Few things impact team culture, productivity, and morale more than communication at work. It’s the glue that holds teams together. Good communication leads to higher productivity and strong team engagement, while poor communication can lead to confusion, missed deadlines, turnover, and general frustration. Poor communication can undoubtedly cost you and your organization.
A focus on communication has become particularly important over the past 18 months, with many team members forced to work remotely or with brand new collaboration software. However, while everyone is arguably better at communicating over messaging channels like Slack and Teams, there’s much more to team communication than just messaging!
What is effective team communication?
Generally, an effective communicator conveys their message directly and clearly and equally listens to and respects others’ input. Effective team communication follows the same path. When formal and informal messages (verbal and non-verbal) are conveyed in a manner that the recipient can understand, you’re one step closer to achieving team objectives.
Communication is not just a matter of words. It’s multi-dimensional. Alice Stott at Edutopia breaks communication into four distinct categories:
- Physical: the use of body language and voice
- Linguistic: the use and style of language
- Cognitive: the content’s relevance and importance
- Social & Emotional: the ability to listen and respond to any audience
While the importance of each can differ depending on an individual’s skills, styles, and work environment, they are constantly evolving. Which means there’s always room for improvement!
Start With Understanding Your Team’s Communication Styles
Did you know that the source of a lot of workplace conflicts and confusion is misaligned communication styles?
It’s common for employees to have little to no idea about their own communication style nor how they should best communicate with others on their team. Before launching into different team building activities, it can be helpful to identify the work communication style of everyone on your team to understand the strengths, weaknesses, and potential areas of confusion or conflict. A basic understanding can help make for better meetings, more efficient workflows, and reduced errors.
There are several different frameworks for understanding communication styles. It’s a matter of choice. Some of the more popular ones include the DISC Profile and the Analytical/Intuitive/Functional/Personal framework, though you’ll find many more with a quick internet search.
As a first step, have your team members take a quiz and find out their communication style. Next, start to dive into the strengths and weaknesses of each profile and how different profiles can best work and interact with each other. With a basic level of self-awareness, you’ll be able to start improving the team’s communication skills through formal training and team activities.
Work To Improve Team Communication Skills
Good communication skills aren’t developed overnight. These skills are constantly changing based on experience, environment, colleagues, and work. As leaders and team members, we need to adapt our communications and use the appropriate style, tone, and emotions when required.
So, what strategies can we use at work to improve our team communications? Here are a few suggestions to help keep you on track:
Make sure you’re using the proper brainstorming and collaboration tools. Collaboration tools like Slack, Zoom, and Teams can help promote spontaneous communications while keeping a searchable record. This should be ongoing but may require a laddered approach to training.
Create feedback loops. Make sure you tell people what they’re doing right and where they can improve. It helps to manage daily expectations and avoid any shocks at the annual performance review discussion. This should be ongoing but may require a laddered approach to training.
Invest in formal communications training. Communication training can be an invaluable investment, especially if it’s a big problem in your team. Training could include presentation skills, writing skills, or people management training. This should be 2-4 times each year, including debriefing and inclusion in team evaluations.
Organize fun communication-focused team-building activities. These activities enhance productivity and engagement and help develop informal communication skills in a non-work environment. We have some recommendations below, but also here. This should be monthly, even weekly, on a smaller scale with more extensive annual celebrations.
Explore Team-building Games With A Focus On Communication
From our experience, one of the best ways to work on intra- and inter-team communication is through games. As a bonus, they’re also a great way to encourage team bonding and socialization, both of which contribute to employee morale and engagement!
We’ve listed some of our favorite games below, designed to foster communication among the participants. For each activity, we recommend encouraging participants to test out different communication techniques. You can also provide opportunities to pause and check in to see how their strategies are going and give them a chance to reset and try out a different approach.
Finally, at the end of the activity, take some extra time to run a deeper debrief to figure out what worked, what didn’t, and which techniques can be used in the workplace. Harvard Business Review has a 4-step debriefing framework. However, you can always run a high-level discussion and ask participants how their communication strategies changed throughout the activity, which techniques worked best with their partner/group, and what they would do differently next time.
5 Team Building Games For Improving Team Communication
1. Instructive Drawing (Full Game Instructions)
Objective: A fun activity for building team communication and helping participants think about how they communicate step-by-step instructions.
How to: Divide your group into pairs and ask each pair to decide who will be the ‘speaker’ and the ‘artist.’ Give the speaker a simple image of geometrical shapes (like this one) and then 10 minutes to give step-by-step instructions to the artist without seeing what the artist is drawing. If you have a digital team, try using a digital drawing board like Miro or Sketch.io that the artist can screenshot. You can also substitute drawing for origami using a simple sheet of white printer paper.
Debriefing: Record each session and play it back while reviewing the final drawing. Get the speaker and artist to come up with different ways they could have phrased the instructions.
2. Team Rebus Puzzle
Objective: A fun team building brain teaser activity to encourage creative problem-solving in groups.
How to: Rebuses are words, illustrations, and symbols that represent words or phrases. To play, split your team into groups, each with a collection of rebus puzzles to solve (here are some good examples, or you can have your teammates draw or print branded images to use and create their puzzles, Pictionary style). Give teams a few minutes to discuss a strategy for solving the puzzles before starting. The team that solves the most puzzles in the allotted time (10-20 minutes) wins.
Debriefing: Discuss the team’s strategy and how it evolved throughout the game. Did they stick to their original plan, or did their approach evolve? Did everyone participate?
3. Card Pieces
Objective: A simple activity designed to help participants develop empathy towards others and consider their opinions and perspectives. Also suitable for building negotiation skills.
How to: The game’s goal is for each team to make complete cards from the triangle pieces they are given and by negotiating with other teams. To prepare, you’ll need to organize the playing cards. Start with colored pieces of paper or card and cut each into 4 equal triangles (budget for at least 1 card per participant). Next, mix up the triangles and put an equal number of cards into as many envelopes as you will have teams (at least 3 teams are ideal). Finally, give each team an envelope filled with card pieces.
Once each team has an envelope, give them 5 minutes to organize their cards and develop a negotiation strategy (individually or collectively). Given the teams 8-10 minutes to negotiate with the other teams. Once the time is up, count each team’s completed cards. The team with the most completed cards wins.
Debriefing: Try to dive into which strategies worked and which didn’t. What could the teams have done better? Did anyone have success working independently vs. collectively? What would they do differently next time?
4. The Guessing Game (aka 20 Questions)
Objective: A classic fun and engaging game designed to encourage listening, problem-solving, and targeted questioning.
How to: Divide the participants into two equal teams. Give one participant from each team the name of an object or place (related to work or the office is usually a safe option). Their teammates will then try to guess what the word is by only asking Yes/No questions. To increase the competition, you can limit the number of questions or arrange a challenge of which team can solve the most words within an allotted period.
Debriefing: Try to discuss the importance of open-ended vs. close-ended questions and scenarios when one type of question is more valuable than the other.
5. Concentric Circles
Objective: An activity to practice active listening, patience, and clear communication of opinions and thoughts.
How to: Divide participants into two equal groups. Set up two circles of chairs – one inside the other. Participants in the middle circle are the ‘talkers’ while those in the outer circle are the ‘watchers.’ Give the talkers a topic of discussion. It could be related to a project, the company, the industry, a current event, or something entirely out of the left field. The talkers will engage with the topic for 10-15 minutes while the watchers observe and take notes. After the allotted time, the two groups switch and repeat the exercise. If it’s beneficial, you can use facilitators to help structure the conversation and ensure equal participation.
Debriefing: Get the groups to compare how it was to be a watcher vs. a listener. In what ways did being a watcher impact the perspective of the talkers? What did they observe in terms of body language and other non-verbal communication cues?
What are your favorite ways to encourage communication in your team?