Does Your Team Speak The Same Language?
Teams may have all the tools they need for communication, but our intentions and meanings don’t always come through as intended. Some of this can be attributed to different generations in the workforce, cultural backgrounds, and even the channels we choose to convey our message.
Effective teams cut through the noise by developing a common language – general rules so to speak – of expected norms in the workplace. Having a “playbook” helps eliminate guesswork and creates accountability, and accountability fosters trust – a key element of any successful Team.
Below are three critical areas for leaders to consider.
It’s the leader’s responsibility to unite team members even if it appears they don’t have much in common. Creating a culture where each member feels they belong, contribute, and understand each other is essential.
- Develop team goals and values: Culture is how we work with each other. Take the time to shape this. Use “we” and emphasize it’s “one” team. Remind team members that everyone is working towards a common goal. Center that goal during team meetings. Clarify each team member’s role to highlight how everyone contributes to the goal regardless of age or tenure. Research shows goals are important because we bond best when our individual actions contribute to a common purpose.
- Find commonalities: Understand each other’s context. When people don’t understand other’s context, they make negative assumptions. Open up and share (e.g., build out your Slack profile or take 5 minutes once a week during team meetings) Allow others to gain personal knowledge. This humanizes and allows us to trust more and feel more similar.
- Learn together: Learning is an underutilized and important tool in a leader’s toolbox. Encourage mentorship. Baby boomers have decades of evergreen experience that applies in the workplace. Cultivate collaboration and knowledge sharing. While Millennials and Gen Z can teach Gen X and Boomers about new technology, they also want and need mentorship. Make it routine—whether it’s sharing the best article, hack, or podcast episode, normalize a culture where everyone learns from each other regularly.
First, let’s acknowledge there are differences in mode, styles, and attitudes of communication between generations. By creating norms around how to convey urgency, when to use chat vs email, and if emojis are acceptable you get teams on the same page. The behaviors, practices, and expectations are explicit and not up for debate or interpretation.
- Remove personal preference: Establish a hierarchy of communication. Without it, each person defaults to personal preference. This causes confusion because there are no expectations. It makes team members seem unreliable and undermines trust.
- Determine as a team: is email for external clients only? If I see your chat, do I need to answer it right away or can I write back in an hour or two? Finding the right hierarchy for your team will require compromise but it’s important so everyone can be effective.
- Level set meaning: Younger generations are more casual communicators. Be clear when a more “formal” tone is required (e.g., external client emails or presentations) but when casual is okay (e.g., on the team chat).
- Even emojis can be interpreted differently. Rather than wait for confusion about how to interpret the double eye emoji (e.g., are you keeping an eye on me or looking at the doc I sent?) –talk about it.
- Set rules for engagement: Tools like Slack, Monday, and Workplace changed how employees communicate internally, including the type of content that is shared among colleagues. Set clear boundaries about the type of discussion allowed on particular channels.
Operations are your “rules and tools” (i.e., policies/procedures and technology/platforms). It’s important for leaders and teams to understand the rules for the road in this “rubber meets the road” area. Clarity on expectations and norms will help harness team members’ energy and efforts to drive success instead of friction.
- Train, don’t assume: Although Gen Z understands TikTok, they may not understand your office technology. In fact, 1 in 5 Gen Zers felt judged when they had technology issues, compared to 1 in 25 for colleagues 40 and over. Companies shifted dramatically to digital tools in the last several years. We know from client staff that training on tools is high on the staff’s wish list. Ensure all staff have the proper training to use the tools they have. This reduces wasted time, conflict, and embarrassment.
- Make the invisible, visible: Document everything. This provides transparency and clarity on team processes. It also serves the dual purpose of orienting everyone on the team as to what technologies are used, including apps, and directories for how to find the resources everyone needs to do their job effectively and helps onboard new future team members.
- Set and respect boundaries: Flexibility means different things to different people and the desire for/type of flexibility may evolve through life stages. As a team, determine work hours expectations and outcome metrics. While some team members may be 9 to 5ers and others may burn the midnight oil nightly, it’s important to know and understand expectations.
Each generation comes into the workplace with their default expectations and norms based on their lived experience. But that’s what makes diverse teams so exciting and refreshing to work on! To lessen conflict, leaders must codify values, expectations, behaviors, and norms. Doing so brings teams together and builds trust. Trust breeds productivity, collaboration, loyalty, and engagement. If you or your organization would like to explore these and other effective strategies, we would love to help!