Every team building guide and business book stresses the need for good communication. It’s important to inform your colleagues and stakeholders of what you’re doing and how you’re getting along.
For such common knowledge, it really seems tricky to pull off. Communication problems are one of the main reasons teams fall apart.
In my years working with clients, I’ve noticed a common pattern where the important stuff is assumed to be understood and meaningless fluff is repeated on a daily basis. Most people are bad at communicating.
There are two archetypes of bad communicators that are very common in team collaboration. I call them the Soldier and the Blizzard.
Let’s say our team is moving office and you’re in charge of the move.
The Soldier is the easiest and most common approach. Soldiers look at the mission and take it upon themselves to see it through.
“Sure, I’ll contact the moving firm, pick a date, compare prices, …”.
Soldiers keep radio silence and only warn the team when things go wrong.
Blizzards are common as well. They’ll pick up a mission and send scattered messages across the organisation. Blizzards are loud and chaotic.
Public: “Can everybody fill out the planning spreadsheet, please?”
Public: “Jim, is it OK if you sit next to the window?”
Public: “I’m thinking of renting 2 trucks. One for boxes and one for furniture. Is that a good idea? Or should I just rent one?”
Public: “Guys, the spreadsheet!”
Public: “So Jim prefers to sit next to the door. Who wants the window?”
Public: “I need that spreadsheet! @Kim, I’m looking at you here… 😉 “
When a Blizzard is active, visibility drops to zero and the team grinds to a halt.
While it’s clear to see there is something wrong with those styles of communication, it’s valuable to investigate the nature of the problem.
Both of them make mistakes and both of them often feel like they’re the only one doing the work. It gets frustrating fast when you’re a Soldier or a Blizzard.
You want to repeat your message as often as possible to make sure it’s understood. Soldiers only communicate when it’s too late. The only noise you’ll hear is when they shoot their gun. Surprisingly, Blizzards communicate at the right frequency.
Your communication is targetted at an audience and each audience repeatedly gets one message. Soldiers are amazing at this. The problem is: they have an audience of one. Blizzards take this to the other extreme and broadcast everything to everyone.
So, what does great team communication look like?
Marketeers stay on point. They stick a message on an audience and repeat it over and over. They target their messages so that each person only gets what’s important.
To the team: “Can everybody fill out the planning spreadsheet, please?”
Private to Jim: “Jim, is it OK if you sit next to the window?”
Private to the moving company: “I’m thinking of renting 2 trucks. One for boxes and one for furniture. Is that a good idea? Or should I just rent one?”
To the team: “Don’t forget to fill out the spreadsheet.”
Private to Jim: “OK, I got you a seat next to the door like you requested.”
Private to Kim: “Kim, could you please fill out the spreadsheet? We’re kinda waiting for you…”
While that looks similar to the Blizzard, look at it from the perspective of each audience. Most team members just get a reminder that they need to fill out the spreadsheet. Jim and Kim each get one extra personal thread. The soldier stuff is done in radio silence without bothering the team.
The communicator takes away most of the cognitive load for their audiences. As a receiver, you don’t need to triage whether this message is relevant or not.
This sounds straightforward but is often overlooked in teams. The key to great communication is targeted overcommunication.
It’s a superpower for team members.