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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

5 Signs Your Team Has a Communication Problem

As a manager, your day-to-day life is filled with communication: leading meetings, sending emails, making presentations, and stopping by your employees’ desks to chat.

But as busy as you can feel with that interaction, you may not actually be communicating effectively. Despite all the conversations you have throughout the day, your team may actually be confused about your—and their—priorities, goals, and assignments. And that can quickly lead to unmet expectations and perceived performance problems.

So to make sure your team is in sync, watch out for these five signs that your team’s communication is off, so you can reset the conversation and get back on track.

1. Work Is Being Duplicated

When work isn’t communicated properly, confusion usually ensues. Perfect example: When my company went through a recent merger, there were two communications teams that had to come together—complete with two directors, levels of managers, and teams of associates. All of a sudden, we were supposed to be one.

But with a lack of effective communication, it was quite the opposite. No one knew what everyone else was responsible for, so each team member continued doing what he or she always did. I’d edit a piece of content for my boss, while my co-worker edited the same piece for her boss. In the end, we had two differently edited pieces and no idea what to do with either. We duplicated efforts, resulting in a lot of hard work that couldn’t actually be used—because it had already been done.

2. …Or Not Done at All

Clear communication is key when you’re assigning projects to a team member. I recently had a boss who had a very wishy-washy way of talking about projects. He’d write me a long, winding email, which would ruminate over a potential project. “I wonder if we should write a press release about this?” he’d write. “I’m not sure if we can get a customer quote that will work.”

To me, that meant he was still thinking about it, so I could continue with my other projects. To him, that meant that yes, I should start drafting the press release and figure out the quote situation on my own. When he checked on my progress, I had nothing to report—because in my mind, he’d never actually given me the go-ahead.

In the end, work wasn’t getting done, deadlines weren’t being met, and progress grinded to a halt.

3. The Finished Product Isn’t What You Expected

One of my co-workers recently took on an intern. She’d never managed before, so this was her first taste of the challenge of communicating expectations with an employee. She started with what she thought were fairly straightforward assignments—but when she received the work back from him, it wasn’t even close to what she thought she’d asked for. Each time, she’d turn to me and ask, “Am I crazy?”

The harsh reality was, something in the communication was off. Either she, as the manager, wasn’t explaining what she wanted in clear terms, or the employee wasn’t doing his part in asking clarifying questions to determine what he needed to deliver—or a combination of both.

Either way, it was her responsibility to initiate a change so their communication—and work—could improve.

4. There’s Silence on One End

One of the most telling—and common—mistakes is if one party is dominating the conversation.

For example, as in the story above with my co-worker, she was going about her ways as a new manager, assigning projects, coaching her employee, and communicating goals. And on the employee’s side? Radio silence.

It’s also common the other way around. I once had a boss who was based in another state, and I’d go for weeks (literally, weeks!) without hearing from him. I’d continue with my regular work, fire off some emails at him, occasionally try to call, and—nothing. Besides a rare one-off conversation, I was left to my own devices.

5. You Don’t Have the Same Priorities

When your employees are working on multiple assignments simultaneously (which is probably always), they’re bound to prioritize some over others. But when you’re not clear about your goals and priorities, the alignment of your goals and their to-do list is the first to go.

All of a sudden, you need the finished product of your top-priority assignment. You turn to the designated employee, but she gives you a questioning look. “I’ve been working on the other client brief all week. I thought that’s what you needed.”

Good communication means that everyone on your team—including you—are on the same page when it comes to which projects are at the top of the priority list, and which can wait until later.

As a manager, it can be easy to blame these issues on other factors: Your employees are underperformers, they don’t listen, or they’re simply not cut out for the roles they’re in.

But truthfully, you can’t start pinning the blame on performance issues until you’ve conquered the larger issue. The core of the problem—and the place you need to start addressing it—is in your team’s communication. And as a manager, that begins with you. Strive to fix the way you interact with your team, and you’ll find that many of the other problems you typically encounter along the way are solved as well.

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