Improve Group Communication with These 4 Science-backed Tactics

Andy Cook
June 10, 2020
group communication

Mediums of group communication are constantly evolving, especially in turbulent times like these. Gone are the days when you could only meet with your team in person. In fact, even before the COVID-19 crisis turned Zoom into our modern-day conference room, most team meetings required video chat. According to Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work Report, 67% of companies had a remote workforce that made up between 26% and 100% of their entire workforce.

companies with a remote workforce

However, even though these mediums of communication are always changing, the principles of group communication will always stay the same. After all, we are, first and foremost, social creatures. And the pillars of human psychology haven’t changed since Caesar ruled the Roman Empire.

As a team leader, facilitating healthy, productive communication is crucial for building a strong bond between your team members, coming up with the best ideas, and executing them at a high level. To help you build good habits with your team, check out these four science-backed tactics.

group communication - come to a consensus

1. Come to a Consensus

In 2012, researchers from the University of Arizona’s communication department wanted to find out which variables influenced decision-making within a group. So, they sent out a survey to 269 members of the North American Quitline Consortium (NAQC) and asked them to rank the importance of the things that determined whether they would adopt and implement new smoking cessation consulting services.

They discovered that coming to a consensus was the most effective way to adopt and implement these new services. A big reason behind this is that the more people you get to agree upon and invest in the decisions that your team makes, the more likely they are to make these decisions happen.

Ideas sourced from a bigger group also tend to be higher in quality because more people brainstorming means more cognitive diversity. In fact, supervisors of a publicly traded corporation rated their employees who were able to participate in the decision-making process as more creative.

On the flip side, the same research from the University of Arizona’s communication department revealed that assigning an individual decision-maker wasn’t effective in adopting and implementing new services. Calling a meeting to discuss the best path forward with a group, then making the decision on your own, can come off as authoritarian and bureaucratic. That perception won’t inspire anyone to create change.

To make sure that your team can come to a consensus, put your ego aside and relinquish some of your decision-making power. After all, your team is the one on the front lines.

Also, consider allowing your team to make decisions anonymously through a Google Form, so they don’t succumb to groupthink and choose the most popular idea instead of the most innovative one. All you have to do is jot down the options, create a Google Form, and send it to your team after the meeting.

group communication - encourage everyone to share their thoughts

2. Encourage Everyone to Share Their Thoughts

In a typical meeting, you’ll find that the extroverts can dominate the discussion while introverts stay quiet in the corner. This psychological phenomenon is called evaluation apprehension, where introverts are less likely to share ideas because they’re afraid of being judged, which can lead to a lower quantity, diversity, and, in turn, quality of ideas during your meetings.

But contrary to popular belief, you don’t necessarily need to require every member of your team to share an idea out loud to combat evaluation apprehension. Going that route could still trigger evaluation apprehension in your introverted team members, prompting them to share a more conservative idea.

Instead, consider asking all of your team members to brainstorm ideas on their own asynchronously and then privately submit them. Not only will it help your introverted team members shine, but it can also generate a larger number of higher-quality ideas. In fact, according to a study of over 800 teams, brainstorming alone, compared to in a group, enables teams to come up with a higher quantity and quality of ideas.

You can then come to a consensus by conducting an anonymous poll to see which idea your team deems most innovative.

group communication - respect everyone's opinion

3. Respect Everyone’s Opinion

Another way to stifle group communication is to discourage people from speaking up by ridiculing their ideas, especially the members of your team who are prone to evaluation apprehension.

This is a classic case of negative reinforcement — ridicule, intentional or not, punishes people for expressing their thoughts, which will prevent them from speaking up in the future.

To avoid ridiculing your team members’ ideas and, more importantly, hurting their feelings, first try to fully understand their perspective. Their elaboration might provide some additional insight that turns an average idea into a breakthrough one.

So, give each of your team members a chance to make their case for their idea during the meeting. If you end up having to reject the idea, lead off with a positive remark about it, and then gently explain why you need to pursue other paths.

group communication - make a decision based on your organization's values

4. Make a Decision Based on Your Organization’s Values

According to the same study from the University of Arizona, the new smoking cessation services that aligned the most with the NAQC’s organizational values were most likely to be adopted and implemented. In other words, tying your decisions with your organization’s values is the best way to put effective new strategies in place.

Your company’s mission and values often help motivate your team to do their best work. So, tap into this motivation by walking the walk — and not just talking the talk. \

For instance, one of Wistia’s core values is long-term company thinking. But when they found themselves solely focusing on short-term revenue growth, running at a loss doing so, and ultimately losing top talent because of it, they decided to revert back to the strategy that scaled their company in the first place — a creatively driven, long-term approach.

To do so, they took on $17.3 million in debt to give them some breathing room and reorient their priorities, and, as of now, they’re growing at an annual rate of 40% and turning a profit again.

However, to make a decision based on your organization’s values, you need to ensure that everyone on your team actually knows them. You can achieve this by covering your organization’s values during employee onboarding and regularly discussing them. But don’t just go over what they are. Dive into why they exist. Your team will be more likely to buy into them and operate by them.

If you haven’t defined your core values just yet, we have you covered. Learn more about Operating Principles: What They Are and How to Use Them or download our workshop agenda below to define your core values with your team.

Facilitating Productive, Healthy Group Communication

Facilitating healthy, productive group communication is a daunting task, especially since many teams have gone remote today. But if you can start leveraging these four science-backed tactics, your team will be able to communicate effectively with each other, whether it’s through a video call, a Slack channel, or an in-person meeting.