Listen with Appreciation

Have you been in a conversation where the other person (people) don’t seem to be listening?  Do they interrupt to make their point?  Are they simply missing the message you are trying to convey?  Of course, you have.  If we are honest, we have been on both sides of this scenario. However, if we begin to listen to understand and not to respond, our conversations will be a lot more enjoyable and effective.  Whether in your personal or professional life, establishing a level of appreciative listening will allow you to build stronger relationships and have more relevant conversations.

Appreciative listening starts with a basic understanding that we should want to listen to understand the other person’s perspective.  You are open to their thoughts and ideas.  You aren’t positioning your next statement in your mind, as doing this will cause you to miss a large piece of the other’s point and message.  If you truly listen to gain their perspective, your responses will be more thought out and effective.  You will be able to compare with your perspectives, have a more conscious thought process and maybe change your narrative.  However, appreciative listening doesn’t mean that you must change your view to be aligned, it simply means being open-minded and authentic.

While not the direct subject of this article, appreciative listening is also tightly aligned to Emotional Intelligence – the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions while also recognizing, understanding and influencing the emotions of others.

Since appreciative listening happens so rarely in our fast-paced world of always being connected where we communicate in short bursts of information (texts, tweets, etc.) needing to share thoughts, ideas and even pictures of our dinner, if you effectively listen with appreciation, you may surprise yourself and the other person.

While this seems like common sense and sounds easy, the actual execution is more difficult and takes time to build into your persona, but you can take minor steps each day and in every conversation.  Eventually, you will become a more appreciative listener.  Here are a few thoughts:

  • It should go without saying but disconnect from technology. You obviously won’t be able to truly listen with appreciation if you are checking text messages or emails during the conversation.
    • On a personal level, leave your phone in the car while out to dinner.
    • At a professional level, close your laptop and leave your phone in your pocket.
  • Assess how you participate in your next conversation right after it is over. Did you listen with an appreciation or still compile your response before the other person was done?  Write your thoughts down and reread later.  How could you have done better?
  • During the next conversation, be mindful of how you are listening. Quiet your thoughts.  If you feel yourself stepping away from being an appreciative listener, catch it and bring yourself back.  It’s kind of like meditation when you let go of thoughts coming into your mind.  Don’t punish yourself, just recognize it and let it go.
  • Ask for feedback from the other person. Ask them if they felt like you were attentive in the conversation and if they felt like your responses considered their perspectives.

Listen with appreciation and see how it makes you feel and improves your overall communications.



Always Know Your Value

“Try not to be a man of success, but rather a man of value.” – Albert Einstein

Have you ever asked yourself – What value am I providing in my current role?  If you can’t confidently answer this question, it is unlikely that anyone else will be able to either.  This is something that you could be asking yourself daily, but at a minimum, you should be reviewing on a regular basis.  The timing decision is a personal one.

We all get caught up with our day to day activities and don’t take the time to step back to reflect our value to the company, organization, etc.  The challenge is that others are continuously in observation mode and while they may see a high level of activity, can they see the value output from the activity?  In the perfect world, others would recognize your value; however, they are in a similar position of busyness and don’t necessarily carry the same perspective as you do.

There are several reasons to reflect on your value.  First, there is a level of positive psychology in reviewing your value and contributions you are making.  It stimulates positive thinking and sets you up to be more positive throughout the day.  While “positive psychology” was initially seen as a fluffy term, since the late 1990’s, research has proven the beneficial impacts to not only a person’s performance, but also their health, learning and many other benefits.  At a minimum, creating a habit of thinking about the value you are contributing will provide a plethora of personal benefits.

If you can’t clearly articulate where you are adding value, you have an opportunity to modify what you are doing to remedy the situation.   A value assessment allows you to either modify what you are doing or look for another role where you feel more comfortable that you’ll be able to contribute.  This will be a positive practice, if you are taking action on your finding.

Additionally, assessing yourself helps you clarify your value into your communications and helps build your level of confidence.  You don’t want to come across as arrogant, but you do want to ensure that your value is understood.

Let’s face it, work life is competitive.  While we all want to work within a “family” environment, there is also competition within a family.   Have you ever been confused as to why someone received a promotion or got the position you wanted, even though you believed you were more qualified?  It may have been that they were able to communicate and promote their value better.

Ensure that you are relevant to the success of the organization and company.

What value will you add?



Collaboration Even Successful in Nature

In Shawn Achor’s latest book, Big Potential, he starts off with a story of lightning bugs in the mangroves of Southeast Asia.  This particular variation of lightning bug (Photinus Carolinus) synchronize their flashes to increase the likelihood of finding a mate.  Flashing alone, fireflies have a 3% chance of finding a mate, but by synchronizing, that probability rises to an astonishing 82%.  This is a simple example of how nature understands that working together collectively and collaboratively leads to greater combined success of the group and the individual.  This same phenomenon can enhance individual performance in organizations through collaboration that drives mutual success leading to personal growth.

By the way, in nature, this also causes a spectacular sight when the entire forest lights up at the same time with the lightening bug synchronization.

While, in this instance, nature figured out that collaboration produces better results than competition, it is counter intuitive to our beliefs or how we are raised that this could be possible for humans.  We continue to believe that we need to shine above everyone else to gain the spotlight.  This belief starts early in our lives and has been around for generations; however, it has been proven, through studies, that over time this obsession with being #1 has strengthened and has had a negative impact on true cooperation and ultimately both personal and organizational performance.

Companies continue to maintain “cooperation”, “collaboration” and “team work” in their corporate values slides; however, establish measurements that are counter to these statements.  For instance, it is very common for a challenge to be created along the lines of “the first team to achieve $100M in revenue receives a special bonus”.  On the surface, this may seem like friendly competition to drive both teams to strive harder to reach the $100M target.  But what if by cooperating the teams could have achieved $200M more quickly or even $250M by identifying additional synergies?

Throughout my career, I have seen examples on both sides of this equation – individualism undermining potential success and true collaboration driving greater success.  While maybe not flashing in 100% synchronization as the Southeast Asia lightning bugs, the teams operate toward common success and support the value of team strength.

In one instance, I was lucky enough to be part of an organization that grew revenues 7X in 4 years.  Additionally, we went from operating at a loss to significant operating margins.  While there were many reasons for this growth – great people, strong market and a leading product, other regions had many of these same elements, but lacked the level of collaboration that we created in our region.  While the corporate culture was more cut throat, we were lucky enough to be a remote region and isolated from that divisive atmosphere.  We knew that we wanted to deliver the highest corporate results, what we often referred to as “big bags of cash” to corporate (in the form of operating margin), and we had our style to drive that success.  Being in the Americas region and part of a UK based company, we were considered “cowboys”.

Our team was built with diverse core capabilities that could operate in unison to continue to deliver sustainable successful weeks, months and quarters.  4 key elements of the culture we built were –

  • Respect – the foundational core value that everything else layered on was respect. We listened to each other’s inputs, exchanged ideas and accepted constructive advice for improvement. Once organizations lose respect within their teams, the core will begin to crumble and put it in a downward spiral.
  • Commitment – each member of the team was committed to achieving our greater purpose and ended up with seeing significant opportunities for their personal growth. The team also experienced personal joy of collaborating.
  • Team Results – by setting a collective team target, made up of a combination of the individual goals with clear responsibilities, the team worked together. Even if an individual focused solely on achieving their personal targets, they may achieve that particular goal, but wouldn’t be specifically recognized until the collective target was achieved.
  • Accountability – as we worked toward the team targets/goals, there was a level of holding each other accountable as well as ourselves individually. Based on having a core value of respect, this was managed in a professional manner, but the reality was that everyone wanted to perform to support the team.

As you build out the culture of your company and team, remember the phenomenal increase in success that the lightning bugs in the mangroves of Southeast Asia achieved by collaborating and operating in unison.  I know you will see significant results.

Clarity – The Most Critical Aspect of a Successful Organization

If I had to pick one word that was most critical to defining and driving the success of an organization, it would be CLARITY.  Clarity is of vital importance to every aspect of an organization at a business and personal level.  Setting the overall direction of a company, roles, and responsibilities, setting goals and recognizing success are all areas that can all be improved with clarity.

Through my experience, I have found that most companies, large or small, suffer from a lack of clarity at some level.  While it may manifest itself in different ways, I believe that clarity is an underlying cause of many challenges.  And, while a major issue, it truly isn’t impossible to overcome.  If companies understand the importance of clarity and drive it across the organization, success will improve.

Here are a few key areas of critical importance to success:

Clarity of:

  • Purpose – By establishing a clear purpose for an organization or company, you drive an understanding of what the company is about and what it will take to be successful. This clarity of purpose can be trickled down throughout the rest of the company and departmental and individual levels.  Each level of the organization should be able to look at the clearly defined purpose of the level above and be able to understand their role in success.  This clarity will also drive a higher level of engagement because people want to know that they are part of a bigger purpose and that what they are doing matters at a broader level.
  • Roles & Responsibilities – Once the purpose of an organization is clear, clearly defining Roles & Responsibilities becomes critical. By having this level of clarity, an organization can operate more effectively and efficiently with less of a chance for overlap and conflict within an organization or across organizational boundaries.  Individuals will have full visibility of the roles of others and know how to help their success and when to lean on them for support.
  • Communications – having clear and direct communications minimizes the confusion in the organization and provides a common understanding across all parties. While everyone has a different communication style, from short one-line messages to long drawn out explanations, it is important to encourage clear messaging.  People should understand if there is action required or if it is for informational purposes only.  If there is any question, then the message isn’t clear enough.
  • Objectives – When setting targets and objectives at the company or individual levels, the more detailed and clear the better. The objectives should be clearly linked to the overall purpose of the organization and/or the role of the individual.  This linkage will drive a higher level of connection and engagement.
  • Accountability – This is a big one that seems to be missing.  Once we have clarity on the overall purpose and visibility of our role in fitting with that purpose, we need to execute to drive success.  Then be held accountable to that execution.  Many companies I have worked with can get to a level of clarity of the purpose, but then fall when it comes to accountability.  Part of a leader’s role is to clearly articulate the expectation of performance and the consequences of not performing.  I will cover that in a later article.

What other areas can you think of that would improve with clarity?  Make sure you make it a point to focus on clarity across your organization and on a personal level – I guarantee you will have a stronger impact and more success.


Constancy and Consistency – part of building an engaging culture

Over the past few posts, we have been writing about employee engagement and ensuring that people are truly connected in the organization – not simply via electronic means (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.).  Additionally we talked about giving employees the autonomy to drive change in the organization by offering a clear vision and purpose across the group.  A third critical area required when building an engaged culture are both constancy and consistency – ensuring that processes is ongoing and is genuinely consistent.

In many instances, the only time that an employee has a true conversation around their performance or the direction of the company is during some type of annual performance/merit review.  Companies rely on these reviews as part of the annual salary treatment program and then put the conversations back on the shelf until the next review cycle.  While the corporate mantra is that they support ongoing development of their employees, the process isn’t consistently managed across the organization.

In order to build a truly engaged organization driven toward success, communication and interaction with the team needs to be an ongoing activity and not simply a prescribed corporate process that must be followed.  It must be a part of the daily activities across the organization and show that leadership is truly “invested” in each individual’s success as well as the profitability of the company.

I recently participated in this annual ritual.  As many members of my team were new, I invited their previous manager to sit in and review performance.  I began with an outline our expectations and how we would collectively contribute to the overall success of the organization.  To my surprise, a number of people took offense to my clarity on ways we could improve and took it as an insult to their performance – even though all of the information pertaining to performance was very good.  What I learned from this process, was that the previous manager never truly outlined expectations and goals for each individual and didn’t manage the process constantly through the year.  While I take this aspect very seriously, the previous manager took the process as an annual edict versus an ongoing engagement process.

While I am not a Seattle Seahawks fan, Pete Carroll seems to follow the philosophy of working with his team on a consistent basis to drive not only their best performance, but also the success of the team.  After his team’s recent win over the 49ers and earning a trip to the Super Bowl, coach Carroll stated the following about what he attributes success to – “It comes down to taking care of the people in your program and making them the best they can be – not giving up on them and never failing to be there for them.”

Here are a few key activities leaders can take to ensure they are constant and consistent in their development of the team:

  • Understand that each person brings a different value to the program – While official job descriptions make each position look “cookie cutter”, as leaders we need to understand that each person brings a unique value to the organization and we need to help each person develop separately to succeed. By understanding the uniqueness and establishing targets & goals that fit the individual, they will become more excited and engaged with their role in driving success.
  • Establish a cadence of updates and communication – Whether weekly or monthly, establish meetings with individuals on your team to discuss progress towards their personal success. Offer personal feedback on strengths and areas to continue to improve.
  • Make it less of a review – Don’t formalize the process and make people feel as if they are under a microscope and need prepare a formal review. Leverage it from a conversational perspective and allow them to drive the message.  This will help them communicate and allow you to understand their concerns and areas of focus.
  • Be there – Make sure that you follow through with your promises and that you are there to support each person individually. The less people feel like a number, the more engaged they become.

In order to drive continuous improvement across your organization, at both the personal and professional levels, you need to be constant and consistent.  By focusing on these 2 key factors, your team will be excited about their purpose and know that you truly care about them as well as the company.  This will improve engagement and performance.

Importance of Social Connection at Work

While it may sound counter intuitive, today’s always connected world requires leaders to focus more on connectivity – social connectivity.  Today’s technology allows workers to be “connected” at all times, however, it is important that you focus on a level of social connection strategy for you and your organization.  Through this “always connected world”, business is becoming more and more flexible with how employees work – working from home, working remote and virtual offices are all concepts that are being adopted in today’s world.  In reality, some successful companies are 100% virtual.  This is great in providing employees autonomy and an ability to set their own hours (as long as they produce results and achieve objectives).  However, it is important to understand that in order to sustain a strong level of productivity, employees need a level of social connection.

Research shows that people need social connections to be productive – actually to survive.  This is important in our work lives as much as it is in our social lives.  In a 2012 article in Psychology Today, Dr. Emma Seppola summarized her studies by saying that social connections “create individuals who have higher self-esteem, are more emphatic to others, and, as a consequence, others are more trusting and cooperating with them.”   While Dr. Seppola’s study wasn’t focused on remote or virtual employees, it does provide a linkage between social connections and positive performance.

In today’s environment, leadership can become too remote from their teams allowing the employees to lose connection.  Not only do they lose the social connection with the organization, they also lose connection to the purpose, strategy and vision of the organization.  Without the ability to have casual conversations at the water cooler or routinely take lunch breaks with different members of the team, employees can quickly become distant.  This distance causes less engagement and therefore, less productivity.

Leaders need to learn to operate differently with a remote organization.  There is a different level of effort that is needed to ensure continued engagement and stimulation.  You can’t simply follow the old rule of “Management by Walking Around” anymore, you need to change the game.

Here are a few ideas to ensure your employees maintain a level of social connection –

  • One on One calls – set a regular cadence of one on one calls with each team member. The purpose of this connection isn’t for the employees to feel like they are being grilled on performance and providing updates, although that can be a part of the conversation.  The purpose of these calls is to simply engage – talk about whatever she wants to discuss.  Ensure they are not structured meetings and are allowed to flow naturally.
  • Call – Don’t Email – it is all too easy to send a quick email to ask a question or provide some guidance to others. However, it is important that you resist this urge for the “simple” and talk to your employees.  Pick up the phone and call.  It is sad to say, but these types of conversations often happen so infrequently, that employees “fear” calls from their management.
  • Encourage employees to directly engage – the social connection doesn’t always mean that leaders need to be a part of the engagement. Leaders should encourage their teams to interact with each other and people from other organizations – in person or over the phone.
  • Video Calls – there is a multitude of free technology on the market that allows for video calls. Take advantage of this technology to have video calls with your team.  The simple addition of seeing the other person leads to even stronger connectivity.
  • Face to Face meetings – if at all possible, make it a point to allocate a budget for face to face meetings.  The problem if you don’t set aside a budget in advance and commit to holding the meetings, it doesn’t happen. This can be difficult due to travel costs and logistics, but if possible, a good face to face conversation is helpful.

It is important for leaders and organizations to change and adapt to the new connected world.  Understand that connected (by technology) doesn’t always mean being connected to the organization and engaged with its success.

Understanding Employee Perspectives is Critical to Success

Establishing a culture of engagement is a competitive advantage for any company.  Creating an engaging organization relies on a number of different factors; however, one of the most critical is gaining and leveraging input from your employees.  It’s not really about if you ask for feedback through surveys, 1:1 conversations, mentoring, etc., it is more about how you respond to the inputs and how it changes your organization.

Leaders want to create organizations that are exciting and great places to work; however, candid feedback from employees can provide enlightening information that may or may not align with the leader’s perspective.  Understanding this detail can be a catalyst to the success of the organization.

Employee surveys are nothing new and organizations have been attempting to take the pulse of the employee base for decades.  However in many instances, those surveys were seen only as HR initiatives by both the employee and management.  They were a necessary evil to comply with an underlying mandate to show compassion around the well being of the employee.  Because of this perception, employees didn’t wholeheartedly participate and the results generally became binders that collected dust on the shelves of management.  Don’t get me wrong, there were people within organizations that took this process seriously; however, without being fully embraced, success was limited.

I remember a time early in my management career, there was a big push to address survey results communicated by the employee base.  One of the executives leveraged what became an overused term of the time – Walk the Talk.  While this became a mantra within the company with a large internal marketing initiative, it really wasn’t embraced by management and soon became another failed attempt of adapting the organization based on input from the employees.

In today’s market you need candid & honest feedback even if it may be controversial.  You want to understand how well employees are emotionally committed and connected to the organization’s vision.  Lastly, it is imperative that employees feel like their input is being considered and leveraged in driving the success of the organization.

In order to ensure that you gather the right feedback, you need to ensure that you provide clarity on your purpose of the survey.  You need to communicate that you are truly looking to improve the overall success of the organization and understand that success at the individual level (personally and professionally) will drive organizational success.  You need to highlight what type of information you are asking for, what you will be doing with the information and most importantly, WHY you are asking for feedback.

Once the survey is completed make sure you identify key areas of focus, actions that will be taken and how you will measure improvement.  Be careful to not overextend yourself by trying to focus on too many things at once.  Be selective of the priority items to ensure that efforts will enhance performance and progress will be made.  Additionally, communicate this information with the team.  Again, it is critical that everyone sees their inputs being considered and leveraged.

Another critical element is the cadence by which you administer the surveys.  Many companies do annual surveys while others do them much more frequently.  If you try to do surveys too often, the leadership team will not have time to influence a difference in the organization.  You need to have time to make a difference … a noticeable difference that employees can recognize.  If you don’t complete surveys at least once per year, it will not be recognized by the employees.  One thing is for sure, it can’t be a ONE TIME activity… you need to measure … take action … measure again.

While the cadence of an official broad reaching employee survey can’t be more than 2 times per year, it is important that the organization continuously gathers input from individuals.  This can be done through a number of ways, including one on one meetings between employees and management, mentoring programs, and casual conversations.

In today’s market, there are a number of online/mobile applications that are designed to measure employee happiness & engagement.  myhappiness ( is one such application that is designed to give individuals the ability to measure their happiness or how burnt out and frustrated they may be.  The application sends out daily notifications to employees to allow them to rate their happiness on a scale from 1 – 100.  It then allows them to rate individual areas of their lives (work, relationships, money, etc.) that are contributing to their happiness level.  Additionally, the individual can write comments on what’s impacting their day – positively or negatively.  This data can be aggregated at an organizational level to begin to give insight to employee happiness and their engagement at work.

No matter what method you use, it is critical in today’s competitive employment market to encourage employee engagement and make sure you are leveraging the information provided.


Leading by Example

In today’s business environment, with the changing attitudes of employees, it is even more important that leaders live the culture that they are expecting from their teams.  Over my career, I have heard the complaint that management wants changes, but their actions don’t match their words.  Terms like “Walk the Talk” have been around for years – trying to articulate that management must live by the words they’re communicating.  But management often operate under the theory of “do as I say and not as I do”.

In order to truly develop the culture you want in your organization, you need to operate with a high level of integrity whereby you are living the message that you are preaching.  This poses a very difficult question for leaders in organizations.  Are you willing to make the changes in yourself and actions that support what you are asking your team to adopt?  If not, your organization will likely fail to achieve the heights you are looking for.  My perspective is that it is even stronger than a “willingness” to change – but that change is a “must”.  As you make the changes in yourself, things will simply begin to show up in others.  Your team is looking to you.

First, you must ensure your vision and direction are crystal clear (see “Does your organization have clarity?”).  Once you have clarity, the following guidelines will help you operate true to your message.

  • Hold yourself accountable to modeling behavior – Nothing is more important than your team observing you doing what you are excepting of them.  To ensure that you are modeling the behavior you are looking for, check yourself.  Make it a simple part of your daily routine to be introspective and ask yourself the question – Am I who I want the team to be?  If you aren’t, then you can identify what changes you need to make and take a step in that direction.  Then ask yourself the same question tomorrow.  Like the changes you are looking for within your team, it may not be immediate.
  • Operate as part of the team – People don’t want an aloof leader that isn’t involved and proves that she understands the complexities of the business.  Be a leader that rolls up the sleeves and is hands on – get involved.  Again, this provides a visible effort on your part to live your expected culture.
  • Help Employees Achieve Success – The more that you mentor and teach members of your team (or encourage others on your team to mentor), the more your team will recognize that you are not only passionate about the success of your company, but also about their success.  While today’s workers like autonomy to be able to tackle their jobs, they also need to be given the tools to master their roles.
  • Be Open to Feedback – Asking for feedback is important, but even more important is being open to feedback and respecting the information you receive.  Too many times, leadership asks for feedback, but spend too much energy justifying their actions.  While you don’t have to act on every piece of feedback, you do need to be open and consider the information you are being provided.
  • Strategic Communication – Communication is important to ensuring continued progress.  By providing strategic conversations and information with your team, they will be more engaged and feel more a part of the organization.  These conversations will help them appreciate the progress the organization is making.  Additionally, it will help them understand the challenges.

Bottom line, it is very easy to dictate culture; however, to have the culture develop and grow, you as a leader must show your willingness to change as well.  Use the example steps above, or find others that fit your style, to ensure that you are proving your willingness to “Walk the Talk”.

Does Your Organization Have Clarity?

Clarity: it guides every aspect of your company from employees and daily activities to investments, long and short term decisions and virtually every facet of the organization.  Without it, success will be minimal.

We often see leaders in organizations that believe their purpose is clear; however, in many instances, it is only clear to them.  They wonder why the organization is struggling to achieve its goals.  These leaders need to begin to peel back the onion to determine if there is truly clarity across the organization.

Clarity needs to start at the top, with a defined purpose of the organization.  By providing clarity of purpose, you establish the basis for which all decisions and activities will be made.  As decisions are made and actions taken, the fundamental question that should be asked is – Does this align with the company’s purpose?  If it doesn’t, then the action shouldn’t be taken and people should move on to more critical issues that support the purpose.

If there is ambiguity in your purpose and too much left for individual interpretation, decisions may conflict with the purpose and may not be aligned with others who have interpreted the purpose as something different.  Activities will be uncoordinated and while they will likely be based on sound business logic, they may not be in line with the organizational objectives.

We often hear the word “silos” in business.  This is when different pieces of the organization are operating separately and truly by themselves.  Silos tend to happen when there isn’t clarity of purpose at the organizational level.  People spin off and begin doing what they “believe” is right without fully understanding the broader impacts.  This often creates conflicting strategies that then compete for the same resources and drive additional inefficiencies.

Organizational roles & responsibilities must also have Clarity.  Without this clarity, people become confused as to what expectations are on them and how they are impacting the overall success.  Without a strong understanding of their individual purpose, people will become less engaged in what they do and thus less effective.  A number of studies show that employees want to be engaged and supporting success.

Clarity of roles & responsibilities is critical not only at the individual level, but also across the organization – having a clear understanding of what others are responsible for.  With this understanding people will know who to leverage and team with to accomplish objectives.  By clearly tying each individual’s purpose to the broader purpose, you will create a stronger and more cohesive team with known objectives and linked goals.

Clarity also helps with accountability across the organization.  With a clear sense of purpose and defined roles & responsibilities an organization and its individuals are more likely to hold each other accountable to achieving goals and objectives.  Too often we see organizations that lack clarity which makes accountability difficult to achieve.  If individuals are accountable, they are more likely to be driven toward success.

If you lead an organization, take a moment to ensure that you are driving clarity across all aspects of your business.  I would even ask you to validate your belief by surveying your team and asking a few simple questions:

  • What is the purpose of our organization?
  • Do you understand your role in driving the success of this purpose?
  • Do you understand the roles of others and how they are linked to the success of this purpose?

While you may find some interesting responses, all of the information you gather will allow you to ensure yourself of clarity.

Communicating in the Virtual World

guest blog by:  Wayne Irwin


With the ongoing evolution of technology, virtual offices and teams are becoming more prevalent in organizations.  This provides a great level of flexibility at both an organizational and personal level.  At a personal level, technology allows employees to work remotely and have a more flexible schedule.  Organizationally, companies can leverage diverse skills that are found in varied geographic areas.

While there are a number benefits to remote offices and virtual teams, there are also nuances that need to be understood in order to take full advantage of what virtual offices can provide.  A key point that individuals and leaders must understand are the differences in communication needs with virtual teams. When teams aren’t physically collocated, you need to be even more effective at communicating.

Communication is an integral piece for the success of any team.  Additionally, developing strong relationships at work is important for one’s overall happiness.  As the nature of organizations change, so should the focus on communication and relationships.

Virtual teams have the ability to communicate through a number of technical medium – email, text messaging, instant messaging/chat, or voice calls.  While this “technical” communication can seem to be efficient, it isn’t always effective and lacks the richness and personal interaction that face to face communication provides.  This can put virtual teams or remote members of teams at a disadvantage.  With this in mind, face to face communications should be used as often as practical.

Keys to effective communication span the in person and virtual worlds; however, the rules become even more critical in a virtual environment.  The following are a few quick rules to keep in mind to enhance the communication in a virtual environment:

  1. Clarity – the meaning of your communication should be easy to understand and leave little open for interpretation.  Have a purpose for your communication that provides clarity to everyone involved.  This can be something that you put in the opening paragraph of an email or used as part of your opening statements on a call, but it provides scope and meaning to your audience.
  2. Concise – get your point across, provide facts & data, and don’t drone on.  Your audience likely will not take the time to follow your message and will quickly lose interest.
  3. Complete – your communication should cover all relevant data points and not leave loose ends.  Incomplete information opens your messages up to being confusing and ineffective.
  4. Confirm – virtual communication doesn’t allow you to “read” your audience and it is easy to assume that your message is being understood.  However, often times, both parties walk away with this understanding – and both are wrong.  Take time to validate that your message is being heard and that you are both on the same page.
  5. Considerate – in today’s world of rapid fire communication, be considerate and minimize replying all or replying with one word answers.

In the end, whether we like it or not, technology is driving us towards a virtual environment.  We all need to look at our communication etiquette to ensure we are being effective along with efficient.  Remembering the 5 “C’s” above will be the initial steps in facilitating better virtual communications.

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