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The Power of Communication

By John P. Collins, CFPIM, CSCP, and Eric P. Jack, PhD, CFPIM, CSCP | September/October 2012 | 22 | 5

Excellent interactions, excellent teams

In a recent article from the Harvard Business Review blog network, author Alex “Sandy” Pentland described his investigation of the internal communication processes that make high-performing teams so successful. He performed his research by equipping 2,500 individuals from a variety of industries with wearable sensors, and he observed their interactions and behavior. Interestingly, he concluded that how teams communicate (described as energy, engagement, and exploration) was more important to success than what they communicate. 

Management theorists such as Tuckman and Jensen have known for a long time that, irrespective of how teams are formed, whether assigned-work-team or self-selected groups, they all go through five stages of development: 

1. Forming: Team members are in the introductory stage and member roles and responsibilities are unclear. 

2. Storming: Team members have gotten through their introductions and begin to focus on the task by assuming some roles and responsibilities.
3. Norming: Team members overcome the need to be careful and polite and begin to develop a shared understanding of the group norms and culture that determine how they will govern themselves for both respon- sibility and accountability.
4. Performing: This is perhaps the most enjoyable stage of working in teams because members have acqui- esced to group norms and are focused on executing their portion of the tasks.
5. Adjourning: This is an interesting   stage because the task is essentially complete, so members reflect on their mutual accomplishments while hoping for more success on their next team assignment. 

All team communication processes typically require members to willingly assume various roles: a sender constructing and sending the message, and a receiver decoding the message and providing feedback. When team communications break down, there are inevitable negative impacts on progress. A subsequent root cause analysis typically reveals failures in one or more of the roles and responsibilities inherent in this communication process. 

The technique

The following real-world case of effective team communication will help clarify effective ways to communicate with fellow team members. It involves management and labor in a unionized manufacturing facility. In this example, while management and the unionized workforce had an adversarial relationship, the leadership collaborated with the union to form and empower a cross-functional team of knowledgeable, experienced workers to improve on-time deliveries and productivity. Outside facilitators assisted the team through the forming and storming stages (with emphasis on the team’s internal communication development) and ensured that the adversarial relationship between management and the union didn’t allow either faction to dominate or hinder the team’s progress. 

The team’s communication process included weekly plant-wide communications, including group meetings, team presentations, and other question-and-answer forums maintained by the team. These were designed to answer any questions or concerns and to keep everyone updated on team progress. The emphasis on open lines of communication rapidly helped build support and bring about significant results. In fact, the team’s communication process was credited as a key factor in the 11 percent increase in productivity within four months and a 75 percent reduction in cycle times.

This example shows how beneficial it is to focus on communication techniques when establishing successful teams. As Pentland states, “How we communicate [is] as important as all other factors combined, including intelligence, personality, skill, and content of discussions. The old adage that ‘it’s not what you say, but how you say it’ turns out to be mathematically correct.”

John P. Collins, CFPIM, CSCP, is president of Sustainable Solutions. He may be contacted at jcollins@ssi-spm.com

Eric P. Jack, PhD, CFPIM, CSCP, is associate dean at the University of Alabama–Birmingham. He may be contacted at ejack@uab.edu.

3 Comments

  1. 1 Jorge Ramirez 11 Apr
    Excellent article !
  2. 2 Ranajeet 05 Apr

    Good one

  3. 3 Minh 19 Jan
    Very good article

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