The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. – George Bernard Shaw
The Perils of Poor Communication
Do you sometimes feel like your team is being used in the wrong way? Maybe it is underutilized or over worked with unstructured tasks. It can be difficult to maintain a team’s motivation when they feel their best efforts are being wasted. As the leader, it is your job to communicate your team’s strengths and weaknesses to your boss and your customers. How your team is used, and subsequently, their motivation, is related to your ability to communicate outside of your organization.
In the military, we organize teams to fit specific mission requirements. For example, if your mission requires the delivery of supplies, you would organize your unit to maximize your cargo carrying capacity. On the contrary, if you were planning a raid, say on the compound of a known terrorist leader, your organization may look a lot more like that portrayed in Zero Dark Thirty.
I have had experience of both being an attachment and receiving an attachment. I found that the most successful attachments are able to communicate their strengths well. Those that poorly communicate their strengths are often underutilized, forgotten, and bored. I would like to say that I figured this out early in my career. However, most of my time leading an attachment, I undersold my team’s capabilities. This resulted in the team being underutilized and me fighting to keep their motivation and engagement.
Contrary to my experiences as an attachment, I saw a picture of proper communication of a team’s capabilities when an analysis team was attached to my company. The team leader was a young specialist; however, he knew his and his team’s strengths very well. When he first arrived, rather than remaining secluded, he scheduled a meeting with me and articulated his team’s capabilities and functions. While I was limited in how much I knew about the team, he was acutely aware of his constraints, restrictions and freedoms. By being able to describe what he could and could not do, we were able to use his team in creative ways to maximize their outputs and keep them actively employed throughout the entire deployment. This resulted in alignment with our company’s mission, superior products that our company used extensively, and consistent motivation from his team as they recognized the value their products added to our mission.
You are Your Team’s Marketer
As you enter a new mission, or advertise to a new client, understand that their perception of what your team can do may be different than yours. Often, we forget that there is an understanding gap between us and our customers. We spend each day working with our team and forget that our customers, and bosses, are not as intimately aware of our team as we are. I learned from that young specialist that as the team leader it is my job to communicate for my team. His message included the following five things that you can use when communicating for your team.
- Clearly articulate your team’s mission
- Describe your team’s vision
- List your capabilities (in order of value added)
- Understand your constraints, restrictions, and freedoms
- Innovate unique ideas to involve your team in the overall mission
These ideas are not limited to a new customer or boss. If you are feeling like your team is underemployed or being used for the wrong purpose, maybe it is due to poor communication. You may have broadcast your team’s strengths on one channel, but your customer or boss may have been tuned in to a different channel. If you determine that their ‘channel’ or perceptions differ from yours, try restating the above five items to create alignment. Alignment in perceptions can lead to proper utilization and can improve your team’s motivation.
What are some ways that you have used to effectively communicate your team’s capabilities and what are some ways that have not worked?