How to Build Healthy Teams: The Role of Communication and Strengths
Earlier this month I introduced the idea of team building and proposed that enhancing team dynamics leads to greater organizational performance. So much of the work your agency does occurs in teams; developing capacity includes not only investing in individuals but assessing and improving the health of groups.
Team building through communication
As an organizational development company, building healthy teams is one of our specialties. We’ve found that positive communication is the most common quality of high-performing groups. When working with clients to improve interpersonal dynamics, we assess and develop the following foundational components of effective communication.
Active listening. All forms of listening include comprehending, retaining, and then responding. Active listening requires a listener to fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what a speaker is saying. During this typical exchange, an active listener observes a speaker’s behavior and body language to develop a more accurate understanding of the speaker’s message and paraphrase the words to confirm meaning. Active listening is an effective team communication skill because it helps to resolve conflict, encourage cooperation, and discourage ambushing.
Mindful speaking. Open-minded speakers focus on relinquishing judgment, being present, and practicing empathy. Uncovering and resisting unconscious bias is another muscle that mindful speakers flex. Because people typically learn these biases early in childhood, it is often difficult to identify and confront such stereotypes. However, active listening and mindful speaking skills increase one’s self-awareness and lead to better interpersonal understanding.
Nonverbal communication. Some of the healthiest team communication happens without sound. Gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, eye contact, body language, and posture send messages more pronounced than the loudest spoken words. The following behaviors are hallmarks of positive nonverbal team communication:
- Establish regular eye contact.
- Focus on the conversation by practicing active listening.
- Nod to demonstrate understanding.
- Smile to indicate that you are pleased with the conversation.
- Avoid slouching or crossing arms, which sends a signal of boredom.
- When messages are serious, steer clear of smiles or laughter.
- Wait until the person is done talking to respond.
Team building through strengths
All teams—including those with the healthiest communication habits—experience conflict at some point. The existence of conflict can be positive if a team knows how to manage it to build greater group empathy and performance.
The Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI) is one tool for learning the motives and values that drive interpersonal behaviors. It is based on the philosophy that all individuals desire to know themselves and others, and that such understanding allows team members to better navigate conflict. The SDI works by uncovering individual strengths in the context of relationships, with the goal to increase team effectiveness. It assesses one’s strengths used in relating to others under two conditions:
- when everything is going well in relationships
- when relationships experience opposition or conflict
The assessment shows people, performance, or process preferences, which affect how team members deal with interpersonal interactions. Team members who take the SDI understand one another’s personal communication strengths and preferences in times of harmony and conflict. They realize how individual styles affect collaboration and learn to work together to improve team dynamics.
Brighter Strategies uses the SDI to help build connections and diminish conflict in teams. The tool facilitates strong relationships through the insights people gain, the acceptance it encourages, the conversations it informs, and the trust it creates.
For more information on team building through healthy communication and collaboration, check out the Brighter Strategies resource guide, “Power Teams: Creating Effective Work Groups That Get Things Done,” free for download here.