3 Tips for Improving Communication on Teams

No matter what size team you work on, what your ultimate goal is, or the amount of effort a project may take, communication is always an extremely important part of obtaining success on teams. We have all been on teams where something was miscommunicated. It causes confusion, disorganization, and, worst-case scenario, even a lack of trust within teams.

In my role as a Technology Consultant I have been developing a mobile ordering application. Our team consists of four developers, one business analyst, one mobile development manager, and one quality assurance team.  Between the business and development teams there is an enormous amount of communication that needs to occur to ensure success of the project.  The goal of this blog is to provide readers with a few tips on keeping a strong and healthy communication trail within your team.

Tip 1: Know your audience, and be efficient with their time

Email communication is very common within teams. Being clear and concise with emails is extremely important. A rule of thumb for email: when composing an email, try to keep it under the length of the page. If the email length is getting past the length of the page, consider breaking it up into different thoughts and composing two emails. This will be easier for other team members to understand and simpler to respond to.

When asking questions via email, always make sure your question will make sense to the person you’re asking it. If you’re a developer asking the business team a question, use the correct language for the receiver. I’ve been in many situations where the question I asked made sense to me because I’m a more technical person, but for someone on the business team, the question seemed foreign with the technical lingo.

Here’s a really basic example on how language and change the results you receive. Let’s say I want you to draw a blue circle that is about the size of a dime in the top right hand corner of a green rectangle.

Your result may have looked like this:

greensquarebluecircle

When in reality, this is what I wanted you to draw:

darkgreensquarelightbluecircle

Clearly, these are completely different results.

What if I asked you to:

  1. Draw a dark forest green rectangle which is 15 centimeters wide and 3 centimeters high
  2. Draw a light blue circle that is 2 centimeters in diameter where the sides touch the outside edges of the upper right hand corner of the rectangle

You would probably get a much closer result to what I originally wanted. The point of this exercise is to realize that people understand directions differently. Being more specific and having extra detail is always better, especially with email. It’s always easier to explain what you want in person, but being able to explain directions and needs in detail through email is a much more difficult task.

Lastly, always remember to proof read emails. This should be a no brainer. Nothing looks less professional than an email that is filled with grammatical and spelling errors. I usually try to read all emails out loud to catch grammatical errors; this will help with clarity and professionalism.

Tip 2: Use a collaborative task management tool

There are hundreds of organizational tools that can help your team succeed. My favorite tool is Trello (https://trello.com/). Trello is a tool for organizing tasks and keeping teams efficient. As a developer, we use Trello to communicate who is working on which feature of the application we are building. Each task is on a card and as you finish the task you can move the card from the “Doing” column to the “Test” column and then from the “Test” column to the “Finished.” You have the ability to add as many columns as necessary and edit the names of the columns. This is a great way to always be on the same page as your teammates and not accidentally duplicate work. Trello has the ability to comment and edit tasks; it even allows you to upload files as references as you go to help ensure good communication with your co-workers. Trello is free, but it does have a Gold and Business version with features like cards that can look aged as the tasks get older so your team can visually see what order tasks need to be completed. The upgraded versions also allow your team to add larger attachments to cards and a higher amount of security to protect your project. My favorite thing about Trello is it has a mobile app that updates instantaneously and you can have emails sent to you whenever your teammates move and edit cards. Trello inevitably helps keep task work more efficient and saves time when communicating about task work via its internal features.

Tip 3: Choose your communication tools deliberately

When teams are not able to be in the same location, instant messenger is a great option for communicating with your team quickly. Instant Messenger should be used for asking quick questions, catching up, and discussing minor decisions. Because most IM conversations are not saved, it is important that any significant discussion that occurs over IM is always noted in a follow up email. Keeping records of discussions can help your team from back tracking in the project. Nothing is worse than having to make the same decision more than once; it is really just a waste of time and effort when a decision has already been made. Follow up emails can also help you retain your thoughts at any given point of time. For example, if you cannot remember whether the submit button should be red or green, but it is noted in an email after you discuss it with your team, then the decision is saved for not only your own reference but also theirs.  Obviously, if you can have these conversations in person, that is always better than IM because sometimes language can be misinterpreted. Unfortunately, sometimes discussing things in person just isn’t possible thus phone conversations and IM is necessary. Remember with IM to try to always keep conversation on point, double check everything you type, and continue to be a professional as possible.

As you can see, communication is an essential part of any team. Understanding the proper use of the tools used by your team will help keep tasks and decisions organized. Though the items mentioned above are just some rules of thumb, use your judgment. Communicate with your teammates verbally if possible and use these other methods if needed. Remember to always send a follow up email and document important decisions made on your team. Communication is not always easy and skills can always be improved. Remember: ask for help if needed and too much communication is better than none at all.

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