An essential skill in leading a unit-based team and helping it achieve important goals is clear communication with colleagues and other stakeholders. A team leader will have several groups and individuals who need consistent communication:
- His or her team co-lead(s);
- Team members;
- Team sponsors;
- Other employees in workgroups outside the unit-based team.
Clear communication to these stakeholders will help you meet your goals.
A recent Harvard University study found that great strides in performance and quality can be made simply by improving communication. This is true particularly when it involves discussion of such uncomfortable or thorny topics as disputes or medical errors. The study found a strong connection between an environment that encouraged its frontline providers to question and voice concerns, and the resulting collective learning and improvements. Other studies have found links between consistent communication and patient and member satisfaction.
There are five components of good communication to consider:
- Objective. Why you are communicating or what is the point of your communication?
- Audience. Who you are communicating with?
- Message. What you are communicating? What are the words and images that move your agenda?
- Venue. Where and when you are communicating?
- Budget. How you are communicating?
First, it's important to know why you are communicating. The "why" of your communication can determine the other elements and help you keep your eyes on the prize. Is it as simple as getting someone to a meeting? Is it to clarify a misunderstanding between you and your colleague? Or is it something broader, such as communicating your UBT's successful practice to a regional conference of your peers?
Advice for teams that get bogged down in process
Learn the beliefs, attitudes and values of your audience by listening to the words they use to express themselves. Take the time to understand what motivates and concerns your listeners. As a leader in partnership, your workplace communication often revolves around coaching and feedback on such issues as working relationships, communication and performance. At the same time, you also may deal with cynicism and resistance.
Engagement means developing a dialogue or two-way communication with your audience. This is different from one-way communication like advertisements, campaign messages and most traditional media.
Start with how, what and who questions to get information necessary for informed two-way communication. These questions will help identify what concerns and issues motivate your audience:
- What are the words they use to talk about themselves and their work?
- What are their primary concerns, hopes and fears about work or life?
- How do they view their work life?
- How do they interact with you, your colleagues, members and patients?
- Whose opinion do they respect or value?
The point of engagement is to develop a connection that gives you the opportunity to support your audience as they change behavior and their workplace. It's about creating trust between you and your audience and finding safe, constructive ways to talk about difficult issues or subjects. It's getting to that quality or condition of openness that studies of communication identify as integral to positive change.
Listening creates understanding and connection. Listening also allows us to learn the ways individuals are most receptive to new information: face to face, email, video, co-workers or direct mail.
Message is what you are trying to communicate through words and images. Remember to:
- Organize your words and images clearly.
- Express the point you are trying to make concisely.
- Make your message concrete. Use regular speech, not jargon.
- Connect with your audience in a memorable way.
- Be credible. Make eye contact and make sure your tone of voice and facial expressions fit your words.
- Engage your audience in two-way communication.
- Identify their concerns and connect your message to those concerns.
- Speak with passion and enthusiasm to connect with people's emotions as well as their thoughts.
- Use stories and anecdotes to make your message memorable.
Messages work when you stay on point. Practice a couple of ways of stating your message so it remains fresh and compelling.
What is the most appropriate forum for your communication? Is it a face-to-face conversation, which is preferred by most people? Through email? In the elevator or hallway? Opportunities for two-way communication include existing forums, meetings or even casual conversations. Take advantage of rounding, walk-throughs, training sessions, in-services, huddles, Nurse Knowledge Exchanges, structured Q&A interactions and hand-offs at shift change and breaks.
Here are elements to consider when determining your venue:
- Opportunities to deliver your communication to a particular audience.
- Timing of your communication. When will your communication best be heard and responded to?
- Length of your communication. Is your message simple or complicated? If it's complicated, can it be simplified?
- Possible impact. Will your communication elicit a strong emotion? Does it require immediate action? Do you need to reinforce it with something in writing?
- Safety. Does your audience require a non-threatening environment to best hear and respond to your communication? Do you?
It's a matter of being deliberate about your message and the opportunity to move it to the right audience.
Budget considerations usually are not significant in most of our daily communications, particularly in face-to-face communications or even communications among several UBTs. Unless your unit-based team is organizing a large meeting, conference or news conference as a forum for communicating, the vast majority of communications necessary to the success of our UBTs do not require budget deliberations.