Communicating in teams

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Team Coaching, Uncategorized

Communicating in Teams

Communicating in Teams

Throughout these recent posts we’ve seen that great communication is a component of the high performing team and that it is the quality of that communication rather than the quantity that counts.

There are countless models and theories on team communication and group behaviour to guide you, but I find the categories put forward by Neil Rackham in Behaviour Analysis in Training to be most closely aligned with coaching principles.

In his original research Rackham identified 15 separate communication behaviours that distinguished the super-successful managers from the merely successful. We can extend that thought to recognise that all members of a group communicate, not just the managers so the behaviours which follow can be utilised by everyone. Note that none of the items on the list that follows is right or wrong in and of itself; it’s more a question of appropriateness and context, and which are most conductive to building a high performing team. Experience suggests that 15 is too large a number to work with practically, so I’ll show the 8 main categories:

Seeking information Asking questions to find out what people think
Bringing in Used to involve a quiet member of the team in the conversation, normally includes using their name
Testing understanding Making certain that you have really understood another’s contribution, usually by asking questions
Proposing Suggesting something on which the team can take action. ‘it’s really cold today’ is not a proposal, ‘let’s turn up the heating’ is
Giving information Offering views and making statements
Shutting out Any way in which you stop another person from contributing. It can include interruptions, side conversations, asking a question of one person but letting another answer, etc. It can be very subtle
Disagreeing Anything that says you can’t go along with what’s being proposed or stated
Defending/Attacking Graduating from disagreeing; getting off the topic and talking about the person. ‘Why can’t you ever make a sensible suggestion?’ is one example. It usually results in the other party fighting back and can continue in a loop for a long time.

I’d like to make some sweeping generalisations now based on my own experience. I suggest though that you experiment yourself in your own teams to see how much of this holds true in your own environment.

When shown the list of categories most people in teams would say it’s desirable to do more of the communication described by the first four categories. These are people-centred, coaching style communication categories and they are also socially desirable; that is, we would like people to think of us as communicating in this way. They are also the types of behaviour that Rackham noted were used often by super successful managers.

In reality, when observed, most teams operate with the reverse. In meetings in particular they do lots and lots of Proposing, and Giving Information and relatively little Testing Understanding and Bringing In. When things get heated or there is the pressure of a looming deadline you will also see much Disagreeing and Defending/Attacking.

This is again symptomatic of the team caught at the Assertion stage but can be remedied by team coaching with an emphasis on raising group awareness. One great way to do this is to nominate a communication monitor at team sessions. Provide this person a sheet with the behaviours down the side and the team names across the top. Their job is to put a mark against the appropriate behaviour each time someone speaks. Provided this is then fed back with sensitivity, the team will move quite easily to the more successful communication behaviours


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