Quick Wins to Improve Team Communication
Regardless of what you're doing, communication is one of the most important skills to constantly improve. Strong communication is at the core of everything we do - either at work or in other areas of our lives. As a BD pro, you probably already know that every individual with whom you work or speak to is going to have their own communication preferences, so creating communication methods which are adaptable and responsive to others' needs and your organization's norms can be an important part of any business development professional's tool kit.
Team communication is critical, but fortunately developing better practices can be relatively easy! Regardless of where you are in the organization, you can set the tone for how your team members communicate with one another.
How does better communication help you build a strong team?
Business development is all about teams. Our core team, our ad-hoc proposal teams, our teaming relationships... it's no surprise that communication is often a proposal's downfall or biggest win!
Good communication leads to better team relationships, clarity in roles and goals, effective decision making, and so much more. Poor communication can result in:
Duplication of effort
Frustration and confusion within the team
Disappointing proposal results
High team member turnover
Low engagement or "checking out"
With the high pressure of most business development jobs these days, this is a situation in which overcommunicating is rarely an issue. Improving team communication begins with you. Practice awareness of your own style and the people with whom you work. Try to be as proactive as possible - answering questions, providing context, practicing transparency.
There are many strategies you can use to improve team communication, whether your team is in the office or fully remote. These tips will help you promote collaboration and better communication.
1. Confront conflicts head on
Too often the big issues begin with a tiny conflict which initially seems inconsequential. For example, one team member's need to shift a deadline impacts the whole team. They may even realize this and apologize. With many of our team members overstretched, it's all too common to have shifting deadlines, so the same individuals may have to shift deadlines again and again. Unless the whole team has the opportunity to communicate about how a shift has impacted their work, they can become increasingly resentful and frustrated over time.
Tip: Establish team norms and teach conflict resolution strategies which address issues quickly, directly, and with respect.
2. Promote bottom-up communication
As much as we try to avoid it, team hierarchies get in the way of great communication. Those who are less likely to speak up and share ideas (often those at the bottom of the team structure or those who were raised with different views on when its appropriate to speak up) are often the voices that we need to hear more of not less of. When you promote a norm of equalized communication, you encourage every team member to communicate opinions, building trust and a sense of ownership in the process.
3. Set standards and norms
Too often, we make assumptions about how communication should work. These assumptions are largely driven by our own communication preferences, and can be really harmful to overall team communication. For example, I'm a proposal manager and I find meetings to generally be less effective and prefer quick emails. The proposal's technical lead, however, is a verbal processor and really benefits from talking through ideas. If I don't discuss communication norms for the proposal team in advance, both the technical lead and I are likely to get frustrated through the process.
Tip: Spend time at every proposal kickoff meeting discussing communication preferences and what the standards and expectations will be for that proposal process. If possible, and you're in a central role like the proposal manager, take initiative to discuss communication with the other central team members even in advance of the kickoff meeting.
4. Tailor meetings to the meeting
Team communication takes place both in individual interactions and in group settings like meetings. Regular team meetings and proposal check-ins are pretty par for the course in our world, but consider how you can use tailor these meetings to better improve communication. Because we're busy people, it's sometimes easy to overlook things as simple as:
Setting a specific agenda and outcome/goal for a meeting
Considering who needs to attend, either as a contributor or as a decision maker
Ensuring attendees have the information needed
Creating space for team members to build relationships
To take it one step further, taking time to invest in tailoring the meetings to the communication styles of those who are attending even further helps ensure that the meeting will run smoothly.
5. Learn from your experiences
Communication styles and preferences are not set in stone. Most likely, as you have grown, your communication preferences have changed. Learning what your preferences are and what seems to work well in different contexts, to achieve different outcomes, and with different audiences will all set you up to be a better communicator in the future.
Tip: If you struggle to be mindful of communication, we can borrow from some of the coping skills our neurodivergent colleagues have used for ages, such as keeping a notebook to document experiences in the moment and reviewing periodically to widely applicable lessons.
Communication is one of the areas where others can really help to disrupt your own biases and assumptions, so learning from each other is very important!