There are times when it can be good for teams to have conversations that may be uncomfortable or challenging. If a team is working through a difficult project or a new organizational structure, some team members may have fears or concerns. Team members may be concerned about workload, difficult assignments, project risks, or communication issues that can increase stress and reduce the likelihood they will share ideas. In these situations, a discussion can be helpful and even healthy.
It can be damaging to morale if team members feel they have to bury their feelings and not be heard. Moreover, if a team member has information that is critical to the team’s success, there needs to be an environment that supports sharing.
There are times when teams need to have these challenging conversations. Additionally, team conflict can be a good thing. In 1965, Bruce Tuckman published the developmental sequences of groups: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing.
Conflict and discussion is a normal part of team formation. It is also an important part of problem-solving. Coming up with creative and innovative approaches involves team members sharing different ideas. These will inevitably include ideas that not everyone agrees with. However, that is part of the creative process. To get to the best answer, you need to have an environment where people can share many potential answers.
In order to create a culture where team members are willing to open up and share ideas or concerns (depending on the situation), you need to cultivate that environment carefully.
These five guidelines can contribute to healthy team communication, even when the conversation might be difficult.
Rule #1: Respect one another.
It is okay to disagree with a team member. Often different viewpoints or perspectives can lead to the best outcomes. However, whether the discussion is about a technical design, a new process, or who will pick up a new assignment, different opinions need to be shared respectfully. This includes not only the words used but also the tone of voice and body language used.
Rule #2: Give everyone a chance to speak and share their opinions.
If one person dominates the conversation, remind them to let others speak. If you are facilitating the discussion, ask others to share their thoughts and opinions, too. The alternative is that some team members don’t share during the meeting, and then have post-meeting discussions about how unhappy they are with the outcome. The best outcome happens when everyone has input.
Rule #3: Ask questions.
If the conversation is about a change that will affect the team in a significant way, it may be important to get the teams input. You will likely want to know what concerns or information they have about big changes.
Leigh Espy, PMP, SPC, CSM, is the author of “Bad Meetings Happen to Good People: How to Run Meetings That Are Effective, Focused, and Produce Results.” She has over 15 years of project management experience with a primary focus on IT project management and has led multimillion dollar international projects and corporate strategy initiatives. Leigh also coaches and mentors project managers and those making a move to a project management career. You can find out more about Leigh at ProjectBliss and LeighEspy.com. Leigh writes about communication and project methodologies.