Sunday, 29 June 2014

Teamwork For Dummies - Rules Of Engagement

It doesn't matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert. At some point in your career, you will be required to work in teams.

Introverts - the thought of having to become 'exposed' and having to deal with sometimes loud, opinionated colleagues, or having to put yourselves 'out there' could be daunting. You really would prefer to be left alone to do your best work.  I get it. I am an introvert myself. But here's the thing: you run a real risk of sabotaging your careers if you are not seen as, (gasp), team players. There is also a possibility of not receiving credit for your work or being passed over for promotions.

Extroverts - you may have to 'tame' yourselves and get over your  'big-fish-in- a- small-pond' mentality for the sake of the teams. You too will be judged on how well you can co-operate with others. This unspoken assessment could make or break your careers.

So how do you, introvert, work well in a  diverse team to achieve the desired results?

And how would you, extrovert, rally the troops, while at the same time ensure that there is a 'democracy' of influence within the group and that the strength of one does not overshadow power of all?

The simple answer is. this - through effective teamwork communication. Remember that communication encompasses  oral and verbal elements, as well as non-verbal, (body language) cues.

In the video below of  the revised classic story of  “The Turtle and the Rabbit”, we could learn some valuable lessons for good teamwork dynamics. (If you are unable to view the video on your mobile device, click  here.)


Let’s address these tips or “rules of engagement” closely.

1) Know your uniqueness but willingly accept challenges

The Turtle was aware that he was naturally disadvantaged and that technically, he could not win a race with the Rabbit whose greatest asset was his speed. But that did not deter the Turtle from accepting the race. Even after losing the first time, he did some thinking and having identified his core competency, challenged the Rabbit to a second race...which he subsequently won.

Similarly, in a team environment, you will need to show that you are committed to the cause by rising to the challenge. This you could do by communicating your ideas in a clear, simple manner. Suggest a meeting to tackle key areas and use a free web-based application such as Google Hangouts for instant messaging and video calls. Send emails or make calls. Take 'minutes' after discussions, send reminders and above all, give timely and factual feedback. If you are not the team lead on a project, support the lead/supervisor by doing all these things whenever feasible. Such actions would soothe ruffled feathers and encourage active participation of team members.

No one expects you to morph into a different being just to get the work done as you will up feeling disingenuous if you do.

However, as we should always strive to improve our communication skills and practise new, desired non-verbal behaviours until they become positive parts of our personas,  there is an interesting school of thought, à la Professor Amy Cuddy. In this TED video about how body language shapes who we are, she advises: "fake it 'til you become it". (You could also click here to view the video.)


Therefore, in your team environment, even if some traits are alien to your personality, ‘fake’ certain behaviours that would be beneficial to your team and to your overall performance. These could include speaking up in meetings, assisting team members, being proactive in your assigned tasks and striving to bring value to the group. Help the team succeed and your efforts would be quietly noted. Moreover, you would become a better communicator and a wiser professional.

2) Do not be over-confident


Realise that the team's success lies in the sum of individual, productive parts.

The Rabbit learnt the hard way. As it was stated, he was so certain of his skill that he became lax. So while he was napping under a tree, the Turtle prodded on at its slow pace and won the race.

During a team project, over-confidence can lead to costly mistakes, which if unchecked by the team lead or other members, could lead to financial or operational losses.

Just because you can boast of a wealth of experience in a specific location or knowledge of a complex function that is invaluable to the project, does not mean you should 'lord' it over your team members. You do not need to dominate the conversation. Others may have valuable suggestions worth noting that you haven't considered in your persistent bid to 'prove' yourself.

Communicate with humility: check the tone of your voice and speak in a controlled register when the entire team meets. Avoid using "I" consistently, except there's a vote and start suggestions with: "Let's consider this....";  "Perhaps Mr. X could try this..." etc. No one likes to be lectured to.

3) Seek clarity at all times

There is a possibility that members of your team may be based in other geographical regions where face-to-face meetings may not always be possible.

True, with the technology available, you could manage projects by creating cloud-based 'shared folders', which every team member could assess via his computer or mobile device once the application is installed, as is available with  Dropbox. Similarly, you could  have visual contact with team members via Skype, VSee, or other Google Hangouts alternatives.

However, when it is impractical to use such applications for whatever reasons, the communication is likely to be restricted to emails and telephone calls.

In such scenarios, clarity becomes crucial for ease of execution.

In the video, after each one was  beaten by the other, the Turtle and the Rabbit  came  together and had an honest conversation about their attributes. They were clear about their strategy for the team race and co-operated with each other, harnessing individual skills for a co-ordinated and flawless execution. The result? They won the a team.

So make your telephone calls productive by listing the key issues to be tackled in a calm tone, observing  telephone etiquette such as  keeping the calls short, listening without interrupting, paraphrasing where necessary  etc. Follow up with emails soon afterwards, ensuring that subject line are precise and use bullet points to highlight information. Seek clarity and transparency to ensure that team members are updated so that the project's pace is not stalled by incomplete information or other setbacks.

4) Celebrate the team's success

The success of one means the success of all. Even if you are the catalyst for your team's noteworthy feats, celebrate your contributions in the team's success.


Be generous with your praise and express pride in the effort of the team. You are stronger together than you are apart.

In the video, we are told that when they won as a team, both the Turtle and the Rabbit felt a greater sense of accomplishment than when each won separately.

Their honest communication, co-operation and trust in each other's ability made the difference in the result attained.

And that really is the beauty of effective teamwork.


It is now clear that at the heart of great team dynamics is clear and effective  communication.

There is also the notion that we should never stop learning. We cannot know it all. The day we become complacent in our careers and stop learning, is the moment we stop growing.

So you see why it shouldn't matter if you are an introvert or extrovert, a millennial or seasoned professional? When working in a team, remember the “rules of engagement” mentioned in this post and become a more effective team player. Your career would thank you for it. 

What other tips would you give for great teamwork? Kindly post your comments below, anonymously if you prefer.

Recommended reading

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N.B –  First image courtesy of  Renjith Krishnan; via Second image courtesy of Cooldesign; via Third and fourth images courtesy of Stuart Miles; via Fifth image courtesy of Nongpimmy; via Last image courtesy of Jscreationzs; via Videos courtesy of Youtube.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Communicating For Success : 10 Sure-Fire Tips To Master

Professionals - If you have been reading this blog for a while, you should be convinced of one fact: communication is to your career what water is to sustenance; it  is absolutely crucial for survival.

If you are  new  to  this  blog  and are unconvinced about the importance of effective communications, then let me ask you a few questions:

How often have you needed to clearly convey your ideas/suggestions/plans in  emails, during meetings or when delivering  presentations?

How many times  have you needed to suggest, convince, refute, elaborate, corroborate?

On how many occasions have you been required to take the lead in a team assignment or in overseeing an initiative?

Chances are that you have needed to do  them very often. No, strike that. You do all these things, on a daily basis, in one form or another.

Leaders -  count the numerous times you have been required to do the following:  give a speech; conduct brainstorming sessions with your executive cadre; convince the Board; and for some unfortunate few - add  managing corporate crises to your repertoire.


Surely now you realise that being an effective communicator these days is a non-negotiable skill you must acquire, if, like most of us regular folk, you neither are blessed with the gift of the gab nor have the penchant for penning bestsellers.

This means that for the majority of us seeking to communicate for success, we must learn this skill with the discipline that is required to learn a new language or  to play an instrument. It must be a conscious,  deliberate act.

So whether you are a 'newbie' in the corporate jungle or a seasoned professional, below are 10 tips which you should master:

1) Identify your audience and adjust your style as required

This is the number one rule for communicating for impact. It also encompasses being aware of cultural nuances when speaking.  Remember adopting an informal style does not mean using crude language or  slangs. Have a 'professional' mindset always in issues relating to your work.

For the formal style, avoid archaic or redundant terms and use what I would call  'modern-formal' language. For example, use "many lives" instead of "many souls" : "Many lives perished in the ferry disaster".

2) Get to your point quickly and use simple, clear language

Do not waffle on. For speeches/presentations, capture the interest of your audience at 'hello'.  Imagine your audience comprises five-year-olds whose attention spans last about a minute. 

For the written word, keep it short and eliminate jargon at all costs. Clarity and brevity must be the rule of thumb.

3) Avoid verbal outbursts and never respond when you are angry

Do not engage in a shouting match at work with colleagues no matter how aggrieved you are. Likewise, do not send a text or an email when you are angry, no matter how justified to do so you feel. It is always counter-productive and after the storm has subsided, your reputation for being a rational, professional being would be tarnished with the real possibility of being passed over for leadership roles. Basically if you cannot manage your emotions, you lack the skills required for high-responsibility duties.

4) Do not underestimate non-verbal cues

Learn to curb non-verbal cues that convey negative messages. Shifting eyes, fidgeting, slumping in a chair, an expressionless face -  all communicate a lack of confidence, aloofness, as well as a notion that you are untrustworthy. You may not be aware of these faux pas, so do not get defensive when they are pointed out by a well-intentioned colleague or friend.

Cultivate desirable traits such as: active listening and sincere smiling: maintaining eye contact and looking into the camera: being humble and gracious: and having a pleasant demeanour. Being 'likable' is beneficial to your career.

5) In all written communications -  emails, memos, letters, reports, statements or  press releases - cross-check your grammar multiple times and do not  simply rely on spell checks

Ensure that the meanings of the words are given in the right context - semantics :  ('Cite' vs. 'Site' vs. 'Sight'); and that the word order/structure is not clumsy : syntax, ('The man to whom the complaints were made'; and not  'The man who the  complaints were made to').

Also remember that your message should 'flow' logically from one short paragraph to another. In order words, be coherent.

6) The more important the recipient is, the more formal the language should be 

Nonetheless, use the 'modern-formal' style mentioned in number 1.

Verify the correct spelling of the name of the recipient, as well as official designations and pen the document accordingly. For requests, state the purpose of the document in the subject line, as well as in the first sentence. Rephrase the request  a last time at the end of the document as a 'call-to-action' feature. Mastering formal writing takes practice but it is attainable.

7) Give feedback whether requested or not

But only give  timely and factual feedback . Do not wait until information is favourable or until you have all the facts. This is particularly important in a team project and during  a crisis.

Providing feedback during a team project facilitates co-operation and strength of purpose. Difficulties are easily identified and solutions are provided for a successful completion.

In a crisis, timely and factual feedback eliminates speculation and diminishes backlash. For leaders, providing feedback and addressing the crucial issues, demonstrate empathy for those affected by the crisis, as well as credible leadership despite the dire circumstances.

Case in point: General Motors' new CEO, Mary Barra's unreserved apology and pledge to the safety process following 12 deaths that were linked to faulty ignition switches, leading to the massive recall of 1.6 million cars in the US and Canada.

Then in May 2014, another batch of 24 million cars was recalled in the U.S  as the company continued to tackle safety concerns. The embattled CEO was also required to give a statement in a congressional hearing, which although daunting, was handled with notable professionalism. Her communication was brief but succinct, confident but reassuring. She perfected the art of  communicating feedback.

To be considered a trustworthy, proactive leader, you must cultivate the habit of giving feedback.

8) Have a good communications strategy

This tip is for you CEOs.

Even if your organisation has an effective  communications team, it is a good idea that you have your own communications strategy to communicate your vision to the company. This is because you are the most important driver of perceptions. Having a clear idea of basic components of a communications strategy would make it easier for you to drive organisation-wide acceptance, as well as direct your communications team.

The six components of the  Communications Strategy recommended by this blog - 'The What;  'The Why';  'The Who'; 'The How'; 'The When/How Long'; and 'The Crisis-Mode Plan' -  tackle key issues of any proposed initiative and should be adopted on a regular basis.

9) Embrace social media

Social media is here to stay so you cannot ignore it any longer.

LinkedIn is not just for job seekers, (check out President Obama's Linkedin profile);  neither is Facebook only for ''young people'; (check out  the post by Jeff Bullas analysing the worth of a Facebook "Like" for a business).

In the same vein, Twitter is not simply for celebrities. It would interest you to note that the well-known Twitter hashtag campaign,  #BringBackOurGirls triggered international outcry in May 2014 against the shocking abduction of 200+ Nigeria schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram the previous month. The social media campaign, whose far-reaching influence beyond the digital world caught the attention of celebrities, politicians and governments,  resulted in the provision of intelligence, support and resources from the U.S, UK, China and France to assist the Nigerian authorities to locate the captive girls. 

The good news in social media is that you will be spoilt for choice given the numerous platforms available. Therefore identify those that are most relevant to your business and key stakeholders and use wisely.

The bad news is, well ignore the social media revolution and you and your company could be losing out in a big way on influence and 'social proof'.

Whether it is  getting 'likes' on Facebook, 'retweets' on Twitter, 'mentions' on  Google+,  'repins' on Pinterest or 'followers' on others, getting validation on social media boosts reputations, promotes brands and as some have sworn -  social media drives sales. Therefore, in order to communicate for results, interact and engage with your stakeholders in an authentic way, in real time...on social media. 

10) Practise, practise, practise!

Practice is essential for boosting your confidence, so make deliberate attempts to improve your communication  skills.

You  should read regularly and even outside your field, if you are  serious about becoming a great communicator. Reading materials could include short stories, blog posts, articles, white papers, journals, newspapers, books and e-books. Take your pick. What is essential for favourable results is consistency.

If your career is steeped in journalism, editing, PR, communications etc. then you should also read extensively. You must have heard the saying that if you want to become a better writer, then you need to read a great deal. In this way, you expose yourself to good vocabulary, different styles and nuances you will subconsciously draw upon for your work. It would also help you discover your 'voice' and ‘tone’ that make you unique, even when your content is not original. Do not forget to brush up on your grammar as well. Did you notice the subtle difference between using 'practise' as the title of this tip, and 'practice' in the first line? 

The same advice holds true for your verbal and non-verbal communication: practise. When a flaw is pointed out, correct it and then practise the new 'habit'. With  time, practice would make 'incredible'. It may not be perfect; (we should always strive to improve our skills); but perfection is overrated anyway.


Good communication skills, I believe, are global pre-requisites for successful careers.

Whether you are an entrepreneur or  trudging along in 'Corporateville' or  holding public office; whether you are a millennial or a corporate leader - you need to be able to communicate for success. With these tips in your arsenal, you are well on your way.

What other communications tips do you know? Kindly post your comments below, anonymously if you prefer.


Don't rush off just yet. Please remember to:

1) Share this article in your social media networks by clicking on the icons below.

2) Sign up for updates in the blog's right sidebar so that you are immediately notified via email when a new blog post is published. Never miss an article again!

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Recommended reading

Need help in writing?

Hire me for a writing assignment, some consulting work and/or coaching sessions in formal writing and communications. There are 3 ways to do this:

A) Fill in the “Hire Me” contact form on the right sidebar of this blog on the homepage. I would respond promptly.

B) Send a direct email to: 

C) Call for advice and a  free consultation:

Nigeria:             0704 631 0592
International:    +234 704 631 0592

N.B-  First image courtesy of Arztsamui; via  Second image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici; via  Third image courtesy of Jesadaphorn; via  Fourth image courtesy of Master Isolated Images; via  Fifth image courtesy of Stuart Miles; via  Sixth image courtesy of Iosphere; via Last image courtesy of Phanlop88; via