Teamwork is essential in most professions. However, where many people come together, conflicts are bound to arise. This is quite normal, since each team member ultimately represents his or her own ideas and wishes. In order to keep the potential for conflict low and thus achieve better work results, successful communication within the team is all the more important.
What is meant by teamwork?
Before we turn to team communication, it is useful to first define the concept of teamwork in more detail. A team is defined as two or more people who have joined together to achieve a specific goal. This definition applies to both the professional and private spheres of life.
Sometimes teams come together voluntarily and on the basis of common interests. Let's take the example of two authors who want to work together on a book project. However, in professional life, especially in employment, the employer often assigns the teams. If different ideas clash, for example regarding work ethic, it can sometimes be difficult.
Functioning teamwork is characterized by the fact that each team member knows his or her area of responsibility precisely and is committed to using his or her individual skills to the best of his or her ability in order to achieve the specified goal. The respective goal unites the team. All participants pull together to achieve it. This creates a so-called team identity.
Why is good team communication so important?
Good communication within the team forms the basis of business success, as already mentioned in the introduction. Companies must regularly adapt their business strategies in order to survive on the market in the long term. They must become more agile and dynamic. This requires effective teamwork. The latter can only be achieved through the right kind of communication.
Communication here means much more than the verbal or written exchange of information. It is not only the content of the message that matters, but above all how it is conveyed. Employees can be motivated with the help of successful communication within the team. The way in which people communicate with each other determines the success or failure of the project.
The art of successful communication is to ensure that the message reaches the recipient exactly as it was intended by the sender. It is therefore important to reduce misunderstandings, which in turn impair teamwork. Of course, misunderstandings cannot be completely avoided in human interaction. If conflicts arise, communication is the key to resolving them.
Let's summarize the goals of successful team communication once again:
Ensuring the seamless exchange of information
Avoidance of misunderstandings
Image building: What do we stand for?
What are the types of team cultures?
People communicate in different ways. How you behave and verbally express yourself to another person depends, on the one hand, on the personal relationship with the other person as well as your character.. It is not uncommon for different mentalities to come together in a team. This does not have to be a disadvantage, but can even have a productivity-enhancing effect.
The prerequisite for this is, as you have probably already guessed, successful communication. The first step is to understand the different types of team cultures. The well-known communication scientist Paul Watzlawick distinguishes between four possible team cultures:
Community of purpose
In the aforementioned team cultures, the Factual orientation and the Relationship Orientation play a role in varying degrees of weighting. In a top team that achieves the best work results, the factual and relationship orientation are balanced and present to a high degree. This should therefore be the goal.
In a cuddle team, the relationship orientation is in the foreground, while the factual level is neglected. In a community of purpose, this is the other way around. Both reduce the performance of the team.
The most problematic, however, is the underachiever team. In this case, all participants remain permanently below their actual performance level. The communication is neither coherent on the factual level nor on the relationship level.
What are the communication models?
The way people communicate with each other has been a popular research topic for many decades. In order to improve communication in a team, it is helpful in any case to understand the different Communication models to know:
1. the 4 ears model according to Schulz von Thun
The 4-Ears-Model is one of the best known communication models and is often discussed in school lessons. The German communication psychologist Friedemann Schulz von Thun put forward the thesis that every person can perceive a statement in four different ways:
The subject level: What is my counterpart talking about?
Self-disclosure: What does the person disclose about themselves with their statement?
The relationship level: What is the relationship between this person and me?
The appeal: What action does the person want me to take?
To make the 4-Ears model a little more vivid, let's use a possible example from professional teamwork below. A teammate asks you, "Did you print out the invoices?"
Now you could interpret this question in four different ways.
Your colleague wants to know if you have printed the invoices. This is purely factual information.
The teammate reveals by his question that he is in a hurry with the bills.
The employee implies by his question that he thinks you are forgetful.
A teammate wants you to take care of the bills immediately.
You can only speculate about what is ultimately true as long as you don't specifically ask. Assumptions often lead to misunderstandings. At this point, it becomes clear once again why communication is so important in a team. If something is unclear, don't be afraid to politely ask again how a statement was meant. You will be surprised how often misinterpretations occur.
2. the 5 axioms according to Paul Watzlawick
An axiom is the principle of a scientific theory. The communication scientist Paul Watzlawick has established the following five axioms concerning human communication:
It is impossible not to communicate. Even if you just sit silently and stare at the ceiling, you are still communicating with those around you. You should always be aware of that.
Every communicative exchange includes a factual as well as a relational orientation.
Communication is always both cause and effect.
Communication can be symmetrical (interlocutors are in harmony) or complementary (interlocutors are different).
Human communication takes place verbally as well as nonverbally. In technical language, we talk about digital and analog modalities.
Knowing these axioms can help you improve your communication skills.
3. the iceberg model
Have you ever heard the saying that sometimes you only see the tip of the iceberg, while the true extent remains hidden beneath the surface? It is the same with interpersonal communication. By the way, the developer of the iceberg model is the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.
This represented the assumption that only 20 % of communication takes place on the conscious level. The rest takes place subconsciously. This makes interpersonal communication so complex and prone to misunderstanding.
In terms of teamwork, the iceberg model should motivate you to not just take the obvious for granted, but to think outside the proverbial box: What could be behind the team member's behavior? What aspects might I be overlooking?
What are the requirements for good team communication?
Good team communication depends on several factors. However, the most important is the mutual respect. This does not at all mean that you have to be friends with each other. Rather, it is about avoiding personal attacks and devaluations.
This also applies when people are angry with each other. The keyword is: objectivity. As soon as personal attacks occur, good communication in the team is no longer possible. The person who feels attacked will no longer be willing to cooperate constructively, but will inwardly block - perhaps even unconsciously. This boycotts the success of the entire team.
For an in-depth analysis of what really matters in team communication, watch the video below.
Active listening and empathy are part of team communication
In addition active listening as well as empathy are important for successful teamwork. Active listening is the ability to pay full attention to the person speaking and to ask questions. This sounds easier than it is in practice. Quite a few people feel that listening is a waste of time and are just impatiently waiting to finally have their say themselves.
Active listening helps you to interpret the different levels of communication. In this context, it is useful to remind yourself of the iceberg model. If you listen only half-heartedly, you may filter out the essential factual information, but you cannot recognize the emotional sensitivities of your counterpart. Sometimes, however, these are decisive.
In order to be able to listen actively at all, the ability to empathize is crucial. This refers to the willingness to put oneself in another person's shoes and try to understand their motives. This creates trust and facilitates cooperation within the team.
Improve communication in the team: 8 concrete tips
We have already discussed in detail that communication is the key to successful teamwork. So now it's time for concrete tips that you can implement together with your teammates in everyday work:
1. reflection of the cooperation
Team meetings should be held regularly, even once a week if necessary. During these meetings, each team member should be allowed to speak. The point is to take stock together: What went well last week? Where is there still room for improvement? What can each of us contribute to achieve the common goal?
2. evaluate the progress of the project
In addition to evaluating the cooperation on an interpersonal level, it is of course also important to keep an eye on the progress of the project together. This can be done either as part of the team meeting or separately. Document your work results and plan the next steps. In some cases, it may be useful to involve customers or clients.
3. communication in the team: transparency
Transparency is an essential building block for smooth communication in the team. This means that each team member should be informed about the tasks and progress of the other team members. This has nothing to do with control. Rather, transparency simplifies work processes and makes it easier for everyone involved to keep track of things.
4. checking the values
Communication in a team can only work if all team members agree on their values and adhere to them. Every team member must have the right to express praise and criticism as well as suggestions without being attacked for it. The following five values form the basis of appreciative communication:
Sense of responsibility
5. create a basis of trust
Good communication is based on mutual trust. You gain the trust of your teammates by being reliable and committed to the team. Take the time to get to know your teammates. Interact empathically and listen actively. If needed, classic team-building events or special workshops can strengthen trust in each other.
6. communication in the team: expressing praise and criticism constructively
It is perfectly natural for different opinions to clash within a team. This is not necessarily an obstacle: Different perspectives can even be useful in achieving the goal more quickly. The crucial thing is that any criticism is expressed constructively. Personal insults or devaluations are inappropriate. Always give factual reasons for your criticisms.
Mutual praise is just as essential as appreciative criticism. Especially in a society where (supposed) mistakes are given a lot of attention, honest praise can be very motivating. So feel free to let your teammates know when you are impressed with their performance.
7. use of I-messages
Another important basic rule for good team communication is the use of "I" messages. Instead of accusing someone of something ("You did ..."), you stay completely with yourself: "I think that ..."
Reproaches or instructions lead to a defensive attitude on the part of your counterpart, which makes communication more difficult. I-messages, on the other hand, ensure that your counterpart listens to you openly.
8. clear responsibilities
The more clearly tasks are distributed within your team, the less likely it is that misunderstandings will arise. Each team member should know who to contact for specific issues. Everyone should also be informed about the extent to which their own work depends on the progress of their colleagues. Once these points have been clarified, communication channels become much more efficient. The workflow remains undisturbed.
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