How to Teach Communication to Your Team

Leaders must teach communication in their organizations. Yes, I just suggested that you must teach grown adults how to communicate. Just like a coach teaches his players how to do so, from middle school to the pros.

A Lesson in Communication from Mike Krzyzewski

Leaders must teach communication and then drill it in. Here are 5 steps to do so. (Click to Tweet)

Why teach communication?

Good communication does not come naturally, even in the closest groups of people who have been together for years. So, communication must be taught and what is taught must be practiced.

Joe comes to your team from a small company where team meetings were a knock-down-drag-out affair. Opinions flowed freely, emotions were high, and voices were raised. That was their culture.

Sue just came from a medium-sized company where team meetings were more orderly and mundane. But afterwards, there was usually a flurry of heated emails. Often the emails got nasty and personal.

Marie comes to your team from a non-profit where team members shared openly each day and leadership was available at all times. Team members spent time together outside of work and knew each other’s families well.

Craig’s former company was a Fortune 100 company full of silos and bureaucracy. Leadership rarely engaged with their teams and team members rarely talked outside of work.

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And so, one day, these four people find themselves working together. And you don’t need to teach them how to communicate?

No. You must teach them and then drill it in.

A lesson from sports

The winningest college basketball coach of all-time, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, once talked about the need to teach and practice communication.

“In the heat of a game,” he said, “a basketball game speaks a different language. To acclimate our team to speaking this language, we do merely drill defensive stances and positioning in our practices, we drill talking.”

Yes, you read that right…they drill talking. He teaches his team how to do something they have been doing for most of their lives.

Why? Because his team speaks a different language on the court. And so does yours, especially in the heat of the moment.

Each team is different

As we learned from Joe, Sue, Marie, and Craig above, each team is different. What do you want your team’s communication to look like?

Here are 5 steps to teaching your team communication and then drilling it in.

  1. Visualize. Create a picture of what you want your team’s communication to look like. Often, you will decide that your team’s communication is great as it is, but even that that must be communicated as team members change. Play this picture over and over in your mind, clarify it, run it by others, ask your team for input. Drill it in your own mind first, then you can do step two.
  2. Cast. Tell your team what communication is supposed to look like on this team. This is the teaching part. 
  3. Practice. This is active learning. Practice scenarios in which communication might break down. Spend time in regular meetings in which you and each team member has the authority to interrupt the meeting to point out when their communication is not matching up with the vision. This leads to step four…
  4. Permission. You must give your team permission to point out breakdowns in communication…at all times.
  5. Repeat. Regularly visualize what communication should look like, cast that vision (teach it), practice how it plays out, and remind your team they are permitted to and responsible for pointing out breakdowns.

How are you teaching communication to your team? How have you seen it taught by other leaders?

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