Unclear expectations for team communication kill productivity.
When we work with leaders to help them build more effective organizations, we do a quick assessment of their team communication. Let’s check in on your team: How would you answer the following two questions?
- Do we have clear, shared expectations regarding timely responses to emails, voice messages, and texts?
- Do we respond to emails, calls, and texts in a timely manner?
If you’re like most leaders, your answers are “no” and “sort of” as in:
- “No, we don’t really have shared expectations regarding timely responses.”
- “We sort of respond in a timely manner – mostly to texts, but not as much with emails and calls.”
The problem is obvious: how can you get back to people in a timely manner if no one agrees what that means?
It’s like the famous definition of pornography US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart used: “I know it when I see it.”
Team Communication Frustrations
The problem with using an “I know it when I see it” standard for your timely team communication is that people have widely varying expectations for “timely.”
For example, Mary expects someone to return emails within four hours while Joe believes 24 hours is responsive. Now Mary is frustrated and feels disrespected, Joe missed an opportunity for a colleague to see and value his work, and the work languishes.
Another common example is instant messaging. Shantel closes the chat app to finish a project and meet a deadline. In the meantime, her colleagues discuss a project and choose a new solution without her input. When Shantel asks them why they didn’t consult her, they say, “It was all on the thread, we thought you’d chime in if you had anything.”
You can avoid this wasted emotional energy and lost productivity when you help your team or organization create shared expectations for team communication.
Ten Minutes of Clarity, Weeks of Productivity
There is no perfect set of communication expectations. What will make the most sense for your team and the work you do? It usually only takes ten minutes to discuss and establish shared communication expectations.
Here are a few examples of team communication expectations:
- We will reply to texts at the next available opportunity, but not between 7:00 pm and 7:00 am.
- If the phone rings after 8:00 pm it is an emergency and we need to take the call.
- We will read and reply to emails within 24 hours.
- If an email requires a response, note that and the timeframe in the subject line.
- We will check and return voicemail once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
- We exchange information with chat and project software. We will save decisions for voice conversations.
- We do not respond to email or texts sent after 7:00 pm or before 7:00 am unless flagged as an emergency.
Clear shared communication expectations allow your team to focus, eliminate misunderstandings, and raise morale. Leave us a comment and share a best practice for communication at work.
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