Recently, I consulted with a financial advisory team on improving communication among its team members. The high performing group of four excelled in client relationships and growing their business but was less productive completing daily tasks in the office. One of the newer employees struggled with getting questions answered and deciphering urgent vs. non-urgent work. This frustrated the two advisors who felt supportive roles needed to problem solve on their own. They also wanted uninterrupted time to prepare for client meetings. The team was feeling frustrated, unproductive and out of sync. Below is an outline of how I helped them.
To become aware of each team member’s communication style and preferences; create action goals that will help to achieve increased productivity through communication.
The team completed the DiSC assessment, where we identified dimensions of behavior as they specifically related to communication preferences.
Dominance- focuses on moving fast, taking action and solving problems
Prefers direct answers, well-organized presentation of facts and working independently.
Influence - focuses on people, influencing others and telling stories
Prefers warm and friendly environment, fast pace and freedom from procedures/details.
Steadiness- focuses on patience, persistence and listening
Prefers participating (not directing) in groups, stable, organized environment and meeting the needs of others.
Conscientious/Compliance- focuses on structure, rules and procedures
Prefers clearly defined expectations, organized presentation of facts and has high personal standards.
In addition to taking the assessment, the team participated in an activity where they identified preferred/non-preferred behaviors of communicating. Similarities and differences were flip-charted and discussed.
The results indicated that all four team members had preferences in different dimensions of the DiSC. Three of these preferences were Natural (or innate qualities.) The fourth varied in her natural preferences but showed dominance in an Adapted (or learned) style of communicating. Often times, team members will adopt different roles to account for gaps in performance or responsibilities. Since the team was covered in all four preferences, they are able to divide and conquer when it comes to meeting the needs of the clients.
However, both in the DiSC and the communication activity, having different preferences resulted in some challenges as well. Among the most prevalent ones were:
- Needing advance notice of meeting topics in order to come adequately prepared
- Concise and consistent updates on daily priorities and tasks to be accomplished
- Define what and when urgent issues are to be addressed
- The need for uninterrupted time daily to stay focused and on task
- More clarity and details needed for big picture initiatives to be carried out
Based on the results, the following Communication Action Items were created:
- The meeting agenda will include all items listed for discussion, sent out no later than the day before. Team members will update their items on a shared database.
- The team will continue with weekly lunch and team meetings to prioritize the week's goals and give/receive status updates.
- The team members will update each other for 5 to 10 minutes each morning on daily happenings, urgent questions and priorities, while keeping an ongoing non urgent list that gets addressed during the day's down times (interruptions only when the job can't get done otherwise.)
- Office doors will be kept closed to indicate times when team member should not be interrupted.
- The team will write out task procedures for different team initiatives, one per month, to ensure everyone is on the same page and processes are streamlined.
I followed up with the team 9 months after facilitating the meeting.
Three of the Five Action Items were Implemented
- The team continues with weekly lunch and team meetings. They commented that they work well and keep everyone in the loop regarding team activity.
- The closed-door policy is working well. They all seem more respectful of interruptions and have a better sense of what is/isn’t time sensitive.
- The team has completed a detailed handbook on team procedures. They have close to 10 procedures already documented, and it continues to be a work in progress.
Still Needs Work
- - Morning huddles are not happening. The two advisors are in and out of the office a lot, so it’s a challenge. They are going to try to implement a Monday morning huddle only, given the Wednesday lunch and Friday team meeting.
- - Agenda is not being sent out prior to Friday meeting. The two support roles are updating their agenda items; the two advisors need to start.
Overall, I think the team is satisfied with the progress made as a result of the workshop. One employee will be taking family leave for a few months and a temp will be stepping in to get the work done. Effective communication as far as status updates, time sensitive issues and streamlined procedures will be necessary for the substitution to succeed.
I plan to follow up with this team around the New Year and once the employee is back from leave. I am satisfied with their overall progress and openness to accommodate other’s preferences to increase productivity. Improving communication is an ongoing process and needs to be revisited frequently. It can be accomplished if the team continues to encourage awareness and hold themselves accountable for creating, implementing and following through with solutions. I have recommended that the advisors should implement Monday huddles and updating their agenda items, and will follow up with them in January.