Updated: Aug 14, 2020
One of my mentors said there are three rules to being on a team and they are communicate, communicate, and oh, by the way, did he mention communicate? All too often as leaders we forget to communicate. We forget to pass on what we know, what we have learned, what our vision is, or what our expectations are. Sometimes we assume our team knows what we are thinking or has obtained the same information. We also make assumptions that because we have said it once, that the information was communicated when the information hasn’t sunk in or hasn’t quite reached all the team members.
Communication requirements are the same on the sports field as they are in the office space. As an athlete, communication is everything: what the coaches’ direction and expectations are; what my teammates are doing; and sharing emerging information as the situation changes based on opponents’ movements and strategies. As a lacrosse player, you can tell the difference between a good defense and a great defense by the level of communication that is happening on the field. Teammates are telling others what the offense is doing, when a player is cutting through the center, identifying who is defending who, and who has the ball.
We also experience communication as a leadership characteristic in the military. In fact, it is one of the troop leading steps taught to budding leaders. Keep your troops informed. I certainly will never forget the time I was on night patrol with my Marine unit and word from the front was passed on to the rear. Marine by Marine, the word is passed, just like the game of telephone. Well, me being the new guy, I hadn’t quite learned the essential role I played to pass on information. When I didn’t pass on to the Marines behind me that we were standing fast for a short break, I had some noncommissioned officers quite upset with me and they let me know it. Needless to say, that mistake was never made again.
So, to recap, the first rule of being on a team is to communicate. Every leader should make it a habit of repeatedly sharing their vision, expectations, and passing along both vital and mundane information. Studies have even shown that you actually need to tell someone seven times in various ways before they actually absorb the information. So when you are communicating, be sure to tell people in person, by phone, text it, put it in an email, send a written memo, say it over the PA system, and write it on the bathroom wall.
The second rule of communicating as a leader is to ensure the environment is conducive to communicating. Team members are often nervous to communicate. They are afraid to speak. They are afraid to share information with the boss. They feel too busy to invest in the act of communicating. Some teammates may not even know what kind or type of information is important. As an example, on the athletic field, an unguarded opponent that needs a defender to cover them needs to be called out. If a teammate calls out instead that there is a player with pink shoelaces, the right information is not being communicated. Ensure the communication environment is safe and that teammates know what is relevant.
The third rule of communication on a team is confirming receipt of the message. We can find ourselves in a nasty habit of sending communication but never ensuring the message was received, and an unreceived message is not communication at all, it is just wasted effort. There are all kinds of tools to help confirm message communication including read receipts, message replies, asking questions to assess comprehension, and the age-old repeat what you just heard request.
Remember, leaders are communicators. They communicate the desired end-state which communicates the leader’s intent. Leaders communicate welfare information designed to keep people safe. Leaders build trust and confidence by keeping teammates informed of the situation. Team performance is improved when team roles are clearly communicated and shared. Make sure as a leader within a team you communicate, communicate, communicate!