Friday, January 25, 2013


I missed a meeting on Wednesday.  It's not that I forgot about it; I had a gathering of College of Business students that had been set up for three weeks and this meeting had been set up for two weeks.  It was supposed to be a 10-minute check-in meeting with the team of which I am a part...and the meeting went for 45 minutes and included a major announcement that affected us, our budgets, our programs, and our people.  And I missed it.

I checked in quickly with one of my colleagues...I then checked in with another colleague...and then checked in with another colleague - and each time heard a different story.  By the time I checked in with a fourth colleague, I knew two things: 1) I had most of the information I needed now that I had talked with four different people; and 2) I still wasn't sure what the message was and what we really were supposed to do.  UGH!  And all this after our team went through Patrick Lencioni's new book The Advantage which emphasizes over and over again the need for CLARITY.  In fact, the book has three chapters that are entitled create clarity, over-communicate clarity, and reinforce clarity.  Double UGH!

For me, the questions were two fold: first, did we all know exactly what it was we were supposed to do (the short answer is NO); and secondly, would we all communicate the same message to our teams (again, the answer was NO).  Let me think out loud here about how to best get clarity in a team...However, before I provide my regular list, let me state that the issue of clarity does not lie only with the team leader (though it is her responsibility that it finally happens).  Team members need to ASK for clarity if it is not provided by the leader - and they need to take on the responsibility of ensuring that they all have the same message and deliver the same message.  So read this list through the eyes of one who leads a team...and one who participates in a team.  Here goes (and of course these are in no particular order):

  1. Take the time prior to the meeting to think through the message that needs to be communicated, even to the point of writing it out.  Putting words on paper and distributing that paper ensures that everyone sees the same message (how they deliver it is another issue).
  2. Write ideas and thoughts up on the board so that everyone sees what verbiage begins to stand out.  Let those be the words that guide the communication across the organization.
  3. Check with the team and ask if they all understand what is to be done or said - it might not even hurt to ask them to repeat it out loud.
  4. Use a checklist - there is no shame in writing things down (what you are going to say...what needs to be accomplished...who needs to do what).  People who brag about keeping everything in their heads probably aren't taking in enough information on a daily basis.
  5. Ask the team if it is clear to them what they are supposed to do. Just because you understand it does not mean that the rest of the team understands it.
  6. Do not rely on one form of communication   If you said it in a meeting, follow up with an email.  If you sent it out in an email, follow up with a meeting.  Walking around from office to office and seeing if the individual members of the team understood what they were supposed to do would accomplish many things.
  7. Don't be afraid to say "I do not understand."  And that's true for the team leader as well as the other team members.
  8. Be authentic, direct, and relevant (this courtesy of Patrick Lencioni).  The more important the message, the more need there is to be this way.  
  9. Be sure that you as a TEAM have agreed to what the message will be and ensure each other that you will do what you said you will do.
The above list seems very basic, but we all know that confusion around poor communication happens all the time.  Take some time today and this week to consider whether or not you are creating CLARITY or CONFUSION...and take the steps necessary to get better at this.  Not only will your team love you for making this happen, you life as a leader will be much easier in the long run.

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