Communicate clearly and openly

In my previous post about understaffed leaders, we spoke of the importance of pulling understaffed teams together to ensure that they are cohesive and that work gaps do not remain unfilled. This essay focuses on how to communicate more clearly and openly.

All leaders need to communicate clearly and openly. But strong communication is particularly important for those who lead understaffed teams. And great communication starts with great listening.

In your conversations, focus mainly on listening rather than speaking. This will open up the communication lines and deepen trust.

You may think that you are communicating well. I did, too. But the only way to know for sure is to ask.

Start with this simple question: Overall, how would you rate my/our internal communication?

People I work with will ask this to their people and get many responses. I help them to figure out how to process and prioritize the information that they get and develop a communication plan.

A communication plan details what needs to be shared with whom and how that communication will be delivered.

Lilly began as a part-time bookkeeper for a medium-sized nonprofit. After demonstrating great capacity, she was soon promoted to the post of executive director.

But when she got started in her new role, she quickly realized that there were few systems in place in her office and she needed help pulling things together.

Communication in particular was weak, and the organization desperately needed a system overhaul, in terms of hardware/software and policy changes (who to reach out to for various issues, reasonable timetables for responses, etc.)

The communication plan that we developed helped information flow more smoothly through the office and to constituents both in and out of the building. 

Great communication also involves cross-communication among team members.

Get team members talking by scheduling (brief) weekly team meetings. Make sure everyone is on board with the team’s priorities and where their own efforts should be focused. These meetings are also a good time to recognize the progress your team has made. 

Use two-way feedback to help promote continued improvement, upward progress and ultimately, better performance. Additionally, an honest conversation where you seek and accept feedback without defensiveness or excuses builds trust and your relationship with your team.

As part of your plan, seek to cut down on time drains. Time is a most valuable resource. It needs to be treasured and used most effectively. Leaders who manage email, meetings and other time-consumers well find ways to get important information across while freeing up their people for their most important tasks.

Other ways to maximize time around the workplace:

  • Schedule no-interruption work periods. Problem-solving and deep work demands thinking time to concentrate on tasks. Your people don’t get it when their days are packed with meetings or other disruptions. Set aside a few hours each day (or each week) as a no-meeting time. You also might suggest -- and try yourself -- ignoring your email and letting your phone pick up messages during that time. 
  • Plan on downtime. Workers immersed in solving some problem may not think to surface for air. But everyone needs breaks when working long hours over several weeks or months. If you make time to get out for lunch or take at least a half day on weekends, your employees will feel comfortable following your lead. You’ll all come back refreshed and better prepared to tackle the next job.

Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) is president of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. Check out his leadership book, "Becoming the New Boss." Read his blog, and listen to his leadership podcast. Download his free new e-book, “An E.P.I.C. Solution to Understaffing.”

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