automatically more open to change and development. Research shows that happy employees are at least 12% more productive in the workforce, and are more likely to support their fellow co-workers. Happiness and good communication aren’t mutually exclusive, they support each other in a positive circle of workplace behaviour. So how can you ensure that your employees are as happy as they can be? Firstly it’s important to listen to their needs and goals. As well as feedback sessions and surveys, good companies never let the lines of personal communication breakdown. Regular one-on-ones with managers will give leaders an idea of how employees are really feeling, and this needs to be done in a truly open and safe space that fosters honesty and development. Companies might wish to consider offering an alternative outlet for employees to voice concerns, for example, an impartial counsellor or relationship manager. This means that employees will be able to bring up any problems they don’t feel like they can discuss with their manager. Opening up more channels of communication, it moves away from the traditional ‘boss is always right’ mentality and makes employees feel like their voice will be heard whatever the circumstances.
Managers should also demonstrate that they have listened to and taken action on employee requests. For example, if staff members ask for more frequent learning and development opportunities or personalised benefits, delivering these will show the company is really committed to taking staff concerns seriously. If requests aren’t possible, companies should be explaining the reasons why and offering compromises where possible. When it comes to happy and communicative employees, maintaining transparency in the business is absolutely key.
Success in communication is lead by management, and some companies may find it helpful to offer leaders EQ training, so they are better equipped to stay in tune with the emotional needs of their employees. This in turn can ensure happier employees who are better able to communicate with their managers and other team members.
Forum theatre and role play
When it comes to delivering compliments about someone’s work, most people don’t struggle. A survey from Gallup shows that regular praise can improve the company’s bottom line, with a 10-20% difference in revenue and productivity. Aware of the benefits, most successful brands are working this into their communication strategies, through award ceremonies, peer nominations and regular incentives to celebrate employee’s hard work and dedication. But what about when you have to share a message that isn’t quite so positive? According to Jim Alexander, many people are still scared to have difficult conversations, even when they are in managerial positions. “There’s a concept known as ‘radical candor’ which was coined by writer and business expert Kim Scott,” he explains. “It basically gives advice on how to be a successful manager who is able to bring up difficult topics, without losing your humanity.”
Radical candor can be achieved in a number of ways, but one of the most effective tools for training staff in communication skills is through forum theatre and role play. For example, a leading financial company recently boosted communication among employees by introducing an immersive, actor led theatre experience. Led by four actors, the training involved them acting out different scenarios, and taking advice from the audience on how to improve the messages that were being shared. Researchers estimate that EQ accounts for 75% of a person’s ability to succeed, but it’s not something that comes naturally to everyone. Allowing employees to see these skills being demonstrated on stage can help to support them to change their own behaviours, adapting everything from their body language to the pitch of their voice. Companies can also integrate role play into the mix, by getting employees to act out different situations and receive feedback from those watching their reactions. This type of training really pushes people out of their comfort zones to develop better leadership communication skills. Even for employees who aren’t in managerial positions, learning how to deliver negative feedback without causing conflict or upset iskey to maintaining harmony and positivity in the team.
When you do have to deliver difficult messages to staff about their performance, it’s important to be positively critical, and back it up with ways to support them. For example, if you want someone to improve their time management skills, there may be a suitable training course offered by the company to help them get better.
Ultimately there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to improving your company’s communications. When you’re dealing with human emotion, preferences and the strain of deadline, there’ll never be a fool-proof way to make sure conflict never occurs, or messages never go amiss. But by staying true to your values as an organisation and listening to the needs of the people who work for you, it’ll be easier to bring your team together. Whether you hire your own experts or take advice and inspiration from outside organisations, a strong, multi-faceted communications strategy is worth its weight in gold for every business.