Good teams that are well led and are high performing tend to have good communication systems in place. These may not necessarily be overtly formal, but there is generally an understanding that is widely shared amongst members of the team, as to how communication happens. In one of the other modules we talk about the characteristics of developing teams, and in the early stages of team development there is often friction between team members because everyone is busy posturing for position and recognition, and part of what causes the friction in these sorts of circumstances is that people are not used to the cultural norms of the team, one of which is how the team communicates amongst themselves.
The development of an agreed communication etiquette is highly recommended as one way that teams can make sure that they are treating one another professionally at all times, even where there may be differences of opinion. The idea behind an etiquette agreement is to make the work environment professional and positive so that where issues need to be raised or discussed, people feel comfortable doing so, and so that the general work environment is not beset by people being inconsiderate of one another.
What you include in a communication etiquette agreement will be specific to your team’s needs and context. Here are some example points that you can use in the creation of this agreement but of course this is not an exhaustive list but merely some examples of the types of things that could be included.
- Keep phones on silent or off whilst working. Mobile phones can become a distraction for employees which can lead to a lack of productivity. Also someone else’s phone ringing can be an annoying interruption for others in the workspace.
- Avoid gossip. I would go so far as to ban gossip altogether. Gossip can lead to a very negative team environment and even if you are not directly involved in it, the very fact that gossip is present can be demoralising and lead to low team morale.
- Use professional discourse when engaging with your colleagues about work. Even if you are friends with someone else in the office, try to use professional language when dealing with them on a work matter. This sets a tone that leads to high level conversation and therefore will help the team grow as a professional unit.
- Agree timings of communication. Are you allowed to send emails after work hours? If so, what are the expectations on when others should be expected to respond? These are questions you should agree on as a team and then stick to the agreed terms.
- Watch your tone and style. This really matters, whether you are writing a letter to a client, or speaking to a student in your class. All communications should be done respectfully and in line with organisational expectations.
- Avoid circulating irrelevant material. Whether these be jokes or funny memes on a work whatsapp group, or political messages and slogans, these should not be allowed to enter the work communication systems.
As I mentioned, these are some examples of what you may wish to include in your communication etiquette agreement, and indeed you should tailor this to meet the needs of your team. What is important is the agreement part. If you and your team can agree on a set of principles, then your communications will be far more effective.
Point of Reflection
Does your team have an agreed etiquette for communication? If it does, reflect on the impact that this has had, and if not reflect on what an etiquette could bring to the communications.
Personal Development Activity
Team Development Activity (30 mins)
In your next team meeting allow a 30 minute slot to discuss communication etiquette. Pose the following questions to your team:
- Are you happy with the style of communication that we conduct within our team?
- If you had to bring one rule to the communications of our team, what would it be, and why?
Turn the answers given by your team into a discussion about the communication etiquette, and come up with a renewed list of ‘rules’ for an etiquette policy.
By doing this activity with your team, you will gain maximum buy-in from the team and also build trust with them.