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Community Contribution

How to Encourage Self-Reflection and Sharing to Overcome Communication Challenges On Your Team

May 31, 2024
Hadas Kushnir (USAID), Katherine Haugh (Convive), and Christine Gandomi (USAID)

You’ve probably clicked on this blog because you’re like us: you love clear communication. 

And you know how important it is for a healthy functioning team (or any relationship for that matter!). Maybe you’re a new team lead and you want to establish clear norms for communicating with your team. Or you may be a team lead that has been working with your team for some while, but you’ve had some changes or new team members recently and the norms about how you communicate with each other are worth exploring. In either case, you’ve come to the right blog! 

Why The Tool Was Designed and Key Considerations 

Hadas Kushnir created this tool with support from her coach, Stephanie Schalk-Zaitsev (TRG), because she was a new team lead for USAID/Washington’s Natural Climate Solutions Division, which had a mix of new team members and individuals who had been on the team for a long time. As team lead, she could see that people had different working and communication styles and realized that people didn’t necessarily understand each others’ ways of doing things. Some of these communication style differences were leading to frustration within the team. 

Hadas decided to create this internal communications self-reflection tool to help her team have a productive and clarifying conversation about their different ways of working. It was designed to be easy to use and facilitate and to acknowledge and celebrate differences, rather than judge or shame them. The goal of the tool was to create a fun and connecting opportunity for team members to get to know each other better, while also taking the temperature on team communication and collaboration. 

One of the most important design considerations for Hadas was creating a tool that did not make team members feel judged or shamed about their work styles. The tool doesn’t “assess” anyone or the team. It’s really a communication tool to get clarity about - yes, that’s right - communication! 

The tool was really valuable for Hadas and her team. Like Hadas, you can use it to: 

  1. Solidify your ways of working as a team and establish agreed communication norms and practices
  2. Get to know each other when there are new team members joining 
  3. Improve understanding between team members and reduce frustration and tension in the team

We at The Convive Collective and USAID/Southern Africa’s Regional Environment and Energy Team discovered this tool and adapted it for our purposes and found it to be really powerful. The tool we present to you is adapted based on our collective experiences and reflections.

You can access the updated tool here. Tip: you can also choose to recreate the tool in flipcharts around the room or printing off each statement on large pieces of paper and giving everyone individual cards (1-5) to do their voting. 

How To Use The Tool (It Can Be Done Virtually Or In Person!

  1. Prep Work and Setting Up For The Tool 
    1. You can facilitate this exercise with up to 10 people 
    2. You don’t need a professional facilitator - you can facilitate this yourself! 
    3. We recommend sitting down around a table and facing each other to facilitate dialogue, which is what the activity is all about 
    4. Tip: As you are preparing the tool, feel free to select the questions that will help you and your team the most. You can select questions based on need and leave others out! Keep in mind timing and energy levels, in both examples above the teams focused on about 10 questions.
  2. Instructions for Using the Tool 
    1. 5 mins - Share opening framing about the tool - emphasizing fun, connection and honesty. 
    2. 45 mins - Pull up each question and have the team plot themselves on the spectrum. 
      1. Tip: Instead of discussing each question, we recommend only pausing to discuss at each sub-section. 
    3. 10 mins - Summarize key norms so far for clarification 
    4. 20 mins - Invite everyone to share their takeaways and commitments 
    5. 10 mins - Summarize next steps 
  3. What To Do After The Exercise  
    1. Take immediate action on things you’ve discussed to model what was agreed (especially easy things that can be done quickly!). This demonstrates this tool and experience was immediately helpful. 
    2. Synthesize the notes with key discussion points so team members know they were heard and actions prioritized by the team and leadership (what are we doing differently because of this?) 
    3. Tip: Schedule a meeting to go through the Working Norms Document/synthesis of what was discussed with the team once immediately after the session and then again 4-6 weeks later as a check-in. You can use this document to onboard new staff. 
    4. When new people join or there are new changes in the team or tensions in some of these areas, that’s when it’s time to use the tool again! 

Our Lessons Learned In Using The Tool 

This tool has concretely helped both teams improve their internal communications, interactions and overall effectiveness: 

  1. Understanding Urgency - Sometimes it is difficult to know what is urgent and what is not. This tool helped illuminate how teams wanted to use different communication platforms to understand urgency. Instead of associating gchat with urgent requests, for example, they decided to specifically tell each other upfront in all communications whether the request was urgent and always include a timeline for action. This helped the teams know what to prioritize. 
  2. Calendar Communication - We all use our calendars differently. Some people use calendars for setting aside time for tasks, while others leave invites unaccepted to large meetings so they can still access the meeting information and materials, even if they don’t plan on attending. This tool brought clarity to the teams around their shared approach to using calendars, so they understood when and how they could schedule time with each other to collaborate and when they were unavailable. 
  3. Response Etiquette - We all need time for deep work or to be uninterrupted during meetings so we can really focus. The teams decided to set “do not disturb” or “in a meeting” responses on Gchat and would no longer expect a quick response when they saw these signals. 
  4. Information Synthesis - In the modern workplace, we are overloaded with information and emails all the time. The teams used this tool to create a norm around how to help each other digest the many reports and articles that they get sent. They decided to add “FYI” to indicate that they were just being kept informed about the existence/completion of a piece of research and to create a short (1-2) bullet summary of research or articles when they really needed their team to be informed about the content. 
About the authors
Katherine Haugh

Katherine Haugh is the CEO and Founder of The Convive Collective. Convive is a creative and strategic learning partner to climate-focused philanthropies. Convive offers services at the intersection of organizational design, facilitation, visual storytelling with data, strategic learning and evaluation. Katherine is an organizational learning and evaluation expert in the philanthropic sector. 

Christine Gandomi

Christine Gandomi has served as a USAID Foreign Service Officer since 2008. She has served as both an Environment Officer and Program Officer in South Africa, Vietnam, Washington, Uganda, Afghanistan, and Thailand. Over the course of her career with USAID, she has focused on enhancing organizational learning and adaptive management. 

Hadas Kushnir

Hadas Kushnir currently leads the Natural Climate Solution Division in the Bureau for Resilience, Environment and Food Security in USAID/Washington. She has been at USAID since 2010, working at the nexus of environment, climate and food security in the Africa Bureau, USAID/Uganda, and the Biodiversity Division.