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How to Optimize Team Communications – Part I

The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”- Peter Drucker

Face-to-face communication is usually the most complete form of communication. When communicating face-to-face, you can read facial expressions and other body language. Video conferencing has improved substantially, and now also enables participants to see one another, though you usually cannot see the facial expressions of all attendees at all times. However, if you need to convey complex technical data, complement face-to-face communication with an accompanying written document that contains the details. You may need to send documents to participants well before the meeting to allow time to read.

Successful project teams have a communication plan of some kind. It is often partly written, partly unwritten. It often includes the types of information distribution, meetings, reports, and other communication vehicles and channels that are necessary for the various stakeholders.

Social networks now enable continuous and transparent communication among members of distributed teams that may cover a continent or the entire globe. Project teams have increasingly turned to the use of project social networks. These networks extend the use of tools such as LinkedIn, YouTube, and Facebook for group or project-specific collaboration. As a result, the quality of communication now available worldwide now approaches the quality available only to co-located teams.

For very large projects, or for a program, there could be a wide variety of techniques for coordinating work and for communicating progress. Here are the most common:

  1. Face-to-face communication
  2. Communication Plan (Including all meetings)
  3. Social networking
  4. Project management software
  5. Organization newsletter
  6. Dashboards and other reports
  7. E-mail and messaging
  8. Phone and voicemail
  9. Organization intranet and extranet
  10. Blogs
  11. Teleconferences and videoconferences

Anyone can make an honest mistake and forget part of a conversation or a commitment. That is why it is not enough to simply listen to what is said. You also need to ask questions, and ensure that you heard what you THOUGHT you heard. Re- phrase what was said, and ask your counterpart if you are correct. To help ensure complete communication, follow up conversations with your stakeholders by sending an e-mail that summarizes the conversation and any commitments that were made.

Guidelines for Meetings are discussed in an upcoming post.

Communication during New Balance’s Apparel Accelerator Project was frequent and multi-faceted. During the project, information was communicated to all stakeholders via e-mail, weekly team meetings, and intranet site. Bi-weekly meetings were held with higher-level employees, and monthly meetings for top management.

The team recorded its progress using a web-based software tool, and file repository. Changes that would be needed were managed on an Internet site. Higher-level managers were given reports of these changes and related progress during monthly meetings. The team extensively used Microsoft® Excel in conjunction with special uploaded programs to load data into the new system. They also used an Action Items spreadsheet on Excel to track issues, decisions, and deployment activities.

Thomas Charles Belanger is the author of Teamwork in Ten Days: Building Successful Teams in the Arts, Sports, Business, and Government, available at and Barnes and Noble.

©2012, Thomas Belanger

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