Executive Coaching Connections, LLC

Intuitively, we know communication is important for high-performing teams.

Did you know that communication patterns are actually the strongest predictor of team success?

According to Alex “Sandy” Pentland’s April 2012 HBR article The New Science of Building Great Teams, teams that demonstrate high levels of energy, engagement and exploration outperform other teams:

  • Energy: How team members communicate with one another, and the frequency of their exchanges. Teams whose members balance listening and talking, face each other, and speak with one another (vs. talking only through the leader) perform better. 
  • Engagement: How team members communicate as a group. Teams with relatively equal distribution of energy perform better.
  • Exploration: How connected team members are with other groups. Teams with more external connections tend to be higher performing.


Susan Camberis, ECC’s Vice President of Learning & Organizational Development, recently sat down with Kathy Green, Managing Partner at Executive Coaching Connections, and Karsten Drath, Global ECC Affiliate and Managing Partner at Leadership Choices, to discuss how global leaders can optimize communication with high-performing teams.


Energy: Enhancing 1:1 communication

Trust is a key aspect of interpersonal communication.

According to Drath, trust is built by the quality and frequency of communication, which can sometimes be more limited with global teams. To compensate for this, leaders need a more educated view of technology. By utilizing better technology (virtual breakouts during meetings, for example), leaders can simulate some of the energy created in face-to-face meetings.

Another important aspect is leading inclusively; working with people and cultures from around the world. According to Green, leaders need to be more inclusive – including how and when they schedule meetings with direct reports. Try to rotate meeting times. “Don’t fall prey to talking with some team members more than others.” By planning ahead, leaders can take advantage of time zone differences and stage opportunities.

Building on the idea of leading inclusively, Drath added, “There’s a lot of talk about diversity, but leaders need to really embrace difference.” Managing globally requires more discipline to check-in with people – don’t let efficiency dictate. It can be tempting to cancel one-on-one’s for example, but doing so is a mistake. When you check-in regularly, you create an environment with authentic communication and mutual respect. Ask yourself: How often am I checking-in? Can we really be transparent with one another?


Engagement: Improving team communication

Engagement can be tough to balance for global teams, but there are a number of ways teams can improve in this area.

Invest in face-to-face interaction – at least one meeting annually. Face-to-face meetings increase trust and openness, according to Drath. Pentland’s research confirms this, finding that the most effective communication for teams is face-to-face, accounting for up to 35% of variation in team performance.

Leaders can help team members balance listening and talking by role modeling. “It’s extremely important that leaders role model the behavior they want to see”, according to Drath. Role modeling can also mitigate a common problem for teams: including everyone’s views. “This is a challenge for teams in general,” according to Green. When you’re not hearing from everyone, you run the risk of marginalizing some team members.

One way to promote mutual respect and encourage more balanced interaction is to focus on similarities, according to Drath. For example, if you have four team members (someone from Germany, the Philippines, North America, and South America), it’s easy to focus on what’s different, what divides us. Place more focus on similarities.

And finally, “Don’t have conference calls at midnight,” added Drath. As a leader, you set the tone for what’s acceptable and what’s not. If you have to hold a late night call, check-in with people and tell them it’s OK to take the morning off. Otherwise, people may not do so and assume they’re doing the right thing.


Exploration: Valuing external perspectives

According to Green, one of the most important things a leader can do is help team members utilize systems thinking and recognize interdependencies within and among other teams. Look for ways to leverage one another and the team as a whole. Recognize that every team is a system in its own right. It has a voice and is self-regulating. When a problem occurs, instead of singling out individuals, be willing to explore what may be trying to emerge in the system.

Leaders can also encourage team members to seek outside-in feedback from partner organizations and stakeholders. This strengthens connections and can be done in the context of mission/vision development, goal setting, or other strategic project work. It also increases buy-in from partner organizations.

Ensure every voice is heard, both those in the immediate team, and stakeholders who interact with and affect the team.

Teams may want to set up on-going check-ins or feedback loops with key stakeholders or sponsors. This keeps lines of communication open and helps ensure the team is staying current on what’s happening inside and outside of the organization. Seeking and reporting out on feedback can be a great development opportunity for high-potential team members.

Communication is critical to building high performing teams. Enhance your communication patterns, and enhance your team’s ability to succeed.

For more communication and leadership insights, follow us @ECC_Coaches, @CoachKjgreen, @KarstenDrath.


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