Magazine article Training & Development

Team Communication: It's in the Cards

Magazine article Training & Development

Team Communication: It's in the Cards

Article excerpt

In making the transition to a team environment, team members need many new skills in group decision making, leadership, conflict resolution, and performance feedback.

One area in which skills are also required is communications, which affects all of these areas. A team leader develops both intra- and inter-team communications. Members within the team need to learn how to communicate with each other, other teams, and the rest of the company.

There are several different types of communications networks in most organizations. In a typical hierarchy, a manager tells a staff member what to do and how to do it. That form of communications network is called a star, an inverted Y, or a chain. The flow of communications is usually one way - from upper management down. Company policies and directives follow that information flow.

Those kinds of networks support centralization and the emergence of leaders, but they tend to rate low in areas of satisfaction. A team environment cannot function efficiently under such networks. What works better are the circle or all-channel networks in which each team member can communicate with his or her peers. That way, information is passed to all members, and everyone is kept up-to-date on changes and procedures. Communications in that form helps increase levels of satisfaction within the team and with individual team members.

Communications within a team environment still invoke unique challenges. During team meetings, how long do you discuss an issue before trying to reach an answer? Some members are ready quickly, while others are still deciding. A long discussion can create long meetings. Additionally, how do you get everyone to participate in the discussion and the voting? Some people are content to sit quietly on the side and let others dictate the action. For teams in which members are separated physically or work in different shifts, how do they communicate operationally or administratively with their peers? With teams working in different shifts, how do they get information about company policies or talk with off-shift managers? Let's explore how such issues are handled at two different facilities.

Rockwell card system. The Test and Metrology Services department of the Collins Commercial Avionics division of Rockwell International in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, operates as a self-directed team. The team primarily provides test-equipment calibration and repair support to try out equipment users according to calibration-system requirements and customer demands for the various electronic systems manufactured at the facility.

Team technicians have a high technical expertise that enables them to support their customers. The team is composed of 20 members with a lab manager as the linchpin to upper management. An early issue the team had to overcome was its long weekly meetings. Even with a set agenda, the meetings exceeded the allotted time. Many members had to leave early to satisfy customer demands.

Based on input from the team members, a card system was devised to help speed up discussions. Two 8-by-10-inch cards are passed out to each member at the beginning of a meeting. Each side is color-coded and inscribed with words. (See Card Method illustration.) The colors red and green are on one card; white and yellow are on the other. When an issue is brought before the team, it is explained by the team facilitator. During his or her initial explanation, all team members display the red "needs discussion" card.

If someone wants to talk about the issue, he or she shows a white "need to talk" card to the facilitator, who recognizes the card holder. As the discussion progresses and team members make a decision on the issue, they change their cards to a green "ready to vote" card or one of the other options. The cards provide feedback to the facilitator and to team members as to who needs additional information on the issue. The facilitator terminates the discussion only when no more red "needs discussion" cards are displayed. …

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