Training, Education, and Communication
Communication is the process of delivering meant information from one person or group to another. Miscommunication can limit productivity, cause frustrations, and can even lead to hazards. So, understanding how to communicate well is important for all facets of the work place.
There 9 aspects of communication and group dynamics that we will discuss:
- Refocusing group discussions that wander off topic
- Techniques to establish group priorities
- Multidisciplinary teams for complex projects
- Achieving common goals in multidisciplinary teams
- Effective methods to facilitate teams to achieve desired objectives
- Nonverbal cues that signal conflict or distrust in a group setting
- Conflict management within a group
- Importance of mentoring
Refocusing group discussions that wander off topic
In group discussions or projects, it is easy for the group to wander off topic or begin discussing a tangential aspect of the task at hand. The facilitator should not take this personally, but should view it as a natural process. There are several techniques that can be used to refocus the discussion: Point out the agenda and the time allotted for each task, and make sure the group knows that all of the agenda must be accomplished in the time provided. Don’t be afraid to say to the group, “That’s an interesting idea, but not completely relevant to what we are discussing here,” and then refocus the discussion where it left off before the wandering. If it’s close to a scheduled break time, cut into the discussion and say it’s time to take a ten minute break, and then when everyone reconvenes, the facilitator can refocus the discussion. Prepare activities the group can engage in periodically so that the tasks are varied and provide opportunities for different types of learning and interaction. If the group starts to wander off topic, bring out one of the prepared activities to refocus the energy of the group.
Techniques to establish group priorities
Once a team working in a group has done the hard work of brainstorming ideas, it then becomes important to prioritize the ideas into important areas that can be acted upon. No organization will be able to do everything all at once. The following are some methods to rank ideas according to priority: Give each person the list of ideas or actions, and ask them to each rank five of them in order of importance to tackle. The ideas that receive the most votes from team members can be ranked and some consensus achieved. Set up a simple two-by-two matrix with How easy to do on one axis and How important to do on the other. Put a dot on the matrix where each idea or task falls; the results can be used to see a visual representation of the relative importance of each task and how difficult it will be to accomplish.
Multidisciplinary teams for complex projects
A complex project, by nature, involves many considerations and aspects for a successful completion. It is essential to assemble a multidisciplinary team to ensure that all aspects of the project are carefully considered and accounted for. Each person or group on a multidisciplinary team provides a particular expertise in a project. For example, a new product line will require input from facilities, engineering, sales, accounting, operations/production, and environmental health and safety. Each person on the team will ensure that his or her specialty is accounted for and planned for to ensure nothing is overlooked in the implementation. From a professional development viewpoint, members of the team can learn from one another to broaden their skill set and scope of knowledge.
Achieving common goals in multidisciplinary teams
Working with a multidisciplinary team can be a challenge, especially when the team is from very different backgrounds and likely has different issues they believe are important to address. An effective approach to starting out in a positive way is to first hold introductions and to have everyone give a brief discussion of the expertise they bring to the project. Then, it is important that the group as a whole spend some time defining the scope of the project and the desired outcomes. Included in this discussion must be a timeline that states how long the team has to accomplish its goals. Finally, the team needs to set ground rules for their interaction; for example, the team may state that a person cannot be interrupted, or that they will observe time limits on speaking time, or that everyone must be on time, or that people must be fully engaged in the process and not checking their email during the meetings. This type of preliminary work and setting of expectations can get a multidisciplinary team off to a constructive start that enables the various skills and talents to be maximized into more than the sum of its parts.
Negotiation skills are important in many workplace scenarios, not just salary negotiations. There are several elements of an effective negotiation. First, be clear in your own mind about what you’d like to achieve in the negotiation. Put yourself in the other person’s position so that you can understand what they want from the negotiation. During the negotiation process, really listen to what they are saying. Validate what they are saying by acknowledging it. Don’t be afraid to state what you would like to have the outcome be. Be creative with the proposed solutions to the negotiation; for example, in a salary negotiation, it may be possible to negotiate increased vacation time in lieu of increased salary. Always try to make the outcome of the negotiation a win-win in which each party feels they are getting a fair deal and most of what they want. To that end, it helps to start the negotiation asking for more than you are ultimately willing to settle for. And take your time in the negotiating process and don’t be afraid to walk away for a time and come back to it later.
Effective methods to facilitate teams to achieve desired objectives
Team facilitation is an important ingredient to ensure that the team achieves its desired objectives. It is important that the team feel comfortable working together and have a basic understanding of each other and the overall objective. The facilitator can use icebreaker activities to allow the team members to get to know one another. This can even be beneficial when the team members know one another, as the icebreaker can be used to allow them to learn something about one another that they don’t already know. The facilitator should also do periodic check-ins with the group to provide feedback on how they are progressing toward their objective. Small group activities should be interspersed with whole group activities because some people are more comfortable speaking one-on-one or in smaller groups. Techniques such as using Post-it notes to group ideas into common themes can be used to guide a group toward summarizing what appear to be disparate ideas.
Nonverbal cues that signal conflict or distrust in a group setting
In a group setting, there may be participants that do not agree with the direction the group discussion or decision making is taking, but do not feel comfortable expressing these thoughts outright. However, it is usually quite difficult for people to completely hide their true feelings on a topic if one pays attention to nonverbal cues and body language. Signs of a person’s disagreement or conflicting opinion include sitting back away from the group, crossing their arms over their body, rolling their eyes, or even getting up and walking away in the middle of a discussion. People may also divert their attention away from the task at hand by checking their e-mail. When these cues are observed by the group facilitator, it is important to build in opportunities for neutral discussion of a topic and to re-engage the participants into the task.
Conflict management within a group
Whenever groups of people engage in decision making or change, there is likely to be some kind of conflict. Conflict is not necessarily a negative aspect of group dynamics if it is managed properly and channeled into a positive outcome. In a group endeavor, it is important to first set ground rules for communication and to set expectations for what the group is to accomplish. Appropriate ground rules for communication include the following:
- Each person is entitled to voice his opinion.
- When someone is speaking, other group members must pay attention.
- State whether the group will make decisions based upon consensus
or majority rule.
- No put-downs or personal attacks are allowed.
Should conflict arise, it is important to stay calm and focused on the actual issue. It is also important for group members to feel that they are being heard and listened to. To convey this, the moderator can use phrases such as “What I hear you saying is…” to be sure that the group understands the various points of view. When people have been given an opportunity to voice their concerns and points of view, the moderator can then seek to define areas of agreement and commonality and, from there, negotiate a path forward to accomplish the group’s objectives.
Importance of mentoring
Mentoring is the process of obtaining career advice and guidance from a person in a similar career path who is farther along in his or her career than the worker is. A good mentor has experience in the field and can help to foster both one’s professional development and create advancement opportunities. Sometimes a person’s boss can be a mentor, but often this is a conflict of interest because a boss may not want to lose an employee to another company for him or her to take an advancement opportunity. For this reason, professional societies or previous bosses may be better sources for a mentor and can better serve. A good mentor can recommend skill development paths, make recommendations for future job opportunities, advise on work conflicts, and help one identify what career path to pursue.
People who take on mentoring roles to junior associates provide an invaluable benefit to the people they are mentoring. However, they will also achieve benefits for themselves and their careers. They will be provided the opportunity to reflect upon their career path and what worked for them and what didn’t, which may influence their thinking on where they would like to still grow in their career. Providing recommendations to mentees can also broaden their professional network; it is often easier to inquire about opportunities for someone else than for oneself. Providing mentoring can develop one’s interpersonal and listening skills, and these skills will be useful in many aspects of both personal and professional life.
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