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Get Communication Happening

High powered teams have these three things in common

65% of executives in the top 300 US companies felt that "communicating clearly and frequently" was the source of a failure to adapt and transform their enterprises. 16% felt the source of failure was "managing expectations" and 9% a lack of clear goals[1].

In your enterprise, what is the source of poor team-work?

I'm going to take a punt and suggest that, at some level, it;s tied up with ineffective communication.

We know that communicating ‘clearly and frequently’ is foundational, but what does that mean?

There are three dimensions to having communication be effective when you want a partnership or a team to work well. 

What IS NOT Effective

To know what something is, you need to first know what it IS NOT. Effective communication is NOT:

  • putting your mind on loudspeaker;
  • carefully crafting ‘strategic messaging’ (which occurs like, and really is, manipulation);
  • the transfer of information;
  • simply sharing your thoughts and feelings.

All these forms of communication have a place. They all produce something, it’s just that they’re not very effective at getting people to work together well.

What IS Effective

To be effective, communication must fulfil on these three dimensions:

1. You must know what it is you’re trying to achieve

Sound obvious? It’s not.

In twenty years doing this work this is piece I find most commonly missing.

Whether conscious of it or not (and we’re usually not), we all have an internal vision of what we are trying to achieve. Until this has been articulated in some way we are invariably operating at cross-purposes… and wondering why we can’t get our teams aligned!

2. Everyone (at least everyone you need for delivery) must AGREE that that is the goal

This is also not as obvious as it seems because even if we use the same words, we may not mean the same thing.


In a recent workshop I led everyone was excited and inspired by the vision they’d created for the agency, until we started drilling into specifics. Then it became clear people meant different things.

Communication that is effective in creating teams means communicating against a background of an agreed common vision. Without that you are just screaming into an empty cathedral.


3. You need to create conscious and deliberate relatedness (not the relationships) around the accomplishment of that goal

Teams that work well together know what to expect of each other. They have agreements around both delivery, but crucially they have agreements about how people are expected to behave with each other (and people outside the team too).

Get this bit right and a team can transform an entire agency. Get it wrong and they can poison everyone.

The key to making these agreements is to distinguish between ‘being related’ and ‘being in a relationship’.

Most of the work I do with enterprises sits in the first 2 steps because these take your people from being a group of individuals to being a team

Sometimes I get the opportunity to train people in the 3rd step. It’s pretty powerful and can be applied to all teams so it’s worth knowing (I’ve also broken it down on a video here).

Being Related vs Being in a Relationship [3]

Being ‘in a relationship’ is personal, based on affection and grounded in a shared (presumably positive) past. Being ‘related’ is functional, impersonal and based on a commonly agreed (presumably positive) future.

A recent Harvard Business Review report found that, of 120 executive teams from top-flight enterprises worldwide, fewer than 10% agreed about who was actually on the team!

Why Teams Don’t Work, HBR

Relationships are the breath of life, but relatedness gets stuff done and if you mix the two up you’re in for strife!

Interestingly, recent research indicates that grumpy orchestras play better than orchestras that enjoy each other’s company, so relationships are not actually that important to effectiveness! [2]

The Power of Soccer

Think of soccer.

Have you ever seen a group of 7-year-olds play soccer?

It looks nothing so-much as a they struggling mass of arms and legs moving back and forward across the field.

This happens because even though everyone is clear the first two steps (get the ball into the net as often as possible), there is no agreement about step 2:  who’s who in the game.

The roles are not clear.

On the other hand, a game played by professionals can look like a choreographed ballet.

For the professionals agreement around roles is strong and the players are disciplined in playing only their part: goalie, striker, mid-fielder, sweeper, defender etc.

These roles have been consciously created in order to maximise the chances of fulfilling on the goal of the game (get the ball in the net as often as possible). Everyone understands and agrees on what each role is (including their limitations e.g. goalies shouldn't run onto the field and try kick a goal) and they are disciplined in fulfilling their assigned role (even if the ball passes them by). Imagine a football team with 11 goalies (or worse perhaps, 11 strikers!).

To win, everyone needs to know their role and play their part (i.e. be related), but they don’t have to like each other (i.e. be in a relationship).

There is immense power in this process and it allows people to work effectively together over an extended period, whatever happens in their relationships. From a management perspective, this distinction also stops people looking at the relationship to solve problems, rather than the more effective focus: a lack of clarity in the relatedness.


Getting relatedness clear also builds trust and relaxes everyone because they know what their job is and they know what everyone else's jobs are.

So, the moral of the story is: get clear on what you are promising to each other (and what you’re not!), especially around behaviours. It’s clean, it’s clear and it will help you get amazing stuff done.

[1] Where Change Management Fails,

[2] published in Senior Leadership Teams, Ruth Wageman, Debra Nunes, James Burruss.

[3] I first learnt this distinction at Landmark Education, in my opinion the world's premier personal development firm and a company where I managed a department for several years and led programs for for over ten:

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