Using efficient communication in order to create top-notch work teams
The importance of informal conversation: formal meetings are not as indispensable as we think
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have discovered that the professional performance of a work team can be predicted to an astonishingly high degree of precision.
A recent study found that the teams with the worst performances were those that spent the most time communicating via conferences – typically environments where a truly functional dialogue is never really established.
One the other hand, dialogues conducted within informal environments, such as office corridors or staff rooms, were found to be far more influential on a team’s working efficiency than team members’ IQ, skills or experience, says Alex Pentland of MIT’s Executive Education Faculty. This is because such conversations allow workers to remain on the same page. This casual form of communication helps workers to be decisive and nimble, whilst at the same time saving them from the hassle of bureaucratic formalities.
Additionally, outstanding work teams do not limit themselves to communication within their own department. Instead, they make sure to communicate frequently with outside departments—an important procedure that is often overlooked. "The organisation chart says you talk to these six people," says Pentland, "But if you only do that, then you get stuck with the same ideas going around and around again instead of new ideas."
You may think that by adopting this approach, you’ll spend all of your time talking. However, through perseverance, you will discover that your team members develop a tacit, mutual understanding that has a positive influence on overall efficiency.
Harmony may not be all it's cracked up to be. Work environments in which communication is overly courteous and employees are afraid to express divergent opinions are inevitably detrimental to a team's ability to make decisions.
"The number one erosion to shareholder value is conflict avoidance," says Keith Ferrazzi, CEO of the consulting firm Ferrazzi Greenlight. After conducting research into 50 large companies, Ferrazzi's consulting firm discovered that the most outstanding work teams were also the most forthright.
One of Ferrazzi Greenlight's clients is the former CEO of Thomson-Reuters, Devin Wenig. After the 2008 merger of Thomson and Reuters, Wenig hoped to encourage executive staff to be more forthright. During meetings, he encouraged staff to share previous challenges and dilemmas, enabling them to get to know each other better and therefore creating a sense of familiarity between them that would allow them to express their true opinions.
This method ultimately helped staff members to open up, creating a revolutionary work environment in which they felt able to call each other out—and even criticise Wenig. Wenig has also adopted this approach in his role as President of the global eBay Marketplaces business unit.