Open and honest communication is bandied about as a hallmark of high performing teams. But the majority of teams pay this lip service and although it seems like common sense, it is a rare commodity in teams around the world.
What is Open and Honest Communication?
Lets start with what open and honest communication is and is not.
Open and honest communication is not argumentative and negative. It is not about saying destructive things with no solution or intention of making things better.
Real open and honest communication satisfies a number of criteria:
- Everyone wants to speak up
- Everyone has the intention of making things better
- No one is afraid to ask any question
- No one is afraid to give their opinion
- Nothing is off limits for discussion
We say that open and honest communication is a cliche and whenever I speak to teams about it, they roll their eyes like they’ve heard it before - as if it’s common sense. It certainly should be.
But, of the tens or even hundreds of teams that you will work in throughout your career, I guarantee that you will be able to count, on one hand, the number of teams that actually do this well.
And the reality is that most employees have been taught not to engage in this simple team skill. Over the years, staff have been told that they need to be open and honest, but are usually then punished for doing exactly that, in some way, shape or form. Or they’ve learnt that it doesn’t matter what they say - nothing will change.
Meetings - A Chance to Build the Skill
To build this critical skill, we need to practice it. And there is no better opportunity to do this than team meetings. Here are some things you need to remember:
1) Every meeting counts
We get better at what we practice. Don't save it for the annual retreat or the half-yearly business review. Every single meeting is an opportunity to build this skill. It takes a lot of work to overcome people’s current perceptions and build new habits.
2) Start small
If you have a team that don’t really engage in team meetings, then start with small ways they can contribute. Even sharing small pieces of information or prompting people during meetings to give an alternate view. For many teams, you might even need to prompt people before they meeting. Let them know that you will be discussing a certain topic and that you know they have some great opinions, so you’d like them to share these.
This is especially true for introverts. Give them time to prepare and process the input they need to give. But don’t let them off the hook just because of their personality preferences.
3) Recognise the behaviours you want to see
This seems so simple but is rarely executed well. When people engage in open and honest communication - especially if they give a view that is different from your own - make sure you thank them for it. Reinforce and recognise the behaviour that you want to see and you’ll start to see them more often. It says to people that it’s ok to speak up.
The other way that you need to reinforce behaviours is to act on opinions. There is nothing worse than someone voicing their concern/opinion/solution - only to see those things simply disappear. This is a surefire way to discourage the right behaviours. You don’t have to implement everything, but there needs to be balance and you need to explain.
All team meetings should have two objectives. The first is the purpose of the meeting - whatever that might be - and the second is to continually build the right team environment. If you aren’t addressing this issue in each and every team interaction, then chances are that you will never build the culture that you really want.