Anyone who’s ever had a miscommunication in the office can tell you why workplace communication skills are crucial. Whether it results in project delays, a missed meeting, or just a confusing conversation, even one miscommunication can slow you down (and just be a pain to deal with).
When you’re running a small business, where every minute and every dollar counts, even the smallest communication issue is magnified. On the flip side, when things are running smoothly and communications are going well, your team is engaged, productive, and innovative.
So, how do you build those important communication skills? Well, our team lives and breathes communication and collaboration—with both customers and teammates—so we’ve got a pretty good handle on the steps it takes to make good communication the default at your company. All it takes is the right strategies and a leadership team that’s committed to your goal.
That’s why today we’re sharing 7 strategies to improve communication and how to execute each one. We’ll cover 7 effective communications strategies—even for teams that don’t have great communicators:
First, let’s look at the benefit of having a business communication strategy.
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What’s the benefit of having a business communication strategy?
First off, a business communications strategy usually consists of techniques that encourage open communication and effective teamwork in a workplace environment.
Woven together, they’re an action plan your company can use to improve your communication skills, work on team building, and get things done efficiently.
Here are three big benefits of having an effective communication strategy:
1. It improves employee engagement
Effective workplace communication increases employee morale and engagement by making team members feel connected to the work they’re doing and the business they’re doing it for. Good team-building activities can help nurture communication skills too, which improves camaraderie and employee engagement.
2. It increases productivity
Inefficient work habits and missed project deadlines are almost always the result of poor workplace communication skills. By using effective communications strategies, you can be clearer about expectations and ultimately get the results you need to deliver projects on time.
3. It creates space for innovation
An environment of open communication in the workplace fosters creative problem solving, more adventurous ideas, and out-of-the-box thinking. It helps you create space for innovation by fostering a “no bad ideas” attitude and encouraging your team to try new things—even if those projects don’t always work out.
7 effective communication strategies
All of these benefits sound amazing, but if your team has even a few members who just aren’t great natural communicators, they can sound like unattainable goals.
So, we’re going to share seven communication strategies that are effective and can help with team building—even for teams that don’t have great communicators.
1. Use technology to facilitate communication
It doesn’t matter if your team is always together in person or has the option to work remotely, having the right communication tools should be a crucial part of your strategy (and it’ll help with general team building too). Workplace chat gives your coworkers more opportunities to connect.
The right internal communications platform will make it easy to create an environment where people are following up with each other proactively, sharing ideas, and consistently staying on top of tasks and projects. And, as more and more companies move to remote work arrangements, it’s always helpful to have digital communications as an option.
Many small businesses start with email accounts for team members—and leave it at that. But there are so many other (often better!) ways to communicate than email. Need a quick answer to something? Why wait for an email response?
By investing in a team chat platform, you can create the opportunity for your team to get answers fast (or send silly GIFs). And by opening up your communication channels to video calls too, you can have important meetings—even in the midst of a global pandemic (or maybe just on a work-from-home day).
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2. Create an open environment
Here’s the catch. The right tools alone won’t create a place where communication easily flows. If you’re dealing with a lack of communication in your workplace, it might not be about the individuals on your team as much as the overall atmosphere. One of the best communication plans is to build communication into the fabric of your company culture.
When you create an open communication environment, team members aren’t afraid to speak up (and take accountability) if something goes wrong, suggest out-of-the-box ideas, and be honest about what’s working and what’s not. (Plus it probably helps with employee retention too.) In short, all of the things that make for an innovative, effective, agile company? They stem from open communication.
Whether you have just a few team members or a quickly growing staff, there are ways to be intentional about creating a judgment-free environment that encourages free-flowing conversation.
An open environment is easiest to achieve from the top down, since management will be able to promote and model the kind of openness you’re striving for. Usually, it’s lower-level staff that have the hardest time speaking up. Sometimes, it’s because they lack confidence or they might just be newer to the company.
Here are a few ways that leadership can engage employees:
- Setting the expectation at the beginning of a meeting that there are no bad ideas or wrong questions.
- Encouraging feedback as early as possible—even during the onboarding process.
- Modeling sharing “out-there” ideas, brainstorming and giving honest feedback.
- Asking for specific feedback in multiple ways—and being receptive to it.
3. Provide formal and informal opportunities for feedback
Speaking of feedback, one of the best indicators to employees that you truly have open communication in the workplace is showing that you want (and will listen to) their feedback.
There are a lot of employee engagement apps that offer a way for you to formalize the feedback process, and they’re great for building feedback into the routine at your company. Apps like 15Five allow you to gather feedback on a weekly basis, which goes straight from employees to their managers.1
Feedback apps are awesome for getting team members to open up a bit or for gathering quantitative data from the entire team. But don’t underestimate the importance of informal feedback, too.
A casual “how do you feel about our new campaign ideas?” while you’re walking between meetings or at the beginning of a video call can send the message loud and clear that you’re interested in opinions other than your own—and that you’re open to hearing what they think.
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Finally, when it comes to feedback, it isn’t enough to collect it—you have to do something with it, too.
While you can’t always implement every employee suggestion, following up with an update about why something wasn’t implemented or what you learned from a suggestion will help employees know that they’re still heard.
4. Get specific with tasks and instructions
When a task is done wrong, too slowly, or only partially completed, it’s not only frustrating—it can lead to project delays too. But it’s also usually the fault of the task assigner as much as the task doer.
One important communication technique is to get specific about tasks and projects so that all parties understand what needs to be done, how it should be completed, and how it fits into the larger project or company goals.
Workflow management tools can also help here, since they help you standardize the tasks that certain projects need and allow you to organize a team of people around what needs to be done.
Brené Brown, a leadership expert and writer, shared an example of how she communicates instructions with her team in her book Dare to Lead.2 Instead of leaving it open to interpretation, when she assigns a task to a team member, they ask the follow-up “What does ‘done’ look like?”
This gives her an opportunity to explain when she needs the task done, how it should be done, and even why she’d like it a certain way. It only takes a minute and leads to fewer disappointments as a manager, without employees feeling like they have to read her mind.
You can implement something similar at your company, both by training managers to give specific instructions and by showing team members how to ask for the details they need.
5. Celebrate achievements and milestones
For truly effective communication in your business, feedback shouldn’t just flow one way. Just as management values feedback that makes the company better, your employees should also value feedback that helps them learn and grow.
That’s why it’s so important to celebrate achievements and milestones across the company.
There are advantages to celebrating achievements and milestones on both individual and team levels.
When you tell someone they did a good job on a certain task or project, you’re improving employee morale and reinforcing positive behavior. When you celebrate the work of a team or even the whole company, you reinforce shared goals and create a strong team connection.
Make a point to share positive reinforcement in both formal and informal ways. You can bring up a job well done in a quarterly review, for instance, but you can also just mention it in the hallway or a team chat. (Of course, when it comes time to share a constructive criticism, it’s best dealt with privately.)
Different employees will respond to feedback differently, so sharing in both informal and formal ways drives home the point.
6. Experiment with different meeting types
Everyone is different, and as you focus on building a diverse, multi-talented team at your small business, you’ll attract people with different communication skills and styles, too. Some people just process information better in a one-on-one setting, while others really feed off the energy in large group brainstorms.
We already mentioned the importance of going beyond email and offering options for team messaging, video calling, phone calls, and more—but you can also offer different options more formally.
If you always schedule big team meetings, for instance, try scheduling one-on-ones or smaller group meetings—you just might see communication styles shifting for team members who may be more comfortable in that setting.
Mix it up, and you’ll quickly learn how your team prefers to communicate. (This is another area where it also pays to listen to employee feedback.)
If it sounds overwhelming to have so many different forms of communication in the workplace, it doesn’t have to be. As long as you consolidate as many of these channels in one place, then you won’t need to be checking multiple apps all day.
7. Connect across departments
Those awesome communication habits shouldn’t just exist within a team—they should be practiced throughout the entire company. After all, you’re all working toward shared goals. Usually, the quickest way to reach them is to get everyone working together.
Small businesses generally have great collaboration across teams when they’re just getting started (especially for those companies that start with one or two people), but start to struggle as teams grow and get busier with new tasks.
Here are some ideas to keep your teams connected intentionally:
- Hold quarterly meetings where the whole company gets together.
- Assign new hires a mentor or lunch buddy outside of their department.
- Ask departments to hold occasional “lunch and learns” where they show other teams what they’re working on.
You can even start interdepartment channels in your team chat app, where employees can share concerns, ask questions, or just connect socially. For instance, your sales team might find it useful to have a channel where they can request blog posts from Marketing.
Once your entire team is feeling connected, you should see conversations flowing easily between departments. Just imagine. When a customer support rep has a quick question for the sales rep who brought a customer on board, they can feel comfortable reaching out directly. That’s what happens when your business has an effective communication strategy.
Communication strategies for small businesses
Business communication in the workplace might sound straightforward (“just talk to each other!”), but it’s about so much more than having a chat.
Not everyone communicates the same way. You need to be intentional and use the right strategies that provide diverse opportunities for both formal and informal communications across the company.
By employing communications strategies that foster open communication and collaboration, you can build a company full of employees who are engaged, efficient, and innovative. And that’s the kind of team that makes a company successful.