Communication-Related Skills

This post covers communication-related skills that have the most impact on the communication process in the project team environment.

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Problem-solving skills refer to competencies needed for effective decision-making processes of a team, and as such is founded in the Decision-Making and Systems Theories. The success of solving complex problems in organizations relies increasingly less on individual team members’ expertise and more on the collective problem solving ability of a team. How effective the communication skills of the team members are, will determine if the group will become a functional team. As communication is the most intensive in the early stages of project management, it is essential to focus on those skills that can enhance problem-solving communication processes. These skills sets include communication behaviors such as contribution to group discussions; actively asking questions; clearly and accurately defining the problem; seeking information and opinions from fellow team members; thoroughly examining, digesting, clarifying, and then integrating this information. This skill will therefore lead to the ability of the group to examine the advantages and disadvantages of solutions offered.

Role-playing skills have their foundation in the Role Emergence Theory. Once a team has established trust and pride, the members communicate by ways of their social roles. Some of the roles are tied to the members’ expert knowledge and specific skills; others refer to group building roles; and then there are individual roles in the team. It is essential that people understand the roles they are expected to play in order to improve the effectiveness of the team’s communication. Effective members will focus on their roles and not digress; they will clarify the goals and set criteria; offer appropriate solutions and alternatives, and keep the group aligned. Since role formation is not a static process, it requires skill to determine who is playing what role for the benefit of the group; and it is equally important to be role-flexible to accomplish the goals.

Trust-building skills have been identified as critical for team effectiveness; but for trust to develop in a team environment, the interactions must be more than just a formulaic attempt to gain credibility, respect and acceptance. Trust-building skills have their foundation in the Uncertainty Reduction Theory, which contends that people strive to diminish uncertainty about other individuals through the process of information gathering. Team members’ task achievement depends on the efforts and skills of their fellow team members and not only on their individual skills. It is, therefore, important to establish trust in each other through task-oriented communication at the early stages of team development.

Team-building skills in communication relate to the Symbolic Convergence Theory, and as such explains the establishment of certain behaviors and language in small groups, such as words, signs, jokes etc. that are very specific to them. This contributes to shared experiences and understandings, promoting an increased sense of community. One of the skills needed for effective team building is that of creating group pride based on measurable productivity. Effective team members seek out opportunities to assist and accommodate other team members; they work on improving relationships and the team environment for the benefit of all.

Dawie Steenkamp, PhD, PMP.

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