Working in a team has its advantages and disadvantages. Among its advantages can be a shared workload, interpersonal connections and a shared goal. Often, though, one of the most cited disadvantages of working in a team is a lack of communication.
How can you solve this common dilemma? Will solving communication problems lead to an improvement in your team? We asked 11 professionals for their thoughts on how to improve workplace interactions and what it means for your diverse team.
“Working on a team can be difficult, especially when there is a variety of personalities. However, communication is vital, so one thing that will improve workplace interactions is having a 10-15 minute check in everyday. Either in the middle or the end of the day, give employees a space to meet (in-person or virtually) and just check in with one another. It is a good way to air out any questions, ideas or other topics that need to be addressed.”
- Court Will, Will & Will -
Regular check-ins give time and space for employees to gain clarification and reassurance on the work they’re doing. This is particularly beneficial for employees with Autism. Often, people with Autism are unsure of the actions to take in unexpected circumstances, so it’s important that they are given the opportunity to raise awareness and ask for direction. Many are often meticulous in their work and can become anxious if they feel their performance is not perfect. This may be a result of something that’s out of their control, such as a slow internet connection. So again, the opportunity to connect with the team and air their concerns can help to reduce anxiety.
“Include five minutes of icebreaker questions as part of your meetings. For example, you can start with a prompt like "your name, your role and the location you would haunt for all of eternity." This friendly chit-chat gives everyone involved a structured way to participate, which is especially helpful for the introverts. The answers also provide opportunities to find common interests, which is a way to build stronger relationships and improve communication for the long term.”
- Michael Alexis, Teambuilding -
Structured participation in meetings can be helpful for many individuals, such as those with neurodivergent conditions including Autism and ADHD. Individuals with ADHD can struggle to maintain their focus, and providing a stimulant that can capture attention is beneficial. People with Autism can also be anxious in social situations, so outlining the structure of a meeting, and providing them with that information beforehand can help to reduce anxiety.
“The most important thing you can do is "ask" rather than "assume". Communication requires conversations. Take time to ask what people think, how they are feeling, what questions they have, and if they understand what is needed. Having regular check ins about both what is going on around the office and in their own lives will make communication flow.”
- Nicole Spracale, Coaching & Consulting -
Making sure that your team is aware of expectations and understands their role in a project or task is important for everyone. Proactively checking in supports those with neurodivergent conditions who may have difficulty processing information in their short-term memory, such as those with dyslexia and dyspraxia.
“Create a culture of constant feedback and communication. The most important way to do this is to open up the floor for everyone to give feedback. You have to be vocal about receiving feedback and make sure that when it is given, that you are open and receptive to it. Small things, like simply leaving your door open, can make it so much easier for employees to communicate.”
- Loren Howard, Prime Plus Mortgages -
An ‘open-door’ system is a welcoming gesture that can help employees feel comfortable enough to approach you. Many individuals are often conscious of disturbing others, and providing that social cue that you’re available is a simple, but effective way, to open the channel of communication.
“Share a random fun fact every day that has absolutely nothing to do with your work or industry. The funnier the fact is, the better it becomes for boosting the mood of the day. This allows for any nerves about communicating with team members and coworkers to disappear and makes any problems or conflicts seem less ridiculous by comparison.”
- Francesca Yardley, Threads -
As well as being a great mood booster, this offers the opportunity for colleagues to get to know one another. Employees can share facts that reflect their personalities, hobbies, and adventures, and learn more about those they might not have had much interaction with before.
“Keep doing it every day and do it the same for everyone. Don't create clicks or favourites with who you communicate with, as that will cause issues down the road when the others find out they weren't included or weren't part of a group they thought they should be. Even if it's not the case, and they didn't need to be included, don't even let it have the chance of creating an issue for you or your company later on.”
- Ben Walker, Transcription Outsourcing, LLC -
This is incredibly important for neurodivergent employees. People with Autism can find it challenging to join in conversations or make small talk, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be involved in the social interactions in the office. Being inclusive of everyone helps everyone to feel welcomed and part of the team.
“Saying "hi" is more important than you think. Sometimes, it's a catalyst to communication; a growing building block of further team collaboration. This still remains unsaid in certain workplaces, however. Whatever the cause, it's time to bring "hi" back to your place of work. Say hello to the man who walks down the hallway, say hello to the girl who gets her lunch from the fridge and make sure you say hello to any member of the team when they come every day.”
- Lesley Reynolds, Harley Street Skin -
What a lovely reminder that the smallest of gestures can create the biggest impact!
“The positive side of the Coronavirus pandemic is that it’s caused companies of all shapes and sizes to review their working setup. Since the lockdown, the MailNinja team has all been working remotely, and will continue to do so afterwards. Communication throughout has been the biggest part of making this work, and Slack has been our go-to tool for this. We have a Monday huddle at 9am, a Friday catchup at 4pm, then regular calls throughout the week when needed.”
- Doug Dennison, MailNinja -
Routine is an important factor for us all, especially for employees with Autism where structure allows them to prepare for the week ahead and helps to reduce anxiety. People with ADHD and Dyslexia also benefit from task management tools and a structured day. Visual prompts, such as Slack boards, Trello cards, and even wall calendars and task lists, can help them to remain focused on the task at hand.
“Have each team member share an idea every day in an open brainstorm. This is not only to improve team communication, but to help with problem-solving as well. By sharing ideas without judgment, team members will feel more comfortable working together and fostering better communication. This also works with sharing exciting life events or good news in place of sharing ideas if the team needs a boost in morale as it builds a community.”
- Rex Murphy, American Pipeline Solutions -
Sharing ideas can feel daunting for anyone, so creating a safe space allows for creation and innovation of great ideas! And that’s great for neurodivergent staff who may require encouragement in social situations - they’re often out of the box thinkers, with the ability to discover connections that others may have missed, so be sure to offer the opportunity to delve into unique perspectives!
“Introduce inclusion in workplace communication to get buy-in at all levels. No one likes being told what to do. But when there’s inclusion that takes into consideration everyone’s unique perspectives, it’s much easier to achieve action as a team. To introduce inclusion, you can start by eliminating being the one doing all the talking.”
- Brett Farmiloe, Markitors -
Creating an inclusive workplace is about making people feel valued and accepted. It’s about creating a working environment where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. A starting point is to make sure every voice can be heard, giving you the opportunity to listen, learn and discover what you can do to improve inclusion going forward.
“Use simple and informal reporting, like making a list of things that people have been working on and exchange at the end of the week. By collecting this information, you’ll be able to see more clearly what is happening, what makes progress and what doesn´t. Additionally, place workers who are more compatible together and facilitate a more productive team who will be able to communicate more effectively because of their shared traits.”
- Marc Batschkus, Archiware -
Reporting is a crucial process in every business, and when it comes to team progress it offers the chance to discover your people’s strengths - make sure to utilise this information and give people the chance to work on what they’re best at and what they are most interested in. This can help to support neurodivergent employees to thrive. For example, employees with ADHD have the ability to focus intently and with deep concentration when they’re working on something that stimulates their mind. Those with Autism often have special interests and can hold high levels of expertise in their given topic because of their passion and enthusiasm.
We hope you have gained lots of ideas for improving workplace interactions. Creating a place where everyone feels comfortable and confident at work is about recognising the diversity of your teams, and adjusting to suit everyone's unique needs. Neurodiversity is one form of diversity in the workplace. If you would like to discover more about neurodivergent conditions, check out our dedicated resources area.