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For those of you reading this, I’m sure the topic of communication sounds like a dull HR department PowerPoint you wish you could call in sick for. As boring as communication sounds, I can firmly say from experience that it can literally erode the foundation of an organization should it be left unaddressed. I believe our ability to communicate is a direct reflection of our own intelligence while how we communicate among our colleagues reflects the harmony of an organization. As such, we gotta give it the respect it deserves.
While we all believe in the importance of communication, very few of us take the time to define it as a staff or even objectify what it means to be effective in the organization. I’ve had the privilege to work with many amazing folks across a variety of sectors, whether they were in the collegiate field, professional field, or simply the high school sector. Regardless of where we were on the spectrum, communication became a foundational focus point that we learned needed just as much calibration and attention as any strength program did. It couldn’t simply be left to its own devices by the wayside.
From my experience, improving communication comes down to 5 key areas:
In the coming paragraphs, I’ll share some thought-provoking questions and strategies that we found helpful when looking to improve communication across the board and unify staff on all levels (and in all roles) of the organization. As always, this isn’t the end all be all; you know your role and organization best. Do what you will with the information and proceed accordingly.
It’s important to understand who makes up the organization and everyone’s respective roles within it. This could include everyone from the Athletic Director down to the equipment managers. Make it a priority to get to know everyone you’ll be working with and their role with your team. For example, getting to know the medical staff and physiotherapists of your group. Having a positive rapport can only make things easier, especially should issues arise (we all know they will).
Learn who you report to and their expectations of you in your role within the group. If there is a chain of command, get to know where information flows so as to better identify an issue should a link get broken. Spending a little extra time getting to know everyone can pay dividends down the road, especially if you need to call in for their support. Make time to introduce yourself and explain a bit about what you do and how you support the group.
This is one of the most important, yet often overlooked, questions for any organization. If we are to communicate effectively as a whole, there needs to be a common understanding of what communication is. This includes what communication looks like when it is working AND when it breaks down.
If possible, gather all relevant members of staff or of the organization and have them define what communication means to them. Ask what methods of communication work for them. Whether it be through email, video chat, phone calls, or in-person meetings, there should be some understanding of how the team can best relay relevant information effectively.
If you get a chance to address other members of staff, I recommend giving the group honest examples of what good communication and poor communication look like for you. This will help better clarify terms and provide insight into situational awareness. Describe examples of when a team worked well together and what instances required support. Describe examples of when communication broke down and what that looked like. Inform them of the end result and whether or not there was an improvement. I’ve found situational examples to lead to the most effective change; use them if you can.
Finally, create funnels for effective communication across the team. Whether this is group chats, email threads, or video meetings, there needs to be an avenue to easily relay information quickly and to the appropriate members of staff. There is nothing more frustrating than having breakdowns in communication that trickle down to the players or athletes (eg: having scheduled lifts they weren’t made aware of, having film sessions changed last minute, etc.). Not only does this create in-house chaos, but it also degrades the respect players and members of the team have for the organization. Strive to create a culture of unity, not divisiveness.
Though it may be uncomfortable, there needs to be a very transparent means of communicating disagreements or conflicts within the organization. Now, this can get extremely tricky, especially when it comes to respecting those on the chain of command. There needs to be a level of respect for those in charge, BUT there should equally be respect for the role you play within the organization. After all, we should be striving for a common goal and everyone has a part to play.
I found it useful to define priorities for the athletic season and timelines for when priorities shift. For example, an off-season might see the strength staff take precedence over sport coaches for a certain time of the year before shifting back closer to pre-season. That’s not to say sport coaches won’t be involved, but rather the emphasis of their involvement might shift slightly and temporarily. Regardless of how you define the importance of what you are doing and then find a way to make it transparent to everyone involved and help them understand why.
Finally, there will be times when a solution won’t come to fruition as smoothly as we would like. In these instances, I would delegate a mediator or neutral member of staff to hear both sides. Sometimes, they may come up with a third option or simply hear with a clear mind the better option. Should there be a chain of command, do your best to come to a common understanding or compromise. At the end of the day, they will have the final say and it would be a poor reflection to undermine authority. Unless you feel there is firm cause to go over your supervisor’s head, look to negotiate and walk away amicable with the result.
While this may seem like a smaller topic, I think it deserves some attention. I’m not a fan of meetings myself, especially when the information being relayed could have simply been put into an email. However, there are times when having all relevant members of staff present will be necessary to ensure smooth operations moving forward.
First, set an agenda for the meeting and only ask relevant members of staff to attend. Ensure you outline exactly what questions you wish to discuss and whom you’d like input/ideas from. This will ensure members of the team are prepared to contribute and that they feel their time is respected. Whether it be looking for feedback, input on current projects or simply setting tasks for completion, make sure it is made very transparent well in advance.
Next, set a time for the meeting. Do your best to keep it under an hour or so if possible. I’ve found spending any longer in a meeting becomes detrimental and exhausting; people begin fading and contributions become more distilled. When making your meeting agenda, set an approximate time for discussion for each topic so as to keep items on track. Should you need a bit more time, either agree to have them email you further information at a later date or ask members of the meeting to bump less important items.
Finally, finish a meeting with a brief recap and timelines for completion. This will keep everyone accountable and transparently communicate what needs to get done and when. Once business has concluded, I recommend telling everyone some positive points or excitement for things moving forward. Morale is crucial when it comes to team function; don’t underestimate what a few kind words and positive energy can do.
While it may seem like a minuscule detail, I’ve found communication to make or break teams and organizations. Remember, the small hinge swings the big door; the more in sync every member of staff is, the better the machine will run.
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