Communication can be a two-person sport. You meet someone, get to know her, then take the steps you need to keep the relationship alive and warm. With other introductions, you are delinquent allowing the would-be relationship to die a natural, disconnected death. The same is true in teams, when a new person joins a team, the new person forms a relationship with each person on the team. So, if a team has 5 persons, the new employees will have a unique relationship with each person on the team, and perhaps persons outside the team, depending on workflows and other needs for connection.
In some teams where leaders build relationships with each team member separately, they tend to communicate with the entire team in the same way: One conversation at a time. These leaders tell each team member what they think they need to know, sometimes they forget information that should be shared so the team member is not exposed to all the information they need to operate optimally or the multiple perspectives that are made available in a group conversation.
So as we have established, leaders who communicate using a single person communication strategy orchestrate individual conversations with one team member at a time. If the leader is adept at office politics, each conversation contains slightly different information interspersed throughout, so everyone person on the team is operating based on a partial, modified picture of the situation.
The trouble with this approach is that team members don’t benefit from the breadth and depth of a group discussion that supports the unfolding of an elegant, integrated solution. Instead, a team of five persons has five, ten, twenty or more different two-way conversations that probably lead to five separate solutions that are only as connected as the leader’s ability or willingness to connect each part of the project. Sometimes the leader does not connect the dots in each, single conversation so the solutions are also limited by the leader’s capacity to perceive the dynamics of the entire project.
So why is it important to be able to build a relationship with the entire team, instead of managing relationships with one person at a time? The number one reason why, is employee engagement. Employees tend to become suspicious, and untrusting when they speak with each other and realize their leader said something different to each of them. Trust is also diminished when these employees discover their bosses said something negative about them, or when employees detect what seems to be a deliberate omission.
Multi-person communication is the ability to communicate effectively with a group of persons. The same rules of engagement apply but not it is more complex because you are communicating with multiple persons at once, and so are they. You need the ability to detect group, non-verbals and tendencies. You need to be able to clarify for and listen to the entire group. The benefits of using multi-person communication are:
- Conversations are synergistic, they integrate individual perspectives that have the potential for morphing the outcome into a solution that is superior to solutions that any individual could produce. Effective multi-person communicators build on ideas, they are inclusive and they remain focused on ideas.
- Team conversations can potentially save time, there is no need to go from one person to the next because, everyone gets the same information at the same time.
- Team morale can be strengthened; and
- Trust can be built.
Don’t get me wrong, speaking with persons individually is very necessary, however, individual conversations should not replace important team conversations. When leaders are adept at having a conversation with the entire team, the performance of the team can start to be a higher priority than the performance of individuals on the team. To ensure the effectiveness of multi-person conversations, team meetings should be planned, in a way that is engaging and supportive of morale building.
When a leader uses multi-person communication, he uses language and a tone that is curious and respectful. These leaders also help their teams to move beyond limitations. They use language that builds confidence. They stretch team members, encouraging them to step outside their formal roles. They also support deepening the relationships of team members.
Effective multi-person communication requires multi-person listening at deep levels, and multi-person respect in order to create and maintain space safe. There is no defensiveness and excuses are not even contemplated. Instead there is automatic accountability, insight, creativity and strong focus on results.
Leaders who take team communication seriously orchestrate conversations deliberately, they prepare for meetings, creating an interactive agenda, one that stimulates participation. Effective multi-person communicators are non-judgmental, they are conversation facilitators, ensuring no, single person monopolizes discussions.
One way to build the skill of multi-person communication within all members of the team is to invite others to lead the meetings so they can understand the difference between communicating with a group versus communicating one-on-one. In this way, they can develop the skills they need to attune to a dynamic communicative environment. In this way, they can learn how to engage a group of people, and how to automatically think about the team, shifting from an “I” perspective to a “we” perspective.
Learning how to communicate effectively with your team not only builds morale, it reinforces trust, and facilitates team development and performance. One on one conversations are an important part of the team communication formula but when group conversations are being facilitated, the context of each one-on-one conversation is the ongoing team conversation.
Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Facilitator, Executive Coach, Author, and Emotional Intelligence Practitioner. If you are interested Yvette's ideas on other leadership topics you can sign up for her newsletter at www.yvettebethel.com or you can listen to her podcast at Evolve Podcast.