There are three essential parts to effective communication within a team. Putting these parts in place reduces each team member’s anxiety—the kind that comes from not knowing where you stand—as well as the fear that develops when you’re worried that you’ll be hung out to dry. Implementing these communication norms will help create a psychologically safe work environment so your team is well-positioned to produce work that’s productive and meaningful.

The many forms of communication

When it comes to leadership in the workplace, there are lots of kinds of communication. For the purposes of this blog, when we talk about communication, we’re referring to the communication norms within a team, not about presentation skills, the “executive voice,” etc. 

In order to have effective communication within a team, it really boils down to the following: Everyone on the team should know what’s expected of them, where they stand, what they’re doing well, where they have growth needs, and how they’ll be supported in that growth. 

And that’s it. Blog over. 

Ok, not quite.

Three essential elements

It might sound like a lot. But there are really three main parts to effective communication within a team. 

1. Effective requests & clear acceptance

The easiest place to start in creating effective communication norms is to ensure you are making effective requests. Without effective requests, insecurity and disappointment develop quickly when team members aren’t meeting expectations and don’t know why. If someone on your team disappoints you, the first thing you should do as a leader is to ask yourself if there was any ambiguity in your request. It happens to the best of us, even me

In order to be effective, requests have to have clear acceptance criteria. This includes:

  1. What are you asking for? 
  2. What is the definition of “done,” and what quality standards need to be met?
  3. What’s the deadline?
  4. How will it be delivered?
  5. How will it be inspected and reviewed?

An effective request must clearly outline all of those things. It also needs to be an actual request, and not a “wouldn’t it be great if…” or “what do you think about…”. 

Finally, make sure your request was actually accepted. A response of “I’ll try,” or “I’ll get it to when…” isn’t acceptance. Acceptance is “Yes, I will have this done by this time and deliver it to you in this way.” Clear acceptance agrees to all of the specifics of the request itself. 

For it to become the norm within your team, not only do you need to make effective requests, but you and your team should speak up when you hear ambiguous language in the context of a request. Furthermore, you should invite team members to challenge your requests. When members of your team are asking you how they should prioritize your requests, or letting you know that fulfilling one request may impact their ability to fulfill another, you know you’re on the right track for establishing and maintaining great team communication. This will also give you a read on whether your requests are unreasonable or unrealistic.

2. Accountability & accountability systems

Accountability is another essential communication norm. Your team’s ability to challenge requests relates back to accountability systems, as well as the ability to hold others accountable without eroding trust. This requires an accountability system that gives you and your team visibility into what is going on, documents everyone’s efforts, and shows how it all relates to one another. Accountability systems are important because they provide a mechanism for people to know where they stand and what’s expected of them. 

3. Effective feedback

Last but certainly not least, effective feedback should be among your team’s communication norms. I mention effective feedback last because it often stems from the two aforementioned norms. In other words, once your team is consistently making effective requests, expressing clear acceptance, holding one another accountable, and utilizing the team’s accountability system, providing respectful and honest feedback feels much less threatening. People will come to both expect it and receive it with an open mind, viewing it as a part of their own growth. 

The recognition gap

The recognition gap describes the discrepancy between the amount of recognition supervisors think they give their employees’ accomplishments and the amount of recognition employees perceive receiving. Be mindful of the recognition gap, and take care to ensure that effective feedback is balanced across your team. 

Being “nice” versus being “kind”

If you’re looking for more on effective feedback, check out our blog Feedback is a manager's superpower, but only if given correctly. Also, keep in mind that there’s a difference between being “nice” and  being “kind.” Nice is polite, and while it might make people feel good in the moment, it rarely leads to growth. Kindness is giving members of your team the feedback they need to grow and develop. When coupled with great communication norms, authentic kindness often leads to less anxiety and ambiguity. 

It all comes down to trust

Anxiety comes from not knowing where you stand. Fear develops when you’re worried that you’ll be hung out to dry (or worse, lose your job).  And if you can’t trust your leaders—or even yourself—to do a good job, collaborative work that’s productive and meaningful is basically impossible. 

At the end of the day, it comes down to trust, and effective communication is the primary precursor to trust. I hope you’ll reference the steps above to improve the communication among and elevate the trust within your team.

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