Have you ever wondered what somebody “really” meant when they said something to you? What was the hidden message? Did they criticize your idea when it was still in the forming phase? In Texas, we might hear, “Bless her heart” and wonder what sarcasm was concealed in a perfectly innocent statement.
Gossip, rumors, criticism, and sarcasm are deadly to innovation and team communications. You can say the words, “What a great idea” but if you roll your eyes at the same time, we know you think it is a stupid idea. On the other hand, if you smile and lean in when you say the exact same words, we know you are interested.
Communicating in a 2D World
Even before the corona-panic, many organizations were switching to virtual team meetings. The rationale was to save money on travel expenses. Another element is based on saving time – in a city like Houston, your travel time to and from a meeting can easily exceed the length of the meeting. So, we use virtual meetings instead.
Of course, we lose body language in our 2D, virtual communications. There are some people who refuse to turn on their cameras – probably because they are multitasking and not paying attention to the meeting anyway. I readily admit to not using my camera during mid-day webinars since I can eat lunch while I listen to the lecture.
However, aside from food crumbs and slurping soup, we can learn to communicate in a 2D world. Even after the corona-panic ends, many of us will continue to use webinars and virtual meetings to reach a larger audience. In fact, in the VTM-Virtual Team Model (Chapter 6 of Leveraging Innovation Constraints), I personally advocate for virtual teams in innovation to increase access to global markets.
One of the practices in the VTM is to ensure you build time into your agenda for team-building. Innovation requires creativity and creativity requires trust. We only trust our teammates when we know them through a personal relationship. These relationships teach us values and principles of other team members as we observe their behaviors. Values and trust are foundational to successful team communications.
While some people are adamant that they will not turn on their camera, others hesitate to speak freely. These behaviors, I believe, are exacerbated in a 2D world and impact our trust ability. While a quiet person finds it difficult to offer a differing opinion in a face-to-face environment, it is even more challenging for her to do so in a virtual conversation.
It is the job of the innovation leader to generate trust and open communication pathways among team members. I like using work style assessments with teams so that each person understands their own communication preferences, strengths, and conflict triggers. When we share our work styles with other teammates, we can explain our values and behaviors with non-judgmental language and build trust more quickly.
Most of us don’t like conflict. Many leaders have not been trained in conflict management. So, when a debate arises, it either is swept under the rug to percolate or is blown way out of proportion. Yet, the crazy thing is that we need conflict for innovation and creativity. We need to challenge perspectives, biases, and experiences to create new technical and market opportunities for our customers. Conflict and debate are central to successful ideation.
Manage Your Team Communications
Join me on Friday, 26 February 2021, with the Tucson PMI Chapter to learn more about Managing Team Communications. You might also enjoy listening to a podcast on the same topic here and you can read more here. When we start with each team member’s preferred working style, we can design the jobs of innovation to balance their strengths. This results in healthy conflict where we focus on idea generation to improve new product features and functionality.
In addition to the Tucson PMI meeting, join me starting on 29 April for the NPDP Certification and Innovation Best Practices workshop (four weekly, 2-hour sessions). A key topic for success as an innovation leader is managing team communications. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to implement effective tools for innovation team communications.
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