We have more communication tools than ever, but working with your team can still feel a lot like a frustrating game of telephone — ring any bells?
Every team is different, but we’ve found that when we classify teams into two communication archetypes, certain common pain points begin to surface. In addition, sometimes teams have unclear or mismatched expectations about which archetype is the norm, which also makes it difficult to communicate.
Let’s dive into these common problems, so you can do something about them.
Know thyself: Ordered or Informal?
Just as teams have different norms for how they process information, make decisions, and work towards their objectives, teams typically adopt one of two communication styles: Ordered or Informal.
Ordered teams prefer structured processes, well-defined channels, and well-maintained documentation in order to minimize miscommunication.
Informal teams thrive on spontaneous discussions and casual conversations, prioritizing flexibility and adaptability.
Problem 1: Unclear expectations
Do you know whether your team is Ordered or Informal? Do you think everyone on the team would have the same answer?
Both styles can be effective, but if everybody on your team isn’t on the same page, you’ll run into issues. An ordered teammate might be waiting for a structured update, while their informal colleague thought they covered it during a coffee chat. Meanwhile, someone might be diligently keeping your team’s documentation up-to-date without realizing no one else on the team relies on it.
👉 What you can do: Make your communication archetype explicit. If your team is more ordered, codify this in a “team norms” document. If your team is more informal, have a conversation and make sure everyone can describe your norms.
Problem 2: Ordered teams who communicate too much and do too little
If you know you’re team is Informal, feel free to skip ahead.
If your team is Ordered, some of these might sound familiar:
- Documents and meetings follow well-defined structures. There is a template for everything. But sometimes you just want to discuss something quickly instead of waiting for a pre-defined meeting or preparing a document.
- Your team invests a lot in making sure information is neatly organized, but sometimes you wonder whether this effort is worth it. It can still be hard to find what you need, especially when you aren’t sure what it is.
- For every hour your spend in a meeting, you need to spend twice as long preparing a meticulous agenda or meeting presentation and sending out structured notes.
👉 What you can do: Add some flexibility to existing structures. You can still do so in an Ordered way. For example, set some expectations around how and when spontaneous or urgent discussions can happen. Make it clear to your teammates when you’d prefer they reach out with a scheduled meeting, a well-written document, or a quick call.
Problem 3: So informal no one knows what’s going on
If your team is Informal, some of these might sound familiar:
- Ownership can be unclear. Responsibility for communicating updates, setting an agenda, following up on agree-to action items is distributed, so sometimes they don’t happen at all.
- Decisions and ideas that don’t get written down are lost in the shuffle. Different people leave a conversation with different ideas of what was agreed-to, and a teammate who wasn’t in the room at all has no idea a decision was reached.
- New teammates and people outside of your team have a hard time communicating with you. They’re not sure who to reach out to or how to get questions answered. With limited documentation, they need a lot of someone’s time to get crucial context.
👉 What you can do: Add structure selectively. For the highest priority decisions and projects — especially those that involve people outside your team — make sure someone is responsible for managing communication around it. They might still prefer to share updates informally, but everyone on the team can trust that they’ll get the update.
Problem 4: A mix of strong individual preferences
Your team has a communication archetype, but what about individuals on the team? We’ve found that typically individuals naturally flex to the team’s preferences (this is also why individual personality tests are not always insightful for teams.)
But if team norms are unclear or there are conflicting strong individual preferences on the team, you might not only run into miscommunication, but direct conflict:
- You feel like there is a frequent tug-of-war around communication styles on the team. Some people are constantly asking for more documentation and structured meetings, while others seem to ignore these rules and guidelines.
- Communication feels not only chaotic, but also overwhelming. Your team has the worst of both worlds. You have quite a lot of communication overhead, like meeting agendas and presentation materials, but you also spend a lot of time fielding ad hoc questions and requests.
👉 What you can do: Set clear expectations. This goes back to Problem 1 above. If you can agree to a set of team norms around communication, individuals on the team won’t need to spend as much mental or emotional energy negotiating those norms, especially if their natural preferences differ from the team’s.
In addition, set expectations for your coworkers when interacting with you specifically. Maybe your team is informal, but you can still let your teammates know your preference for receiving something (anything) written up in advance.