Everyday Kanban

Discussing Management, Teams, Agile, Lean, Kanban & more

Just talk to each other already!

disappointed people
Have you ever observed a team and felt like you were watching a real-life episode of a TV drama? You know the one: two star-crossed lovers continually failing in their efforts to tell each other how they feel because they continuously misinterpret the actions of the other? The one where you want to scream at the TV “Just tell him how you feel already!” But, instead, you continue on watching as, time after time, the opportunities to have those deep and meaningful conversations are wasted.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

When we don’t have the information we need, our minds struggle to fill the gap so we can process our complex world and its relationships. The filler of choice is assumptions – they are convenient and plentiful. A lot of the time we don’t even realize we are making so many random assumptions and we accept these assumptions as fact. Unfortunately, we’re not always perfect at coming to the right conclusions.

I observed an example of this in my team at my previous company. We had two people that often paired on work and, thus, worked away from the team in collaboration rooms a lot – usually each afternoon. Our cube setup at the time didn’t really provide for frequent and easy collaboration. One of the problems with this is that the rest of the hard-working team just saw that they weren’t around for large chunks of time each day. The assumption from some was that the pair of missing developers must be off having fun while the rest of the team toiled away and felt really slammed with work.

Sometimes these bad assumptions can breed discontent and be left to fester – and that’s what happened with the onlookers in our team. Without consciously understanding what is happening, teams and organizations can become hotbeds of resentment if the assumptions are never validated. To alleviate or prevent this from happening, we can use the most available and underrated tool in our toolbox: communication. Commonly overlooked, simple conversation is often the only tool that can truly fix these kinds of situations.

“Just open, honest communication is the best thing in the world” – Brett Davern

So, what can we do to help foster meaningful communication within our teams and organizations? There are many blog posts and hack lists out there that can tell you some tactical tips (see some of these links at the end of this post).
But, in my mind, they all roll up into two major themes:

  • Make it safe to communicate
  • Show that communication impacts future decisions

If team members don’t feel that they can say what they truly think and feel without retaliation (even if it’s indirect or subtle retaliation), a team or organization will never get the information they need to truly reach its potential. Similarly, if nothing ever comes of communication – if people feel like their insights go into a black hole and are never seen again – they will stop bothering to share. There’s nothing more frustrating than an exercise in futility.  When that happens, we see people stop caring at a deeper level and their work starts to feel like no more than a path to a paycheck.

Check out more on the web:

9 Tips for Better Team Communication

2 Comments

  1. Hi Julia,
    Great post and I completely agree with your points. I’ve seen the same things play out in groups I’ve been a part of in the past as well. The one thing I would add is that to really achieve a ‘safe’ environment for communication a team also has to have trust as described by Patrick Lencioni in his excellent “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”
    BTW: I recently attended your webinar on Metrics driven coaching and thoroughly enjoyed it.
    Regards,
    Dave

    • Hi Dave, there is definitely a lot that goes into creating a safe environment for communication and trust is one as you so rightly say. That book is on my short list to read next. I hear its great, as are all of his books. Anzeneering is another movement that focuses on safety at work – Joshua Kerievsky at Industrial Logic is the “founder” of that concept. I think being a proponent of safety at work, especially cognitive safety, is one of the best things we can do.

      Thanks for reading and listening to my webinar! I really appreciate your time.

Leave a Reply