Whenever you put together a group of adults with varying personalities, communication challenges are bound to arise. According to a recent report by The Economist, the most frequently cited cause of communication barriers is different communication styles. And the results can be damaging to not only morale but also your bottom line. The report also stated that respondents say communication barriers are leading to a delay or failure to complete projects (44%), low morale (31%), missed performance goals (25%) and even lost sales (18%)—some worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Furthermore, if you’re working within an agile software team, it likely means that things have to be in constant flow - always on the move, always shifting. Although this allows for higher productivity, you’ll only be successful if you have a solid foundation of communication. Additionally, when you’re up against tight deadlines, rising customer expectations, and quarterly goals to meet - it can make communication all the more difficult. Your team has to know how to talk to one another in order to solve problems faster and keep moving forward.
Within an organization, there are various personalities, experiences, cultures, and motivators to consider. There are a whole host of reasons why two people have difficulty understanding one another and it can feel impossible to diagnose. We’ve all been in those meetings where everyone is talking past each other, rehashing what was said, and explaining what seems to be extremely simple concepts to one person and complex to another.
In short, communication is hard!
But if your team is going to build a successful product, company, and future, you have to find a way to communicate with one another.
One way to approach this is to get a clearer picture of a person’s communication style, which is the number one cause of poor communication. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll suddenly understand one another, but it will provide context and a framework for understanding the most effective communication strategies.
There are several different communication frameworks that exist, but one example we want to highlight is the DISC assessment. DISC is “a non-judgmental tool used for discussion of people's behavioral differences”. Here at ZenHub, we’ve implemented the DISC method in order to be more aware of our different communication styles and become a stronger team. Each team member took a survey that included 28 groups of four statements. For each group of four descriptions, there will be one most like the person and only one least like them. Once the survey is completely, each employee received details on which one of the four personality traits they are: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness.
We sat down with our CEO, Tyler Gaffney, to talk more about how DISC has helped the team.
Q: Why did you choose the DISC assessment over other frameworks?
Gaffney: The main reason was that DISC is much more focused on self-awareness and communication than on labels. The goal is not to label people and put them in boxes, but instead, it’s to facilitate better collaboration. Our reactions may differ, but if we know each other a bit better people don’t take offense to things and we just understand how to get to the end goal, together.
Q: What was the biggest insight after conducting the survey?
Gaffney: There is a lot of data in the DISC so we want to use it as data points and hope it serves as a guide for people as they have communication challenges. They can use it as an equalizer and talk about how their communication styles differ.
I was also really impressed to see how well-rounded we are as a team, and we all learned we can’t make such quick assumptions about what personality traits our colleagues may fall into. The cool thing was that after the assessment people were having side conversations and sharing information.
Q: What value does having a balanced team has in their communication styles?
Gaffney: Anything with diversity - whether its diversity of people, genders, communication styles - it's really important. If people understand the different communication styles and perspectives I think we will look at problems differently and communicate them differently. But that’s also what I love about our well-rounded team. I find different communication styles to be helpful as long as we take the time to understand our differences and be empathetic about how those differences might affect communication.
Q: How are you implementing this insight into your teams?
Gaffney: We are more aware. It provided individual learning and it is helping people understand how they communicate. Also, as new people join, we are able to start from a place of understanding and communicate better from the beginning. It helps establish the framework of how you communicate so that the get-to-know each other phase is faster.
Q: What advice do you have for other companies who want to improve their communication?
Gaffney: Try to understand the communication challenges. A lot of companies know there is a communication problem but they can't diagnose the specific challenges. If they don’t understand the problem they won’t know how to fix it.
Also, it’s important you don’t just understand these challenges from your point of view, but from the team’s perspective as well. Any problem that you have, know what will be the path forward, what are the next steps you need to take. Oftentimes, this requires very direct conversations around the challenges you are seeing. If you know where the problems are and you give ongoing feedback you can improve most of these things.
Strong communication = higher productivity
With 42% of employees stating that communication style is a top cause of poor workplace communication, it’s clear that companies need to move quickly and address this issue. Although companies don’t often like to address these “soft” skills, it’s clear that communication does impact productivity and performance. In other words, how people communicate directly affects your bottom line.
No matter the framework or personality test you conduct within your team, the most important part is addressing communication challenges upfront and coming up with a strategy that addresses the diversity in communication styles.
What frameworks have your team implemented to create cohesion among different communication styles? What have you learned?