Productive Team Communication


Dale Cyphert, PhD; © 2009

Team Communication Processes

As you join any organization, you will enter team situations that are already underway, but an easy way to understand much of a team’s communication is to think in terms of its development process.  Productive team communication is built in a series of stages, each of which includes several important communication components: forming the teamgetting acquainted, defining the team's task,  organizing the work communication, and ongoing management processes.

Work Team Documents 

Over the course of the project, team documents will record all aspects of the project, and generally the team results will communicated to others.  Regardless of a team's actual outcome, its results can't be known or measured unless they are effectively communicated to others.  Typical documents include user documentation, and transfer documents.

Collaborative Work Communication

All teams are engaged in collaborative work, and all teams are collectively responsible, but there are some special tasks involved when a team is involved in creating documents or presentations.  Special task steps include strategic communication planning, a collaborative editing and review process, and coordinating the final message delivery.











Creating the Team












A note about social roles:  Considerable research has been done on the various social or facilitative roles that individuals typically play in a group. One person might become a "leader" because she has expert knowledge about the task.  Another individual might play a "relationship maintenance role" because  he has a patient, empathetic, or playful personality.  These can be important aspects of the interpersonal communication that occurs in group settings, but they function independently of the task roles that are required for completing a work project.   Our knowledgeable person playing the "leader" role could be responsible for project tasks related to obtaining or sharing knowledge, but could just as easily be the person best suited for data analysis or outsourcing tasks.  In fact, many social roles are ideally played by all group members as the situation demands.  Everyone should learn relationship management skills and meeting facilitation skills, for instance, so that all team conversations and meetings are optimally effective.


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Talking about Resources and Roles

Just as an individual would, before beginning any project an effective team must identify and locate the necessary resources.  Will the project require information from another department or from a library?  Will the task require special software or the services of a programmer to complete some parts of the analysis?  Will the team need to allocate a large amount of some member’s time to write up the results?

Because a team must coordinate this resource identification process among several individuals, a comprehensive conversation about resources will be crucial to its ultimate success.  Sometimes, it is difficult for team members to talk about the necessary resources because the group is unsure of how to do the task in the first place.  Even so, the team should come up with a general list of job requirements by a) referring to past groups' documentation about similar projects, b) researching the best practices for such a project in the business literature, and c) brainstorming with organizational members about the special situations that are likely to come up in this specific situation.  

The following checklist can be used to guide a team’s communication about resources.  If an answer to a question is “we don’t know,” don’t ever assume the resources won't be needed.  This just means the group’s first responsibility is to find out more about how to do its task!

  1. Task Resources Has someone in the group done this kind of task before, or do you have access to a guideline for doing it? Do you have the skills among you that are required to do the task?  Will you need to hire, borrow or trade for expertise in some area?  If you are expected to learn some concepts or skills in order to do this job, do you know where to get that training or experience?  When will it be available?  Do you have team members who enjoy and are good at the various elements of the job to be done?  
  2. Information Resources Will you need factual information to do this job? Is there research on some aspect of the subject that needs to be performed?  Will you need access to files, the Internet, a library or specific people who have relevant knowledge?  Is any of the information restricted? Available on a limited time schedule? Will the information need to be reformatted, analyzed or censored before it can be used? Do you have group members who know how to access all the information required? or, will you need training or help to get everything you need? 
  3. Administrative Resources What office equipment, space or supplies will you need to get the job done?  Do you need secretarial, programming, or accounting support?  Do you have access to necessary computers, software and sufficient time to do the work?  Is calendar or project management software available to help you track the job?  If not, do you have someone in the group with sufficient project administration skills to keep track of the task you will be doing?
  4. Relationship Resources Working together will require a variety of relationship maintenance, conflict resolution, and general “people” skills.  Has everyone in the group developed these skills, or is there a mentor available to help you learn them?  An important group resource is shared norms: do you all agree on what “quality work” or “fair share of effort” means?  Do you all understand “how meetings are done around here”? Do you have common, complimentary or contradictory goals?  If you don’t already have shared norms, will you have the time and guidance needed to create some? 
  5. Communication Resources Do you have access to phones, email or other communication devices needed for effective project administration?  Do you have a space for meetings with tables, white board or flipcharts and note-taking equipment?  Is there someone who can take minutes?  Do you have the equipment, skills, and time to create the documentation, presentations or status reports required by the project?
Once all the needed resources are identified, the team will assign securing them as the responsibilities of specific individuals.  Usually, team members will take on a primary role that defines they kind of resources for which each will be responsbile.  For example, a range of writing and editing tasks might be identified, and a team member with particularly good writing skills will be designated as the team's documentation specialist.  Or, an individual with excellent relationships with key suppliers might be designated the team procurement specialist.   In a small team, a single individual might take on several key roles, or several indivdiuals could take on subsets of a very large role in some very complicated projects.    At the end of the process, though, it should be clear how each individual member of the team is expected to contribute to the overall project.

A NOTE TO STUDENTS  

Whatever the work arrangement, working in a business team is more complex than getting together with a group of fellow students to complete a case study or create a presentation.   The principles here might seem to be unnecessary for getting a simple class project completed, but it pays to remember that these are designed to work in a much more complicated business environment:

Business groups are more varied.  They include people not just from your own group of friends or college department, but people from all over the company with many different jobs, and even from all over the country…or the world! 

Business tasks are more complicated.  There isn’t just one decision to be made or one case to be studied, but a mix of problems, priorities, and projects. Sometimes people need different things out of the same project, or the team is trying to do several different unrelated things at the same time.

Members come and go.  Sometimes people try to become members of a team, and the team doesn’t want them.  Other teams need the expertise of individuals who refuse to become permanent members. Maybe a critical team member gets promoted right in the middle of a major project.  Not everyone ever attends every meeting, or the team might be scattered around the country, working by phone, fax and email. 

Business groups are inescapable.  Some people report being part of 20 or more teams, all requiring time and attention and coordination.  There is no way to dissolve a work team at the end of a semester, hoping to have a “better team” next time.  Instead, the team has to do the same kind of project over and over and over, and effective employees can’t afford not to figure out how to make their teams productive.


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Getting Acquainted

A sense of team identity and cohesiveness among team members is a key factor in group satisfaction and productivity.  Any team will be more productive when it spends at least a short period of time getting acquainted before jumping into its task.  In a large, formal team situation, a well-run kick off meeting is an excellent forum to meet each other and begin to develop a sense of common goals and team identity (Schwalbe, 2000).  Even if your team is a short-term, informal group, though, spend some time communicating with each other in a “social” way to get acquainted with each others’ goals, talents, and personalities. 

As with any interpersonal relationship, getting off “on the right foot” makes all the difference between success and failure.   Many people will judge the quality of a group on the basis of its cohesiveness, camaraderie and group identity, calling a “good group” one in which people get along, even though getting along has no direct effect on team productivity (Miranda & Bostrom, 1999 110). 

Since business teams are supposed to be focusing on productivity, it might seem like a waste of time to focus on social relationships, but remember from Chapter Five that this approach is likely to guarantee trouble!   Even though it is an indirect relationship, the ability of team members to get to know each other as complete, social human beings is crucial to the team’s eventual productivity.

You will be willing to spend more time interacting if the atmosphere is pleasant and sociable (Barker, 1991), which will lead to more participation in team activities and a better outcome (Tullar & Kaiser, 2000).  The team members will interpret those pleasant feelings as cohesiveness, a rather vaguely defined sense of attraction and togetherness (Evans & Dion, 1991; Langfred, 1998 125; Shaw, 1981), which leads to the real heart of team productivity, an honest desire on the part of team members to cooperate and work hard to do whatever the rest of the group wants to accomplish (Keller, 1992; Nixon, 1979; Prapavessis & Carron, 1997; Whitney, 1994).

Of course, just liking each other does not guarantee productivity (Kelly & Duran, 1991).  Nor do the individual group members have to like each other for the group as a whole to become cohesive (Hogg, 1993).  Getting acquainted does involve a few key elements, though, when the point is to create good working relationships:  

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Defining the Task

Once your group of individuals has become a cohesive team, you will be more motivated to get the job done, but success requires another key step:  you need to “understand together” exactly what the task is.  A lack of goal setting and task definition is one of the key reasons groups fail (Kettlehut, 1991).

Understanding a task can actually be rather difficult.  Some students, for example, think of themselves as very “task oriented” because they really, really want “good” grades and are willing to work “really, really hard” for them.  That kind of high motivation is a good thing, but it doesn’t really help a person undertand the specific steps that must be taken to get those good grades. 

The student who actually gets good grades translates the vague general goal of “good grades” into specific, operational plans: 

“I want to get a B or better in Cost Accounting by doing all the homework and identifying areas to ask questions about during the study session before each test.” 

This makes it easier to set up a schedule to allows time to get the work done, provides a benchmark for success, and helps the student pinpoint the places where he or she will need to access outside resources (i.e. the professor’s study session).

A group situation is similar, but multiplied by five or six minds.  The team not only needs to make sure that its goal is operationalized into specific task steps, but every member of the group must clearly understand both the goal and the steps in the same way.  Not only that, there is probably a client or boss whose understanding of the task is more important than anything the team thinks! 

The step of clearly defining goals is not simply a motivational conversation to get the team pumped up.  This is a conversation about translating general desires into specific, concrete tasks, deciding what your team’s deliverables will be, and determining the success criteria that you will use to measure your team’s productivity.   Several typical documents insure that the team agrees on its task, and that the team agrees with its external stakeholders on the specifics of the outcome:  a team charge, a team mission, and a memo of understanding.

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Create a Task List.

Every job that requires several people is complicated enough to require several steps.  These might be sequential steps, like the to-do list you’d follow in planning a party, or they might be components that need to be put together, like a blueprint for assembling a bicycle.  Often, as with both parties and bicycles, some of the steps could be done in any order, but others must be done in a certain sequence in order for key decisions to be made on time or for parts to fit together properly.  You probably will not create a complete task list for the entire project in your first meeting, but ultimately, every aspect of the team’s job must be broken down into tasks:  concrete, observable duties, activities or behaviors that a single person can do in a single sitting. 

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Determine Project Deliverables. 

The term “deliverables” is a good one if it reminds you that your team goal must be translated into something “real” that you could carry or mail to someone else.  Business teams are never created to sit around and chat and come up with great ideas.  They are created to produce something for someone.  Whether the product is a car or a marketing plan or a customer response decision, your team must deliver something…the car, a report, a memo…to someone.  Certainly the marketing ideas inside that report are the most important part of it, but your team will be more productive if you decide early in the process exactly how those ideas are going to be packaged for delivery.  You’ll be able to see more clearly what steps need to be taken, and you’ll be able to talk more productively about what needs to be included.

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Define Success Criteria.

Group success can be defined in many ways, and without a specific conversation about what your team wants to accomplish, you are likely to find yourselves thinking you’ve done a great job just because you came up with some great ideas, or enjoyed your meetings, or didn’t create any enemies in the sales department.  In business teams, in particular, it’s important to realize that how you feel about your group is not as important as whether or not you meet the expectations of your client or boss.  As with everything else about the task definition, this will mean defining your expected outcome in terms of some concrete, measurable standards.  The specifics can vary from project to project, but the basic parameters will include

o   a time frame:  How soon does this project need to be completed?  If something comes up, is timeliness more important than cost or quality? 

o   the cost:  How much is the client willing to pay for this product, in terms of money, time and other resources?  If some part or step looks like it’s going to cost more than the budget allows, should the money (or time) be spent anyway, or should a solution be found that might take more time or reduce quality?

o   the quantity required:  How big, how much or how many are expected?  Will this be a one-page report of a few ideas, or a fifty-page analysis of every suggestion made over the past year?  Is the emphasis on generating the most possible alternatives and choosing one, or is the team expected to find the quickest “satisficing”solution?

o   the quality desired:  Does the boss want the team to produce a great widget, a mediocre widget, or a “down and dirty” widget?  Perhaps more important, does everyone agree on what a great widget looks like?  Has anyone seen one?  If it turns out that it costs a lot to make a great widget, will an okay widget do?  

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Team Charge

The team charge is the official statement of the team's task.  This might be a memo from the boss or a letter from a client, but it can also be a statement of purpose that a team creates for itself.   The charge is not a complete description of the project or task, which comes later.  The charge often includes an articulation of how the team’s task fits into the organization’s broader goals. It provides “boundaries—in terms of constraints on the team as well as areas of autonomy” (Yeatts & Hyten, 1998).   Every member of a work team should be able to summarize the team's charge in a sentence, and the team charge will typically be provided as the first line of the team's mission and the first paragraph of the team's memo of understanding..

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Team Charter or Mission

When a team has been formed with a complicated or politically sensive charge, or when the team will be responsible for meeting a somewhat open-ended goal, the  charge will sometimes be expanded into a complete team vision, charter, or mission statement, a team’s own statement of goals and objectives.  Ideally, a team sets its own specific goals in cooperation with management (Yeatts & Hyten, 1998), although self-organized or self-managed teams might create a mission independently.  

Even when a team seems to have been given a clear, specific, and uncomplicated task, it should spend some time creating a restatement of the goals in the members' own words, paying special attention to

The document should clarify any constraints such as budget limitations, delivery schedules, quality standards, legal restrictions, or technical requirements and clarifies areas in which the team has autonomy (Yeatts & Hyten, 1998, p. 119).  Teams with a clear mission have higher performance than those without, as they are able to decide more effectively how to spend their efforts (p. 120), and less likely to experience negative conflict within the team (p.121).

The process of creating the team charter can be lengthy.  Often the team will need to meet together several times, gathering information about the task from a variety of sources before it can come to a clear agreement about what is involved.  Usually, a representative will meet with a supervisor or client, as well, verifying that the emerging team goals are compatible with the organizational or client goals.

As a finished document, a team’s charter can take many forms.  Sometimes a team simply keeps the informal meeting notes as part of the project records, using them as the basis for the more formal external documents that will follow.  Other teams have their missions engraved on plaques, pens or mouse pads and distributed to all members as a method of increasing both team identity and member motivation.  Often a team charge will appear as the first page for the final project documentation.

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Memo of Understanding
As soon as the team has defined its task, a document is usually sent to the client, supervisor, or major stakeholders to verify that everyone understands the task in the same way.  The memo of understanding can be thought of an expansion of the team charter, including now the specific charge, a full statement of context and goals, as well as a summary of the specific deliverables, the timeframe for their delivery, and any expectations the group might have regarding resources.

The document could take the form of a memo, a binding contract, or a series of substantive emails that clarify key details.   Whatever the format, its key function is to set up a feedback loop with the group's external stakeholders, typically a boss or client, but sometimes other organizational or public groups as well.  That is, the memo is not a document created and filed by the group; it is a communication with one or more people outside the group.  In many cases, the Memo of Understanding is signed or initialed by the group's client or stakeholders and functions as a contract between the two parties.

The Memo of Understanding should be designed so that several key topics are summarized and verified:

team identity Your group membership should be defined, identifying the person within the team who will be the client’s contact (Yeatts & Hyten, 1998 200). Often contact information for everyone on the team is given and sometimes additional information regarding each member’s affiliation, supervisor or team responsibilities. 

task parameters A brief but complete description of the project is the main body of the document. 

§  client:  Generally the memo is addressed to the client (whether an external client, internal client or a direct supervisor) but sometimes you need to clarify multiple clients or cross-functional lines of authority.

§  organizational goal and context:  The memo should specify both long term organizational goals and the specific tasks that the team has undertaken to help meet them.   If the project is part of an ongoing effort, the memo should clarify its current status with respect to completed phases or interrelationship with other teams involved in the project.  This would also be the document to review previously determined constraints, concerns, or warnings regarding the successful implementation of the project. Be careful to spell out any assumptions that you are making regarding success criteria, resource availability, anticipated environmental changes, or strategic choices yet to be made. 

§  contingent choices:  If there are any significant contingencies built into the project, they should be specified here, along with the dates that decisions will need to be made and the person or persons who will be responsible for making them.  Be sure to indicate whether any resources or timeframes are dependent on these decisions and, if possible, the alternate deliverables that will result.

§  deliverables: This is a concrete description of what you will accomplish, create, or decide, and a commitment as to when, where and in what format it will be delivered to the client.  Include information about interim or additional work that will be delivered at other times or to other people.

§  standards: What standards of quality, quantity, timeliness and cost are to be met in this project?  It is also a good idea to spell out the priorities that the team and client have agreed upon in case conditions require that changes be made to the project scope or processes.

resources  Specify any resources you expect to be able to use over the course of the project, including people, equipment or funds.  You should be clear whether you have already secured the cooperation of resources, are expecting your supervisor or client to provide them, or will be locating necessary resources as part of your project responsibility.

documentation Specify the communication that will occur within the team, between the team and client.   Any dates and format for interim and final reports should be included, along with information about where they are to be sent or stored.  

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Organizing Project Communication

Once the team is formed, productivity depends on the management of resources to accomplish its task, which by the very definition of “team” work requires productive communication within the group. Just as individuals aim for clear, concise, efficient communication to be more productive workers, teams need to use clear, concise and efficient communication to insure their productivity.  Once the team is clear about its charge or mission, the real work  begins of figuring out the step-by-step process  to accomplish that goal.  Because of the team environment, this "organizing" step is necessarily a communication process.  The specific steps and standards envisioned by each group member must be shared and confirmed in a feedback process so that the group can productively work collaboratively. 

Work Plan

Project management, by definition, requires the use of management tools, and documentation will be your most important tool (Fried, 1992).  A complete project work plan documents all elements of the team’s scope and objectives, as well as the specific phases or steps involved in completing the work (Robert, 1997).  This document will allow everyone in the team to know where it is going, and how much it has accomplished at any given moment, and what remains to be done.  

The key information in an effective work plan includes

Project Steps Every element or step of the project must be listed.  Generally, a team will attempt to put the steps into chronological order, although most projects involve interrelated steps and information flow that allows or requires that some steps be completed simultaneously.  When these interrelationships become very complex, a Gantt chart is often the best way to visualize the flow of the project.

Sub-steps and Tasks Each major element of a project is broken down to the level of a task: the work that an individual can accomplish in a single work session (generally figured at two to four hours). 

Task Sequence  Each task should be reviewed for elements that must be completed in advance. It is at this stage that a team will discover that the original chronology is incorrect or incomplete.  If project management software is being used, the final result will accommodate these interrelationships, but if a team is using a simple table or spreadsheet, the prerequisites are listed for use when the calendar is created. 

Time Estimates  The estimate of the time a task will take should never exceed the amount of work one person can do in one sitting.  Project elements that exceed about four hours should be further sub-divided so that each discrete step can be adequately planned.  Indicate multiple time estimates if a task requires the time of two individuals.

Task Assignments  Productive team work requires that tasks be assigned on the basis of skills, access to resources, and work preferences.  In many cases, work assignments are made to minimize the need for extra communication.  A person who completes a sub-task, for instance, might be involved in a later step, allowing him or her to use the information learned at the earlier stage of the project.    Review the assignments carefully to insure that each individual has access to the equipment, time and skill resources needed to complete his or her tasks.  

Project Calendar

Once the work plan is completed, the team will create due dates for the various steps of the project.  These are generally created “backward” from the final project completion date, picking up the time required for prerequisite subtasks and accounting for resource availability, communication requirements, contingent decisions, and any other elements that will require time for completion.  The conversion from work plan to calendar can become complicated by elements that have yet to be decided, but all project elements should be accounted for, even if the exact parameters of the element are not yet known.  

Adjustments might be required to balance a team’s workload. Individual tasks and times are added to complete team calendar

A project calendar is created in the same way a personal calendar is created, although accuracy and completeness are more important when several people must coordinate their work.  In a complex, multi-phase project, a Gantt chart is often used, creating a visually intricate calendar that helps the team plan its work.  Punch lists, spreadsheets and flow charts all offer advantages for various kinds of projects or processes, and some industries have specialized methods or software packages to facilitate their unique projects.  Some teams work with sophisticated project management software that combines the work plan and project calendar, often with additional communication features.  Others keep the project planning documents in a simple three-ring binder.  A team might also use a web-based intranet or a document management system such as Google Docs that connects everyone on a “virtual” team electronically. Often, teams will use an electronic calendar system to plan a project, which can then be accessed and adjusted by all team members on a continuous basis.  Most large organizations will use a software package that integrates team communication, the project calendar, and all documentation for multiple interrelated business activities.

Whatever the communication technology used, everyone the team will have access to the project status, and each team member will be able to locate to his or her own well-defined tasks, deadlines, and deliverables (Robert, 1997).

As planned task steps are identified, the next step is to locate the points at which team members will need to communicate with each other, with the client, with a supervisor, and with anyone who will be providing resources to the team.  Productive teams communicate about key topics: scheduling and coordinating of task elements, review of team and individual performance, and review of environment (Yeatts & Hyten, 1998). Furthermore, they plan communication events to accomplish the discussion. 

Regular routine communication is a factor in team success, since the regularity insures that lapses and contingencies are handled, and sufficient interpersonal contact is available to get acquainted, develop norms, and work out differences (Yeatts & Hyten, 1998). On the other hand, one of the biggest mistakes teams make is to arbitrarily schedule regular meetings without considering the optimal length or frequency, simply assuming that the project will be most effectively accomplished with face-to-face communication of the whole team at frequent intervals.  Not only are such meetings extremely expensive in terms of member time, but they are generally a far less efficient channel of communication than the phone or email.  Don’t plan to do all your communication at meetings, and don’t schedule meetings without a rationale.

Communication Plan

You might imagine that you are now ready to get to work, which would be true if you were working alone.  In a team situation, though, one more crucial step is needed for success.  You must decide how you are going to share information, make decisions and deal with changes as they occur over the course of the project (Hackman, Brousseau, & Weiss, 1976; Weingart, 1992; The Standish Group, 1995; Shure, Rogers, Larsen, & Tasson, 1962; Parsons & Drew, 1996; Schwalbe, 2000; Van Meer & Stigwart, 1989). When a job that is complicated enough that it needs several minds, success depends on having a workable system for sharing knowledge among those minds.

This coordination of knowledge is not a process that happens automatically or magically.  In fact, in a complicated, long-term business project, team communication might be a full time job for one of the team members.  Regardless of the project’s complexity, success requires that a team agree on what needs to be communicated at every stage of the project, how that communication should happen, and who will be responsible for participating in the various communication events.

Create a communication calendar.  Once a team has created the overall work plan, it can determine the times it will need to engage in communication to complete its tasks. 

Create communication processes.  In addition to planned task communication, every project requires a great deal of communication about unplanned events.  A productive team will determine how communication should take place when a) the client, supervisor or resource availability necessitates a change in plans, b) unexpected decisions are required, c) follow-up or discipline of team members is required

Select optimal communication channels  Once you know the topics of conversation, you’ll need to chose the best channels for each communication that must occur, and when possible, the best times.  Many teams have a communication “plan” that consists of a single question, “when shall we have our meetings,” but meetings are without a doubt the most expensive channel of communication your team could select, and the least efficient for routine information transfer. 

A much better method of planning communication is to go back to your project schedule and locate all the points at which information must be transferred, decisions made, or knowledge shared.  Then select the best method to accomplish each of those tasks, and add the communication events to the schedule.

A crucial part of planning the communication is making sure that each team member knows what to expect.  It isn’t enough to plan good information flow; team members must be able to recognize and resolve information deficiencies.  Make sure that everyone understands what should happen if expected information doesn’t arrive, or isn’t clear. 

Although meetings, emails or phone calls are already scheduled to accomplish the team’s task, a second level of communication is required to handle the contingency events, interpersonal issues, and misunderstandings that are a normal part of team work.  This requires that all team members are aware of the optimal methods for communicating with each other under various circumstances.

Specify communication responsibilities. No amount of planning will actually get the job done.  The plans must be followed, and with any group activity, that requires some communication to keep all the information flowing.  Your team will avoid innumerable “communication breakdowns” later by installing some effective management procedures before you get started on the project. 

Sometimes groups find it easiest to name one person a “project facilitator” or “communication specialist.”  This does not have to be a person with any other kind of power in or out of the group, but a group will be most productive if someone is in charge of the information flow, both inside the group and with its external resources and environment (Romig).  Complex or risky tasks, in particular, are not done well when coordination and control functions are too widely shared (Fisher, 1985).  In most groups a “social leader” will also emerge.  Regardless of the work done by a formal or informal administrative leader, someone will take on the informal responsibility of social communication, doing whatever is necessary to maintain “group unity and satisfaction” (Mears 145)

In the end, every team member is responsible for maintaining the communication plan, but several key duties will probably be assigned to specific individuals:

Anticipate Communication Topics

Any job that a team undertakes will necessarily involve the coordination of resources, information, and changes.   Before you ever begin the project, you must identify and locate the resources you will need (see Box, Talking About Resources), and then your various resources must deliver their information, materials or products at the right time, to the right person, over the course of the project.  How will each resource know it is needed?  Will someone need to call and notify the client that information is needed?  Does the office administrator need a calendar of when the conference room should be scheduled?  Will there need to be negotiations with a team member’s supervisor regarding attendance at an off-site retreat?  Go through your resource list carefully, noting these communication tasks, and put them on your project calendar.

Similarly, teamwork always requires a systematic distribution of information among team members (Yamane, 1996).  From your task list, you can predict some of the major information transfers that must occur.  Schedule these on your project calendar.  You should also identify major categories of information that team members have, which others will need.  Your programmer might have the specs for the software design, while the marketing rep knows whom to call at the client’s office for some user input.  The team leader will obtain the audit schedule from the client, but needs to know from the human resources department when each intern should be paired with a team member.  While this kind of information is not always scheduled, your project records should include the key contact people for various types of information.

Finally, your team will be communicating change.  The client might change his or her mind about how the project is to proceed.  The market situation might change the parameters of what your team can accomplish this quarter.  You might suddenly discover mid-project that a key supplier will not be able to provide parts on time.  You won’t know what change will occur, but you can be sure that somewhere along the line, an emergency will come up, a plan will be changed, or someone will discover a problem the team hadn’t anticipated.  As you plan your communication, you should include “changes” and “problems” as a topic, and decide how they will be handled.

Discover Communication Norms. Finally, your communication plan must include some attention to defining the group’s communication norms, those expectations of polite, smart, decent communication (discussed in Chapter One) that define any community.  If there is a single cause of “storming” in groups, it is a failure to discuss those deep-seated expectations of how people “ought to behave” within the context of the team’s work together.  If the arguments, misunderstandings and conflict get completely out of hand, a group will eventually create some kind of group norms, but usually the group just goes along with whoever grabs power.  Someone finally gets tired of the hassles and takes control, while others give up or decide they don’t care much any more what happens to the group (or its task). 

Planning Types of Communication:

information transfer should involve the fewest participants possible and use the most efficient channel, most often phone or email.  A written document might be needed for lengthy or very sensitive information.  Face to face communication is probably not required except when the information is very complex or a demonstration is needed, and meeting time is generally extremely expensive.

decision making communication is nearly always complicated enough to require a channel that offers real-time feedback.  Use at least a phone call, and net-meetings or face to face meetings are often worth the expense.   A key question is how many people are required for the decision.  If the same people will need to meet, try to schedule several decisions at once rather than scheduling a separate meeting for each one.

knowledge transfer is probably the most difficult type of communication to plan but crucial for success [Weiser, 1998 #132](Martinez, 1994).  If your team requires internalized, implicit knowledge to accomplish the “dance” of synchronized work, you’ll need face-to-face “storytelling” or periods of working together to immerse each other in a shared perception of the “how things are.”  A marathon work session or onsite visit helps everyone on the team reach that “aha, now I see what you mean” stage.


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Managing Team Communication

Productive management of team communication involves monitoring, evaluating and correcting processes over the course of the project, which is a process that involves every member of the team.  Even when there is a supervisor or designated team leader, if collaborative work is the goal, every member of the team must be in a position to know what needs to be done, what the next step is supposed to be, and whether any problems are looming on the horizon. 

To meet this challenge, productive teams manage their communication with effective project documentation.  Documentation can take various forms.  The team might use a three ring binder that travels to each meeting.  It might create an intranet that each member can access from his or her own workstation. A team might have an administrative support staffer who distributes copies of team documents for each member to store electronically.  Whatever the format, a number of key communications need to be recorded and made accessible to everyone involved in the project.

The starting points are the team's work schedule and communication plan, but  management involves proactively insuring that the planned activities actually happen.  Whether a communication event involves just a few members of the team, team members or outsiders, or the whole team, any communication event functions to accomplish the same purpose. Similarly, whether the event occurs over the phone, by email, or face to face around a table, the function of the event is the same.  For all practical purposes, then, any communication event can be thought of as a meeting.  Most important any meeting, large or small, face-to-face or electronically mediated, is managed with the same key steps: planning, facilitation, and documentation.  Whether the process is formal, with printed agendas and widely distributed minutes, or informal, with a couple of team members jotting notes on a cocktail napkin, the principles are the same.

Team meetings are a common type of regular communication and so important that special documents are used to plan, facilitate and record them: the meeting agenda and meeting minutes.  Most people think of meetings as a single occurrence of oral communication, but business meetings involve a series communications, generally in writing, before, during and after the oral conversation that insure the group achieves the objectives.  Taken together, the pre-meeting, meeting, and post-meeting communication are most productive when they follow the standard business structure of productive communication.

People make a major mistake when they think of meetings independent communication events.  “Eighty percent of what makes them work happens outside the meeting room” (Duell, 2000).  Teams are engaged in an ongoing process of communication and meetings are only one surface feature in the information flow.  What “happens” during that face-to-face encounter is strongly influenced by what
happens prior to it as well as how it is remembered afterward.
















Project Documentation
Virtually any team is more productive when all team members have easy access to key information that is needed.  Generally, a team will create some kind of central depository of information, which is sometimes kept separately from the rest of the project documents.  Anything from a clipboard to a PDA to a spreadsheet uploaded to the company intranet can be used to coordinate communication, record decisions, and report the team’s status and outcomes to others. The format will vary depending on the work, but blueprint files, bibliographies, spreadsheets, bound reports and trays of tissue samples are all examples of project information depositories.   One common, simple and inexpensive tool is a three-ring binder that includes all the communication plans, records and suggestions for future team members.  Internal team documents will also include copies of the key documents the team produces, which might be kept chronologically as a record of the team’s work, or as separate archive documents.

Sometimes, project records are used to document that legal or auditing requirements have been met.  They are used to bring a new member up to speed.  On a long, complex project, a team can refer to project records to remember why certain decisions were made, or to locate information details.  Sometimes the only thing between you and a lawsuit is a clear paragraph explaining how a particular client requirement has been met.


A team should have documents in a format that would allow a supervisor or new group member read through them and

a)       understand the purpose and scope of the team’s work

b)     determine the tasks, information transfers and decisions required to do the task,

c)       locate and contact resources required for the job,

d)       determine the degree to which the job has been completed, and

e)       perform the contracted work in the team's absence.

Typical documents will include
Team Charge: The organizational context, task definition, and expected deliverables
Memo of Understanding: The agreements that have been made with respect to deliverables, due dates, and resources

Project Plan: The task list, calendar and team responsibilities for this project
Project Records
: The materials, instructions, and resources needed to do the project again
Communication records
: meeting
minutes, contact logs,  status reports and time sheets required by supervisor or client












Planning the Purpose and Context: Creating the Agenda

The first step to any effective communication event involves planning who will be involved and what will be covered.   Your work plan and communication calendar should drive the agenda for each meeting, which will follow some expected documentation guidelines if the meeting is a formal one.



















Meeting Facilitation

Once everyone arrives, agenda in hand, effective team meetings are characterized by starting and finishing on time, staying on the agenda, full participation, and some time for socializing (Yeatts & Hyten, 1998 276-277).  This productive conversation is not accidental.  One or more people will “facilitate” the meeting by paying attention to the communication that occurs and insuring that the agenda is followed.

The facilitator can be a supervisor of the group, a member of the group, or an outside specialist in group processes.  Generally, one person is thus considered the meeting’s formal facilitator, but it is important to remember that everyone in the group is equally responsible for communicating in a way that insures that the group achieves its planned objectives.  The more members who understand the meeting process, the more effectively they can cooperatively facilitate productive conversation.  Some groups—and student groups are a good example—do not have a designated facilitator.  In these groups it becomes especially important that the group members understand and follow good communication practices.

Whether or not there is a designated meeting facilitator, everyone who attends a meeting plays a part in keeping the group’s communication on track.  As the new person in the company or on the team, don’t feel that you have no control over how well things are going.  In fact, sometimes the new person can be in a great position to clarify goals and expectations because you get to ask questions about just about anything! 

§  Make sure you see the agenda.  If the facilitator “forgot” to prepare one, ask that the group make a quick list of the meeting’s goals and topics.

§  Take meeting notes right on the agenda.  This will help you to keep track of what is going on, and you can offer to make the group notes or take the minutes if those jobs aren’t being done.

§  Keep an eye on the clock.  If conversation is getting bogged down, or if conflict seems to be unresolvable, it is proper to suggest that the group “move on, in the interests of time.”  Unresolved issues should be rescheduled for a better time when information, resources and/or open-mindedness are more available.

After each agenda item, verify that the group is in agreement

§  that the agenda item has been adequately covered

§  on the decisions that have been made

§  on any “new” issues that need to be added to a future research or communication agenda

If an agenda item is taking longer than anticipated, the group may agree to extend the conversation, but other agenda items should be eliminated so that a meeting’s overall time is not affected.

Most good facilitators will create a written set of meeting notes, which acts as a visual trace of the conversation as it happens.  Even though several individuals are usually taking notes (including someone who might be creating the meeting minutes), the whole group needs to be able to share a common perception of how the conversation is progressing.  Everyone in the group needs to maintain constant awareness of what information the group is finding relevant, and the decisions that are being made.  This allows people to verify the group’s decisions as they go along and saves disagreement among individuals’ notes.

The meeting facilitator is often the person to make the group notes, usually on a white board or flip chart.  Flip charts are useful because they can be torn off and posted all over the walls so that everything remains in sight for the entire meeting.  Electronic whiteboards are handy for creating a permanent and accurate copy of brainstorming results, diagrams that perfectly capture the group’s creative ideas or the exact wording of decisions or results. 

Whether or not the group keeps these meeting notes depends on the circumstances, but they are often brought back to later meetings to insure that key ideas or tasks have not been forgotten.  Sometimes, items come up that the group will need to resolve or discuss at a later time, and the meeting notes should also create a “group memory” of anything that must be done by anyone after the meeting ends.

Electronic Decision Support Systems Widespread dissatisfaction with unpleasant and unproductive meetings has led many businesses to adopt Group Support Systems (GSS) to streamline discussion, improve decision making, and enhance cohesiveness (Miranda & Bostrom, 1999 98).  Meeting participants sit at individual computers (generally set up in the same room) and interact electronically.  These systems encourage discussion by allowing everyone to contribute simultaneously and anonymously and by providing an objective and fair method of reaching a decision that incorporates everyone’s ideas equally.  Many users report a reduction in the time consumed in meetings, but the success of GSS is largely dependent on the quality of meeting facilitation [Bostrum, Anson & Clawson].  The effectiveness of GSS comes from its systematic methods to overcome the major problems of meetings:

For most people, the novel meeting environment seems to break unproductive meeting habits (Miranda & Bostrom, 1999 99).  Once everyone has learned the technology, GSS groups tend to have more even participation and more issue-based conflict, with less interpersonal conflict (Miranda & Bostrom, 1999).  When groups are given additional training in appropriate meeting communication, they show higher levels of social support, greater participation rates, and greater satisfaction with the group.  They wasted less time and energy and made significantly more accurate judgments (Tullar & Kaiser, 2000).


Staying on Track

In general, individuals should be allowed to leave a meeting that lasts longer than scheduled.  It is up to the meeting facilitator to schedule sufficient time to cover the planned topics, and to keep the conversation efficient about covering those topics.  Participants should not be expected to suffer the consequences of a poorly managed meeting.

It is generally the responsibility of the person who prepares the agenda (who is usually the meeting facilitator as well) to pull together all these potential agenda items, estimate the amount of time to be allotted to each item, and insure that sufficient meeting time is available to accomplish the agenda.  If there are too many items to be productively handled, some should be “tabled” for another meeting or an alternative mode of communication should be created to resolve the item.

Unless a general category is designated for “new business,” meeting participants are expected to ask the meeting planner to place items on the agenda before it is distributed.

An “unwritten” or “hidden” agenda refers to topics that individuals want to discuss that do not appear on the written agenda.  A good meeting facilitator will recognize and acknowledge these items, but it is not usually appropriate to deviate from the written agenda.  A better solution usually involves scheduling additional conversations or meetings to resolve those issues. 


Then everybody should leave the meeting!  If meetings consistently drag on because more agenda items are being thought up as you go along, or people are standing around afterward discussion important issues that were somehow never included in the agenda, the team should take a hard look at its agenda creation process.   




Discussion and Decision Records: The Minutes

The most important part of productive team communication is the continuing record of decisions that are made, commonly created as meeting minutes.  Whether a decision is made in a meeting, or on the phone between two members, or in a chance meeting with the client, it must be communicated to everyone on the team who will need to act on that decision.  Further, it must be recorded so that time need not be spent in another conversation, discussing and making the same decision all over again.

Much of the communication that team members have with each other happens in conversations, which are unplanned and informal.  They can be more productive by following the conversational rules in the previous section.  In fact, some communication among a work team should not be recorded.  The supportive conversation that takes place at a T.G.I.F. [2] or in a company lunchroom, for instance, is often considered private.  Any recording or even retelling of conversations held under those circumstances might be ethically questionable and socially inappropriate. 
















Communication with External Stakeholders

In addition to your own internal communication, members of your team will also have regular communication with some combination of supervisors, resources, or clients.  As part of its task definition step, the team should determine exactly what communication is expected by supervisors and clients,  who generally expect to be informed at regular intervals throughout a long project.  It is crucial that a team keeps a written record of this communication, which can often involve changes in the team’s mission, its resources, or commitments from others in the organization.

A software development team meets with potential users over several months, designing the interface to meet their specific requirements.  When questions are raised at the end of the project, the team will be able to point to the series of conversations that led to the inclusion of a certain feature.  The more complete the team’s log, the more easily it is able to persuade others that any agreements or information are recorded accurately.

Communication Log  

A log is an easy way to keep a complete record of communications as they occur, without having to categorize and file the information and decisions, and regardless of who on the team engaged in the communication.  A sales team, for example, might keep a web-based prospect book, to which each team member posts every contact.  Each time a team member is about to call a prospect, he or she can see the complete record of previous calls, including entries about the product requirements, special offers that have been made, and even personal information about the prospect’s likes and dislikes.

Status Reports 

A productive team will engage in informal status and formal reporting with a range of key resources, clients, supervisors or stakeholders (Gladstein, 1984; Putnam & Stohl, 1990; Ancona, 1990).  The nature of these reports can range from specific coordination of resources to ambiguous but politically important warnings that things aren’t going as planned.  Some are “accidental” in the sense that you do not plan them.  For example, a team member might “run into” a client at a business mixer and casually mention that some promised information did not arrive as expected.  Some are carefully planned, as when a production team sets up a regular conference call among its key vendor reps, but the exact content of the report is not pre-defined.  Regardless of their format, records of these reports should be kept as a complete chronological record of the team’s commitments. 

The engineers on a major construction project create a monthly report that details budgeted versus actual expenditures, explains variances to budget, anticipates any project delays or schedule changes, and details labor and subcontractor requests for the following month.  

A cross-functional quality team in a production environment prepares a weekly memo to all plant department heads that summarizes customer complaints received and action taken on each. 


A formal status report should include some key information:

§  a recap of the work you have performed during the reporting period

§  explanations of any deviations from the work plan or project budget, and

§  projections for the next reporting periods, including especially any schedule, budget or resource changes that are being made from the current work plan.

Informal status reporting is often oral.  Be careful not to neglect these important conversations, or fail to record their outcomes.   












User Documentation

Many teams are charged with the creation of a product, service or procedure that will be used by other employees or a client.  A group is asked to decide on a new employee dress code, for instance, or a design team creates a new line of products.   The deliverable, in these cases, is not merely the decision or design, but whatever instructions, explanations or procedures are required to allow someone to follow the new dress code or use the new product. 

Quality documentation in this scenario requires more than simply recording of the team’s decision in the project records.  The format and content must take into account whatever accessibility, readability, and usability issues will affect the ability of the user to actually perform the desired behaviors or use the team’s output (Guillemette, 1989; Smart, Seawright, & DeTienne, 1995 p. 480).  User documentation will often require extensive editing and reorganization of material so that it provides a context for understanding the process, clear functional expectations, and clear instructions for behavior.

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Transfer Documents

In addition to whatever documentation goes to the users of a team’s outcome, there is often an additional transfer of the team’s work responsibility.  A quality team, for instance, might reach its reengineering goals and transfer the project responsibility to a production team.  An emergency response team might wrap up the immediate disaster with a cover memo to some future team that must solve a similar problem.  For security reasons, an audit team might disband and allow a different group of individuals to handle the client’s next annual review.

Transfer documents are used to reframe and revise project documentation so that another person or team can effectively extend or replicate the work that has been done.  In a work environment, there is never an assumption that a new worker can simply go back to the last person who did the job and ask for additional information or clarification. People leave the company, get transferred to foreign countries, or are simply too busy with the new job to be bothered answering questions.  It is thus a team's final responsibility to insure that all project documentation is accurate, complete, and in a format that will allow the next team to pick up the ball.

Often the transfer documents are created for an unknown audience; the team has completed its own responsibility, but does not know exactly who will be responsible for the next stage, or even exactly when that will happen.  Sometimes the transfer is part of a proposal, which must include incentives to continue the project as well as instructions for how to do so.

The transfer document is therefore a relatively comprehensive document that

The transfer documents ARE NOT a "data dump" of all the paper that was created by a team.  There is no value in providing indecipherable notes, meaningless meeting minutes, stacks of research documents, or work plans that did not include crucial tasks or decisions. Instead, the transfer documents are a revision of the team's workplan and resource list, designed so that the next team will have MORE information, MORE understanding of the task, and MORE chance of success.

The exact format of the transfer documents will depend on the project documents created by the team. 
In short, there is no rule about the required format for a transfer document.  The team will use whatever resources are suitable to move project knowledge from one team to another.


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Evaluating Communication Procedures

As you are planning your team’s communication procedures, create a system to monitor the occurrence of any planned communication.  Just as you would create benchmarks or metrics to monitor the success of any critical path event, you should have some kind of calendar, schedule or feedback loop to insure that scheduled phone calls, meetings or reports have actually been produced.  Everyone should be clear as to the proper mechanism for coordinating sub-tasks and resources.  In addition to routine communication, you should have procedures in place for non-routine communication events.  Decide what the mechanism will be to communicate changes in task, procedures, and resources. 

With a complete plan in place, it is relatively easy to see whether communication has been done according to that plan.  If your team has a designated administrator, that person might engage in a systematic process or reminders, follow-up and documentation.  More often, teams self-monitor their communication processes.  As individuals note any communication failures, they bring them to the attention of those who are involved and make ad hoc corrections. 

Sometimes it becomes apparent that a communication system is not working as intended.  For example, team members might decide to exchange key information in early morning emails, but one team member is unable to log on to email at her workstation until after a sizeable data download is accomplished.  Rather than delay its work every day, the team decide to modify its procedure, refreshing the intranet links to team members’ information overnight, allowing each team member to upload the data as needed. 

In addition to insuring that communication takes place as planned, communication management involves insuring that the interaction accomplished its purposes.  In general, this means the team will engage in some systematic feedback activities to insure that information exchange, knowledge sharing, and critical evaluation of data is actually happening as intended.    People tend to think that everyone else at a meeting understood what was said in exactly the same way (Hackmann), while in reality this is seldom the case. 

Team communication is greatly enhanced when efforts are made to insure that feedback loops are in place to catch misunderstandings before they become problems.  For example, at the end of every meeting, everyone in the group might summarize his or her own perception of the key decisions and commitments that have been made.  Or, a meeting facilitator can meet one-on-one with group members on a regular basis, insuring that everyone is hearing things the same way [Thompson p. 77].   Group members might review agenda items with their respective departments prior to each meeting, then compare notes on how different groups throughout the organization are viewing the issue.  When quality information is especially important or difficult to obtain, a team might even defer all decisions until verified outside the group environment (Hackman et al., 1976; Kettlehut, 1991).

Most students have worked in groups, but the projects in a school semester lack one crucial characteristic of work teams.  In business, you will seldom start with a "zero history” group that has never worked together, and typically you will not disband after each project is completed.  If something is not going well in a work team, you can’t simply ignore it and wait for the semester to end.  You must identify the problem and solve it.  Not only is the immediate task more important that a school assignment was, but your team will be working on many more tasks in the future, and you want to be very sure the same problems don’t come up over and over.

Your team should have some communication scheduled to make sure that procedures and processes are evaluated.  These conversations usually occur at the boundaries between one project and another, or between one project stage and another, or when team membership changes and a new individual must be acculturated into the team’s goals, norms, and procedures.  You might schedule a special “task redefinition” session to talk about any changes in project direction or scope, or hold a “get acquainted session” to introduce a new team member (Devadas & Argote, 1995).  Or, you might include a short “how are we doing” session at every meeting of the entire group.

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Collaborative Work Communication

Regardless of what other work a team will be charged with accomplishing, there will undoubtedly be group effort in creating its documentation.  Even when individuals do not work within a team structure, they will often write collaboratively.  One study found that 87% of business writing was accomplished in a team or group , and even the individual who writes a document “alone” can expect three to five levels of review before it is complete.   In fact, even the writer whose work is so routine that it simply goes “out the door” without review will realize that his or her writing is constrained by corporate formats, organizational expectations, and an internal “ear” that has learned to write in a way that acknowledges and represents the views of everyone in the organization.  A letter from a company is never “just” from its writer; it also represents the company as a whole and all of its employees.

One utility company required 23 separate approvals for an internal newsletter article (Yoder, 2001).

Time and resource management issues with respect to the writing process are just as large a part of the management job as any other resource management.  Perhaps writing is even more important when the organizational impact of written communication is considered.  Continuing issues should be resolved and not dismissed as just the “disadvantages” of collaborative writing.  Certainly collective authorship is unlike individual authorship, but it is a communication practice that accomplishes important organizational purposes.

The basic steps of the productive writing process do not change with the addition of authors, reviewers or corporate expectations.  Efficient collaborative writing does require, however, timely and productive communication at each stage of the prewriting, drafting, and editing process.

How do you rewrite a 1500 page proposal with a huge amount of changes from a variety of inputs, 50 authors all working on it at the same time and two weeks to finish it?  Keeping in mind formatting and presentation, changes must be tracked and approved, and the 50 authors are spread out all over the world (although mostly in the US). –Jesse Rauch at Unisys

The Collaborative Writing Process

Group Cohesion

No team project, including a writing task should be started before the team is ready to take on collaborative work.  The first job of the team is to get acquainted and communicate about its common goal or mission.  For a writing task, in particular, the development of a clear and consistent “voice” often requires high levels of understanding and agreement among group members. 

Task Definition

When multiple researchers, writers or editors are involved, an initial meeting should set up the project time-line, set intermediate tasks and due dates, allocate resources and responsibilities, and decide on a consistent format and style.  A newly formed group that has not had experience with writing together should set multiple intermediate due dates, expecting to spend quite a bit of time talking through the various ways to express ideas.

An individual’s writing is of higher quality when information requirements and audience expectations are considered before beginning to draft a document.  With a group of researchers or writers, the process becomes even more crucial.  A team will find it still has misunderstandings and disagreements after the drafting begins, but the most productive teams will at least come to an agreement on audience and goals, structure, research or data collection needs before attempting to write.

Schedule enough interaction among those who are making decision about the document’s purpose, expected audience, and persuasive strategies.  If a group has not worked closely together before, of if the organizational “voice” is unfamiliar to the writers, be sure that everyone agrees on definitions, expectations and goals.

Task Process

The actual typing at a keyboard is obviously an integral part of any writing project, but keyboards are designed for single writers and collaborative writing is necessarily accomplished by coordinating the keyboarding of several individuals.  In reality, the drafting of any document is actually a series of decisions, drafts, revisions and edits, which can be distributed among a group in multiple ways.

Whichever drafting flow the group uses, it will find the process most effective when it allows sufficient time to reach agreement.  Otherwise, an alternative editing process must be used to create a single coherent document.  Many successful groups takes advantage of collaborative writing software, which can greatly speed the comparison and revision of documents.  

Don’t underestimate the amount of time it takes to draft, revise and edit a document.  Even experienced writers can spend a great deal of time composing a complex thought or achieving just the right tone in a politically or emotionally charged situation.  

Resource Allocation

Along with the information and production elements, collaborative writing requires attention to the creative, cognitive and language resources within the group.  Writing ability is often perceived as an extension of ones own personality or “voice,” and writers can be very possessive about their own personal choice of words.  Collaborative writers must “be able and willing to overcome differences in writing styles, working styles, and personality traits” (Bovée & Thill, 2000 51), taking full advantage of each others’ differences as additional writing strengths available to the group rather than interpersonal differences to be resolved or ignored.

Review and Revision

Communicating Change

During the course of a large project, it is common to find that the goals and purposes have changed, the audience has changed, or circumstances have changed sufficiently that a document must meet different goals from what was originally discussed at the prewriting stage.  If document drafts are being prepared by individual writers, it is a good idea to schedule additional time for the group to review these issues and make sure that individual writers are responsive to the changes.

Editing

Usually, one person drafts a document or document section, which others edit, and typically one person does a ‘full’ or ‘final’ edit for perfect stylistic and formatting consistency.  Whatever task process is selected, be sure that anyone editing a document is clear about the content, format and style decisions that were made during the prewriting, and about which editing step is to be done at the moment. The review and revision process is built on the assumption that two heads are better than one, but some heads are better editors than others.  The best editor is not always the best writer, or English grammarian.  The best editor is familiar with the writer’s goals and with the audience and able to anticipate how an audience will respond to a document. 

As a team, be even more careful to follow a systematic editing process, discussing content, format, style and language errors in that order.  Conflict can arise when writers don’t make careful distinctions between personal judgments about a businesslike “style” or “tone” and the rules of grammar or punctuation.

Editors should carefully distinguish between acceptable style differences and desirable format or style consistency.  Conformity to a set of language and format rules is important, however, for a clear, consistent corporate image. A competent editor must also know the difference between style decisions and grammatical errors.  Nearly any written format or style or construction is “correct” in some context, but it might not conform to the accepted norms of your group.

A good editor will explain his or her comments, suggestions, revisions and editing to others in a clear, constructive and reliable way. Telling someone ‘it doesn’t sound right’ is useless in terms of making future decisions, and it conveys the message that you haven’t thought carefully about the goals and strategies of the writing job at hand.

Don’t waste time arguing over style choices.  Just pick a comma rule and use it! 

Generally, the more individuals who proofread the final document the better.  Even the best editor will miss some errors or omissions.  Nevertheless, the team must insure that its best editor has sufficient time to carefully read the documents.  The final document should also be compiled as a single word processing document.  This facilitates final editing changes and also allows electronic document control, now a standard practice in most large organizations.

We regularly transmit lengthy documents via E-mail as attached files.  Combined with the redlining and comment features in the newer word processing software, sending things electronically permits us to get lots of work done in a very short time and saves paper as well.  Another benefit is that one no longer has  to squeeze all the comments between the lines and in the margins, so they can be more descriptive, easier to read, and more carefully written than we used to make them on paper. (Oriel, 2000)

Team Presentations

Virtually all oral presentations of team work, from proposals to status reports to final project reviews, are conducted as collaborative presentations.  As with preparing a written document, the shift from individual to collective speech preparation requires some additional steps.

Collaborative Preparation

When working in a group, don’t expect one person to “make the slides” and consider the presentation as a whole to be complete.  A series of individual speeches is not a team presentation, and many supervisors will judge the team’s overall effectiveness by watching the interpersonal dynamics that are all too apparent in a team presentation. 

A public presentation is unique in that it displays the team’s own interactions to others.  An audience will be able to tell instantly whether the team members genuinely like and respect each other.

Instead, draft the presentation as a group, working out the conceptual flow of the whole, leaving spaces and holes to be filled –perhaps by individuals—as the presentation takes shape (Zielinski, 2000).  One person should act as the “editor” to keep the voice consistent, but should never work in isolation.  All members of the team should be present in the room, tossing out ideas, suggestions, clarifications, and potential questions to clarify (and shorten!) the presentation (Zielinski, 2000).  Writing as a group means that everyone understands the purpose and meaning of every word of the presentation. In the end, each member of the team fully understands and can deliver the entire presentation, not merely his or her own area of expertise. 

Choreographed Performance

Most groups will entrust the delivery to one or two lead presenters who might tap secondary speakers to contribute on specific points, although a really superlative group presentation is “a series of multiple star turns, with each member of the team contributing equally”  (Zielinski, 2000 48).  The ideal team “rehearses and pitches together so often” that each member is “instinctively” aware of what is in everyone else’s mind during the whole presentation.

A presenting team should be like a “seasoned basketball squad” says Fallon Worldwide’s Chief Marketing Officer, Mark Goldstein, “One of our presenters could throw a behind-the-back pass that might take the crowd completely by surprise, but that the person on the receiving end fully expects.” (Zielinski, 2000)

As you plan and rehearse the presentation, consider the placement of all the “actors” in the “scene” and insure that their movement and “script” consistently support the presentation as a whole.  Often, one person will handle technical and hardware issues, leaving the “speakers” to concentrate completely on interacting with the audience. 

Be very careful that someone is always building rapport with the audience.  It is extremely impolite for a team to ignore its audience while it is engaged in conversation, set-up, or trouble-shooting.

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Chapter Notes


Ancona, D. G. (1987). Groups in Organization: Extending Laboratory Models. In C. Hendrick (Ed.), Annual Review of Personality and Social Psychology:  Group and Intergroup
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[2] Thank Goodness It’s Friday: a social event that takes place among co-workers at the end of the business day.  This might occur on a day other than Friday, but generally it will happen at the end of some regular work cycle.  People attend directly from work, but ties and jackets come off.  TGIF is usually an informal, no-host event at a bar or restaurant, and everyone who works in the group may attend.