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Mark Miller | VP of Marketing, Emergenetics International

If you follow the Emergenetics blog, you already know that strong, effective communication is the key to fostering innovation, securing employee engagement, and advancing productive brainstorming and solution development. Unfortunately, attaining highly transparent and productive communication within teams is both necessary and incredibly challenging. Teams are present in every organization, but as our previous survey reports have shown, 59% of HR and organizational leaders surveyed at ASTD stated that team communication was the single greatest challenge to organizational development.

Think about what that means: not only will teams with communication issues be less productive in terms of the actual work they do accomplish, but they’re also likely to miss opportunities. Poor communication translates to teams that come up with less creative and innovative solutions – at a slower pace.

And it isn’t just the work; poor communication can lead to an environment that is argument-prone and conflict-ridden—perhaps in a way that permanently damages the team dynamic.

So can we point to an underlying issue? I believe that one key way to address team communication issues starts with an understanding about the cognitive and behavioral preferences of team members. There are optimal team dynamics that we’ve discovered through our work and research, but understanding is the starting point to uncovering any team’s communication issues.

Take for example a diverse team with members across the spectrum of Expressiveness and Assertiveness—without an appreciation of this team’s diversity, those differences manifest themselves as conflict, difficulty in reaching consensus, and an unwillingness to compromise. Likely, long-term damage to cohesiveness will result.

On the other hand, teams that are similar in thinking and behavioral preferences have the tendency to create an environment where team members conform with each other, leading to groupthink and a lack of outside-the-box solutions. These teams have the ability to perform and communicate differently, but not without an understanding of where they’re coming from.

It’s about balance and showcasing cognitive diversity in helpful ways, as teams built without this perspective may not be optimizing their work in the organization. How, then, do we go about building a team that is not only productive but also innovative? One that is able to debate and criticize ideas in a constructive way that takes into account team and organizational goals?

At Emergenetics, we think there’s a blueprint to creating highly integrated, communicative teams. Teams built with an emphasis on diversity and a foundation of understanding and respect are able not only to offer complementary approaches and skills, but also to use differences of opinion in a way that leads to insight, diminishes conflict, and generates results.

Start with a framework to address team communication by balancing the team’s thinking and behavioral preferences. Once a team is balanced, individual members can use their strenths to improve the entire workings of the team together.

  • Those who are Social thinkers will be able to use their tendency for emotional intelligence to frame conflicts in way that moves the team’s goals forward. They can also help provide teams with a better sense of the effects that their work will have on the stakeholders of the company. Social thinkers ensure that the people perspective will be integrated into solutions.
  • Those with an Analytical preference can use their data-driven way of thinking to pinpoint the underlying issues hindering a team’s communication and interactions with each other. They can also make communication and interaction more logical and productive by looking at the team’s goals and objectives.
  • Conceptual thinkers can not only come up with outside-the-box solutions to a team’s communication issues, but also take into account overall organizational goals and the long-term effects of changing the team dynamic.
  • Structural thinkers can take insights and solutions and create a concrete plan for implementing needed improvements. Rely on them to create timelines and protocols to keep the group on track and ensure that solutions to communication issues are tied distinctly to the root causes of the challenge.

Behavior plays an obviously important role in how a team communicates and performs—a spectrum of behavior is a helpful to creating a nuanced approached to communication.

  • Those on the gregarious side of Expressiveness can be a helpful force in articulating underlying communication issues in a ways that are easily understood by the team and the entire organization.
  • Those on the introspective end of Expressiveness scale can meditate on less obvious problems and frame the same arguments in very thought-out ways. They may come up with fixes for communication issues that don’t even rely on verbal outputs.
  • Driving individuals on the Assertiveness scale can be strong motivators – keeping the team focused and moving forward in a determined manner.
  • Individuals on the peacekeeping end of the Assertiveness spectrum can ensure that the determination of some team members is kept under control. They can mediate various ideas and ensure that solutions are thoroughly discussed and all perspectives are heard.
  • Those whose Flexibility scores indicate a preference for change will be able to help teammates reach a middle ground during conflicts, because they can see the positive perspectives from both sides and thus are especially equipped to reconcile differing points of view.
  • Conversely, those at the focused end of the Flexibility spectrum bring an important perspective of ensuring that compromises are well thought, that ideas stay on track and that different paths are taken for the right reason.

Team communication done well is a big challenge, but it’s an even bigger reward. By utilizing different perspectives, you can turn around the way your team communicates and fully utilize the power of healthy, productive team relationships and communication.