Professional and Technical Writing/Project Management/Teams
Overview of Creating Communication in a Team Setting
In most professional organizations it is imperative for employees to have the experience and the communication skills to work in teams. Advantages and disadvantages of working in teams are prevalent; however, teams usually increase work quality. In many business settings, employees have to work in teams to accomplish a task or project. The success of the project is usually reflected by the amount of team work and communication that occurs.
Advantages of Working in a Team:
- Teams usually combine people with different expertise that have unique abilities to contribute to the completeness of the document or project. The differences in ability is a key to making the project focused from different aspects. The combination of the team's knowledge, skills, and abilities can really contribute to a much better end product than if done alone.
- Teams reduce the workload of doing the whole project alone. Many projects are large and time consuming. With many members of a team working together the quality of the project will be greater. We must also keep in mind that, generally, a team project is much more extensive than an individual project which is why they assigned it to more than one person.
- Teams bring together more ideas and increase creativity. In teams there are more ideas and more discussion of which ideas would work and why. There is also more conflict which can lead to further discussion about many ideas.
- Teams help bring out the best qualities of every person, and as you all work together, your team may help teach you things you didn't know.
Disadvantages of Working in a Team
- Team members may fear being the outcast so they might just agree with the group even though they think differently. There can be a loss of self, people might have to adapt to please their teammates. They may feel "deindividualization" which can make a team gang up on one person's idea. It is also very likely that the team will attack the person, and not their idea.
- Some team members do not allow peers to voice their opinions on a topic or task, making the project very one-sided. Strong opinions and individuals sometimes assume the leadership role and do not include their teammates opinions. This can defeat the purpose of a group project, and generally the person in the leadership role feels they are carrying the team on their back and can get upset with the team, when in reality they are not allowing the other team members to work.
- Team work takes more time because members should agree to a certain extent. It takes more time, because members have to wait for completed portions of the project from their teammates before moving on. If it was individual project they could just continue at their own pace. It also takes a significant amount of time for group meetings. Emailing is a common form of communication in group projects which can also lead to miscommunications because people may interpret the emails differently, technology may fail causing it not to send to everyone, or people do not open the email.
- Some Team members may not pull their weight causing others to do more work. They are known as free loaders. The success of the team depends on the completeness of the work. If a team member slacks off, someone has to pick up their slack. Also, other team members may get upset because the free loaders will get the same credit as they do, causing a rift in the energy of the group, which can in return cause the end product not to live up to its potential.
Type of Leadership
Teams can have two different types of leadership. They can have a single person lead, who may be known as a manager, dictator, or team leader. This is most effective for larger groups where someone is needed to keep the group on task, coordinate, and stimulate conversation. There are a variety of ways to choose a leader. They can be appointed to be the leader by the boss, volunteer, or be voted upon by their fellow teammates. The leader’s role is to make final decisions, appoint teammates roles, and manage progress. The leadership role is very important. Teams can also have a leadership style where each member is equally responsible for the work. Both strategies have positive and negatives. For example, having a single person in charge can often lead to a domination of sorts where some members contribute close to nothing and others do all the work. Another negative to one leader is the document or project you are preparing may be his or her vision alone, not the whole group's vision. However, some positives are that there is no miscommunication between the management of the project and you have to only report to one person causing much less confusion.
Distribution of Tasks
Teams need to define objectives, plan, draft, and revise when doing communication activities. Teams have to choose how to distribute the workload among members. Also, to keep everyone on task, the group should determine a time line to make sure everyone has his or her own part done in a timely manner. Also, consequences need to be drawn up to address what happens in case a team member is not getting their work done, causing the group to slow down in the progress of their project.
- Recommended for small teams is the style where all team members work with each other on all tasks that need to be completed. This type of task distribution is good at covering all the details; however, it may be very time consuming. There are many cases where it is difficult to coordinate with one another due to conflicting schedules. Also, ideas have to correlate and finding common ground can be time consuming.
- The next type of task distribution is where each team member specializes and works on his/her own task. This way of distribution is less time consuming; however, it will be less effective because the group members are working alone and do not have a lot of time to listen to others ideas and thoughts. Sometimes pieces of the project do not flow in a linear manner due to the variety of individuals and their styles.
- The last way to distribute tasks is a combination of the two. This is where team members do some tasks independently and some in a group. The ones who can be around at same times can be members that do a bigger part of the project while the smaller things can be left for the people who will be working independently. If finding time to work together as a team is difficult, this way can prove to be very beneficial. People can perform their own tasks independently and share their progress with the entire group. Once the group has a chance to look over their peers' work they can come together to provide feedback for one another on what needs improvement. Keep in mind that this method could easily be accomplished via e-mail in today's society. Other effective forms of communication including white boarding, chat, text, conferencing, and more.
Guidelines for Valuable and Efficient Communication
This is the first basic step that a team must complete in order to produce a reader-centered communication. It includes understanding the readers' expectations and needs from the communication. Second, consider what task(s) you expect your form of communication to help the reader do in order to set the objective(s) for the usability of your team's reader-centered communication. Last, consider how you think your communication will influence the readers’ feelings and actions in order to set your persuasive objectives for your team’s reader-centered communication. It is vital that all of the team members interpret and comprehend the communication objectives before beginning the process. Here are six things that can be done so the team fully understands everything before it starts:
- ask/invite questions
- keep talking until everybody agrees and is on the same page
- discuss strategies
- record and make copies of the group's decisions and distribute it to every member
- be flexible to new thoughts about readers and purposes
- ask the quiet person his/her opinion; it's a group project, so make sure they are involved.
It is imperative for the plans of a group to be as detailed as possible to begin. If the plans are general when a team member begins to work alone, he/she could come up with something that does not match what the team is looking for. This can lead to wasted time and research. A team plan for a project should include:
- Discussing plans with the team – Discussions can lead to a better understanding of the goal because conversations are easier to remember and questions can be asked. Ideas can be agreed upon and implemented into the work. One idea would be to sit down as a group and brainstorm ideas regarding how you want your document to look, then there will be a general consensus and the group can move forward.
- Create an outline – This will help guide the team and give the team a written “schedule” of what will be done. It also allows members to get a role that fits their schedule.
- Use Storyboard – This is done before drafting and it helps decide what the content for each part of their communication will be. Usually team members write down main points, sub-points, and some graphics that may be included.
- Use a Style Guide – This is crucial so that each section is in the same format. Make sure the team knows what format to use before the project begins so that the team does not have to go back and edit according to the style.
- Develop File Naming Rules – It is important for teams to be similar in terms of file naming through email so they can be more easily opened and viewed. For example, a team may agree to write the section first with an apostrophe and then the writer's last name.
Create a Project Schedule
Schedules are very important so that team members do not fall behind and complete their part on time. Schedules are important for any team communication but especially when individuals are working alone. The schedule allows individuals to always know what is going on without a meeting. There are three important things to be included in a schedule. The four important things to include in a project schedule are the following:
1. Allow time for planning and defining goals
2. Include milestones
3. Allow enough time for people to write and research his/her part
4. Allow time for editing and revising.
Including these three pieces in a schedule will keep the group on task and will conform the group. To make the deadline it is important to have a cohesive plan among team members.
In order to get the highest amount of productivity, a group must play many roles to keep the group healthy. There are two different categories of roles. Groups should occupy most of the roles.
Task Roles – Elaborates, clears confusion, and keeps groups on task.
- Analyzers/Summarizers – Explains ideas and their consequences, reduces confusion, sums up progress, and formulates a conclusion.
- Energizers – creates enthusiasm for the task and, if needed, a sense of urgency. Motivates team members and acts like a “cheerleader”.
- Initiators – propose ideas and suggestions, provides direction for the team, and gets the group moving.
- Information Givers – Provides group with relevant information. Organizes, researches, and presents information.
- Information Seekers – Asks for needed facts and figures, makes group aware of information needs, and requests clarification and explanation of ideas.
- Opinion Seekers – Tests for group opinions and consensus. Attempts to discover what others believe about topics.
Maintenance Roles - Keeps the group healthy, focuses on task and relationship aspects.
- Compromisers – Offers suggestions that minimize differences and searches for solutions that will help group reach a consensus.
- Encouragers – Agrees and comforts team members, provides recognition to good thoughts, and urges shy members to speak up about opinions.
- Gatekeepers – Monitors participation, controls flow of meetings, and suppresses members that are too talkative/dominant.
- Harmonizers – Helps to resolve conflicts, and stresses the importance of group members' cooperation.
- Followers – Supports the group's ideas and serves as an interested member who is willing to listen.
Hold Productive Meetings
Communication teams have deadlines that are important to meet to be an effective team, therefore meetings must be productive because they take away from the time members could be working on their sections. To not waste time, teams must balance the fun with the business aspect. There are four main things that should be included for a meeting to be efficient. Teams should prepare an agenda, bring the discussion to a close when appropriate to avoid becoming off task, summarize the meeting and what was discussed, and the last thing that must be done is to set goals for what should be accomplished before the next meeting. Keeping a form of communication between meetings is also important. The ways members keep in contact these days are though emails, phones, and text. Keeping in contact helps keep members on task.
Allow and Encourage Discussion, Debate, and Different Perspectives
Team members need to feel comfortable for a team to fully benefit from group work. Individuals must be able to debate and state their ideas freely without being ridiculed or picked apart by their peers. Debate is an important group tool, because it does not allow a group to become complacent and go with the first idea that comes to mind. Of course, debate is not always the perfect solution, because some group members may be shy and/or fearful of voicing their ideas. To prevent fear of being ridiculed, be sure to encourage everyone to speak their mind about any and all decisions made. This can be a valuable addition to the document that your group is preparing. By having group members assume group maintenance and task roles mentioned above, it can be a good way to mediate debates. Certain strategies to encourage diversity of ideas and to increase debate production exist in this text. Communication among group members is the main key to the group's success.
Working Together Through Computer Tools
- Computers can be used as a great method for supporting teams that are in need of communication.
These tools allow team members to work independently of each other.
E-mail allows teams to efficiently communicate and share ideas, drafts, and comments. A listserv makes e-mail even easier, since it allows the sender to relay a message to multiple team members, by using only one e-mail address.
Commenting on files
When a whole team needs to edit and look over a draft, this Comment feature, seen in Microsoft Word, lets all team members directly and specifically comment about the document. All team members can see what their other members commented and who made each edit.
Reviewing suggested changes
Using the Track Changes feature in Microsoft Word, team members can edit a document or file independently from one another. They can then send them back to the author of the original file for review. The author then can identify all of the edits and can either accept or reject the changes.
Using the program called NextPage, team members can differentiate which draft of a file is which. They can tell which one is the most recent and who edited which version of the document.
Real-Time Tools for Collaboration
These tools allow team members to work synchronously, at the same time, even if they are miles apart and on different computers.
Chat text conferencing
Using one of several different methods of chatting, such as Microsoft's Chat, teams can communicate through this online forum. Here, members can communicate and relay messages to the whole of the team, so that everyone is communicating at once. One message appears on all members' computer screens at the same time. This is helpful when decisions need to be made quickly.
Video and audio conferencing
Another incredible invention of technology that unites those from all around the world is the video and audio conference call. Using such methods as Apple's ichat, skype, or some other form of instant messenger that has an audio and video option as well, teams can truly come together around the conference table, while being miles apart. In this form of communication, members can almost feel like they're really meeting with their other members, since they can see and hear them through this conferencing.
Another way that members can increase their efficiency and communication is through programming such as Whiteboards. A classic example of this that is free and easily accessible to the public is a feature of Gmail E-mail-Google Docs. On here and other programs such as these, members can edit text and images on one shared computer file. This is efficient, since many are able to view this file at once and refer to the appropriate points, thereby increasing their communication.
This is basically a collaboration of the tools for communication already stated. An example of this, such as IBM's Lotus, combines such modes for team building and puts them all together to increase the dynamic of the group and their level of productivity.
Being Keen of Important Differences: Culture and Gender
In order to allow for each team member to contribute to their maximum potential, it is extremely important for the team environment to be one of support and sensitivity. All members should be aware of individual styles of group work and be responsive in helpful and encouraging ways that ultimately foster a community of growth and a high level of excellence from each team member. It is essential to note that many of people's styles, in reference to communicating on teams, may be influenced and based off of their cultural background and gender.
It is important to keep in mind the differences between team members that are a natural result of cultural differences. Clearly, this pertains most to interactions in international collaborations, but it is still necessary to be mindful of these differences even within one's own group work, where individuals are all unique and different in their styles of communicating. After all, we are the great "Melting Pot," are we not?
Deborah Bosley (1993), a writing researcher, has recognized multiple differences that we should all be aware of when interacting with other cultures on writing team settings. One should be ready to encounter these differences anytime, from using the various computer methods to communicating face-to-face in meetings.
The way different cultures express disagreement can vary. Some are very direct and communicate their disagreement openly. Other cultures tend to be indirect and try to avoid tension for themselves and for the other members as a whole. This can then create conflict if team members are not on the same page and do not honestly know how the other is feeling.
Some cultures are quite open in how much they suggest ideas and possible changes. People from other cultures try to sound agreeable as possible, and in so doing, do not often offer ideas.
Some cultures often ask for repetitions and a more thorough explanation to understand the subject matter more clearly. Some people from other cultures may see this as rude and disrespectful towards the speaker, suggesting that the speaker is unknowledgeable, a poor speaker, or is not finished speaking as of yet.
The way in which ideas are debated or discussed can also vary from culture to culture. Some cultures look positively on hashing out ideas in a fervent tone and manner. In other cultures, this would seem very rude and a sign of disloyalty-something completely unacceptable to the team.
Other important cultural distinctions
- Body language is another large indicator of cultural norms and their meanings may vary and may communicate different things to different cultures.
- Pay attention to the differences in cultural eye contact. Some cultures, such as that seen in Japan, believe it is rude to maintain eye contact. Other cultures, for example, in the west, believe eye contact is a sign of respect and being genuine.
- A necessary practice to exercise in the company of intercultural teams is to not assume the meaning of another's behavior. Take the time to understand their culture and use their standards of how to assess how they are acting.
- Make sure that your communication with your teammates, particularly those from another culture, is open and continuous. It should be frequent and, if necessary, take place outside team meetings on a regular basis, to ensure understanding between cultures.
- In order to grow as teammates, it is a tremendous opportunity to learn from the present cultures and to adjust one's own cultural norms and perceptions of others at times. Doing thus, it will also increase the team's productivity.
Although gender of team members does not always affect communication, it is good to be aware of possible differences that may arise.
- Remember, no one way of communicating is necessarily better than the other-it is quite dependent upon culture. Keep this in mind and do not uphold your own method as more valuable than another.
- By learning about another culture's way of interacting, one can add to their own method of communicating and increase their own understanding of how to best relate to others in a team setting.
- Allow others to be different-encourage and respect them in their own culture. Help them reach their potential.
- Embrace your own culture!