“I realized I was more convincing to myself and to the people who were listening when I actually said what I thought, versus what I thought people wanted to hear me say.” ~Ursula Burns (former CEO of Xerox)
We all know how important effective team communication is for company success. However, it’s hard to know how to get things back on track when it starts going wrong.
Perhaps you can even identify the moment things shifted. It might have been a company acquisition, new leaders joining the team, or a global pandemic. Whatever it was, when dynamics change, your team has the opportunity to re-evaluate, adjust, and come back stronger if you let them.
When Effective Team Communication is Lost
I want to share with you the story of a company we recently worked with. It’s a story you’ll likely relate to as it’s one we’ve seen time and time again – especially over the last two years.
We were recently hired by a company that had been founder owners and was sold to a major corporation. Initially, the leadership team stayed intact, but when retention bonuses ended, the leaders migrated to different opportunities.
As a new leadership team, made up of internal promotions and external hires, was put into place, the company was faced with the challenge of getting everyone on the same page again.
So much about the company had changed. But it wasn’t just the leadership team going through an adjustment. There were also many employees who were experiencing changes in and outside of the company. Perhaps they were celebrating the birth of a new child, grieving the loss of a loved one, or moving to a new home.
Personal changes like that happen all the time and can have a huge impact on an individual.
Now, you might be thinking, “What does the personal have to do with your professional life?” The reality is that change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. In fact, we’re often dealing with a plethora of changes simultaneously. That’s been especially true since 2020.
You can’t expect your employees to check their life at the door every time they come into the office. In fact, few of us can truly compartmentalize like that. So that meant as we worked with this new client, we had to acknowledge that the company changes weren’t the only adjustments affecting team members.
Team Building After Change
One of the first things we did to help this company was encourage everyone to openly take stock of all the changes personally and professionally.
For some, that vulnerability can feel scary. It might even feel unprofessional. The reality is that there’s no such thing as being too vulnerable with your team members. As Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”
The Growth Faculty recently looked at the work of Brené Brown and Patrick Lencioni in relation to vulnerability in the workplace. They both agree that effective team communication requires leaders to take the first vulnerable step and admit their own struggles.
“If the team leader is reluctant to acknowledge his or her mistakes, or fails to admit to a weakness that is evident to anyone else, there is little hope that other members of the team are going to take that step themselves,” says Lencioni.
As we worked with the company, we encouraged leaders to share their personal and professional challenges. We wanted everyone on the team to openly voice their concerns and feel like their vulnerability would be met with empathy and compassion.
This all had to happen before we could even move into the team-forming activities. After all, if we didn’t address the elephant in the room, the teams wouldn’t be open to building a deeper connection.
Improve Your Team Communication
If you’re finding yourself in a similar situation, here are a few things you’ll want to do:
- Bring your leadership team together in person at least twice a year to discuss changes openly.
- Encourage leaders to take time to get to know employees personally and professionally.
- Acknowledge the immense amount of change your team is going through socially, politically, economically, personally, and professionally.
- Understand that transition is an internal process, not an external one. We love the Bridges Model for this and will share more about that in a future blog.
- Get vulnerable. In the words of Lencioni, “Remember teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.”
For additional help building effective team communication in times of change, feel free to reach out to us.
Lori Heffelfinger and James Jackman