Mastering Team Communication as Your Firm Grows: What Would Arlene Say?

Mastering Team Communication as Your Firm Grows

10 MIN READ

Lately, in conversations with clients, I’ve noticed a consistent theme cropping up. Many advisors who are 3-6 years into their businesses are just starting to add to their team. Growing your team, either by hiring part- or full-time W2 employees or bringing in contractors to help you service your clients, is always exciting. Among all of the roadblocks that come with expanding your team, one of the most surprising is organizing communication. 

When you’re comfortable being a solopreneur, it can be tough making the transition to setting team expectations for communication. Navigating problems like how frequently to communicate with your new team, how to respect each other’s communication styles, setting the expected tone for internal and client-facing communication, and more can be overwhelming. 

Communication often seems like something that should come naturally to a team, but sometimes that’s not the case. Having a proactive plan for communication can make your transition from solopreneur to team leader a bit more seamless. 

Types of Communication

There are many different types of communication, and when you’re managing a team, you’re going to use all of them. The general types are:

  • Verbal
  • Non-verbal
  • Written
  • Visual

Verbal communication is relatively straightforward. Meetings, phone calls, team retreats - those are all forms of verbal communication. Written communication is also straightforward - emails, messages, etc. You’ll use a lot of verbal and written communication with your team, whether you’re in-person or virtual. However, non-verbal communication and visual communication are both equally important.

This could mean that during annual retreats or quarterly overview meetings you leverage Powerpoint slides or pay extra close attention to facial expressions or subtle cues that are lost in traditional emotional communication.

If you have a virtual business, you might be missing visual and non-verbal communication styles, which can lead to the all-too-common email miscommunication or misinterpretation of tone. This makes it even more important to understand the communication styles you have interacting on your team - and how to make the most of them.

Understanding Communication Styles

Team members will have different communication styles and needs. It’s important to understand one another and make space for your differences. There are a few key communication phases to focus on:

  • How you prepare to communicate
  • What happens during the communication
  • How you process communication

Preparing to Communicate

Have you ever walked into a meeting and felt blind-sided by the agenda? Or do you prefer to wing conversations and stay in the present moment when communicating with someone? Every person prepares for interactions with other people - whether they’re casual or confrontational - in a different way. 

The biggest mistake I see people make is assuming a new team member will be okay with little to no prep before meetings. It’s wise to set an agenda ahead of time so there are no uncomfortable surprises. If your meeting is going to cover specific decisions, action items, or even performance review concerns - those should all be outlined ahead of time.

During the Communication

Some people are direct communicators, while others prefer more passive or indirect communication. Some team members may love to talk on the phone, while others prefer email or Slack. Figuring out how your team communicates comfortably is important - even if it’s not perfectly compatible with how you communicate. There’s some flex here, too. Just because you’re the manager doesn’t mean you have to bend completely to your team’s communication style, or vice versa. You will all have to find a way to balance preferred communication methods to reach a happy medium.

How You Process

There are a variety of different styles of processing. As a leader or manager, it’s your job to listen first, and determine how others process before you make a judgment call on how you should process communication as a team. 

For example, your team members might be the type of people who listen, process and revisit a conversation. They may prefer to verbally process decisions and ideas over the phone or in person. No matter how they want to process, it’s okay. There’s no right or wrong answer here as long as lines of communication stay open.

Ask for Preferences

You don’t have to navigate this on your own; you have a team readily available to help you better understand how they like to communicate. So, if you have questions, ask. As engaged team members, they should be excited to help you improve your business through better communication. 

If you’re still struggling to determine what’s going to work best for everyone, try having your team take a personality assessment. There are several good ones available, including the KOLBE, Enneagram, and MBTI. The more you know your people, the more you can react appropriately in any given situation andmaximize your time together.

Setting The Tone for Internal Communication

Although it may seem silly to set expectations upfront for internal communication, a little bit of planning can go a long way! A few ways you can easily set communication (and express your own preferences) to make things a little easier might be:

  1. Deciding whether you’re comfortable with text or Slack
  2. Determining what timeframe Slack messages should be replied to, and what the expectation is for email or phone call response 
  3. Talking about whether or not you like regular check-ins, and asking your team how often they want to hear from you

You can also lead by example when it comes to communication style and tone. If you’d rather keep things more professional, steer clear of personal anecdotes or details. If you’re happy to be more relaxed and personal, you can work on having those conversations organically - just make sure you gauge your team’s comfortability with sharing. If they’re not interested in opening up, that’s okay too. 

Setting The Tone for External Communication

External communication is a lot more cut and dry to navigate because there are likely more rules and expectations here. First and foremost, it’s important to set compliant communication standards. Keep your processes organized and be clear about how you can (and can’t) communicate with clients. 

For example, no trade deals or requests can be submitted (or responded to) in a voicemail or text message. A new team member may not be aware of this, so set clear standards upfront.

Next, you should set some ground rules in place for how team members are expected to communicate with your clients. Here are a few examples. Keep in mind, these are just examples. You and your team have to determine what type of communication is the most comfortable fit for you and your clients.

Texting

  • To clients: scheduling only
  • Among co-workers: time issues (running late); no client issues
  • Timing: office hours only, or any time depending on team preference

Email

  • Incoming emails: no emailing after hours; no replying to clients after hours
  • Client emails: reply same day if received within business hours 
  • Frequency: check email 3x/day

Phone

  • Voicemail: will be returned within 24 business hours; calls coming in during the business day should be answered unless in a meeting

Personal Communication

This is a little bit trickier. You have to determine what type of personal communication is allowed during working hours. If you’re virtual, does your team set their own hours? Is it okay to take time off during the day to run an errand or to call their spouse or partner? 

For some people, personal communication is a normal part of their business day. For others, they think their team should work during work, and save the personal stuff for another time. It’s completely your call, but you don’t want to have a corrective conversation later when you never set ground rules in the first place.

Tone

Setting expectations for client communication tone is also key. This should come innately to most people, and you don’t want to overly dictate how your team communicates with clients, but a few rules of thumb are a good idea. For example:

  • Decide ahead of time what’s “too personal” in client communication. Some firm owners are bothered by emojis and smiley faces in emails. If that’s you, set that expectation.
  • Sit down and discuss your values. What’s important to you as a team, and how do you want to show up with clients? What does that look like in practice?
  • What’s included in company email signatures? Simple sign-offs can set the tone for all client communication. Set a standard here if there isn’t one.

Set Expectations

It’s important to set expectations about what your team members should do in a given day as far as communication goes, but it’s also important to define what they don’t have to do. I know tons of advisors who freely respond to emails at all hours of the night and submit work on weekends. 

One client, in particular, was the king of weekend work. It never bothered him, because he worked flexible hours during the week, and had a relatively good work/life balance. However, when he brought on a team, he started noticing they were also replying to weekend emails, and Slack messaging him questions in the late hours of the evening.

He asked them about it, and his fears were confirmed. They had assumed that because he worked all the time, they were expected to as well. This couldn’t be further from the truth! He never had that expectation, but his actions had set a silent precedent. 

If this story sounds familiar, be cautious. Be sure you’re setting clear expectations. You don’t want your team getting burned out trying to keep pace with you.

How To Communicate Like a Leader

When you were a solopreneur, there wasn’t any reason to think proactively about communication. As a leader, ad-hoc communication may feel more comfortable to you. After all, you’ve flown solo for so long, just having someone to reach out to when you have a question every once in a while feels like a huge step forward. But for your new team member, random, unscheduled communication can induce anxiety.  

Rather than sticking with ad-hoc communication, get proactive in your planning. When you have regularly scheduled meetings and check-ins, you’re able to get feedback faster, provide better service to your clients, and build a more cohesive team bond. 

Plus, team meetings that happen regularly let folks address issues while the issues are small. If you make it clear that the floor is open to anyone who has an opinion or wants to improve something, you’re able to get to the bottom of what’s working, what’s not, and address issues head-on in a productive way.

How Frequently Should Communication Take Place - And Why

Let’s talk about communication frequency. If you’re a busy business owner, it can feel overwhelming to try and schedule constant communication between you and your team - but it matters. Plus, if you plan ahead, your meetings won’t be pointless or frustrating, because you’ll be able to maximize efficiency. It’s a win-win. Generally, I recommend boiling down your meetings into different time increments:

  • Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Daily
  • Quarterly
  • Annually

Weekly

Your team one-on-ones should happen weekly. These meetings should be general check-ins, time for making immediate decisions, and to discuss client work. This is a great place to build relationships and improve communication - especially among new team members.

Daily

I’ve seen so many different levels of daily communication work for teams. You don’t need a daily scheduled meeting, but you can check in casually and make sure everyone feels supported. This might be:

  • Slack messaging
  • Your project management software
  • Text messages (if this is a comfortable form of communication for you)
  • Daily stand-ups for bigger teams

Quarterly

Having bigger team meetings quarterly to recap the previous quarter and do some strategic planning for the next quarter is perfect. It can be useful to keep these meetings quarterly so that you’re not getting sucked into strategic planning too frequently (which can result in procrastination or over-planning) or avoiding planning too infrequently. You want to allow your team time to provide regular feedback and be involved in the planning process.

Annually

Ideally, your annual meeting should be a retreat. This is the best time for big-picture planning. It’s less block-and-tackle than your quarterly round-ups, and more focused on stepping back and mapping out long-term goals. Annual retreats are the perfect time for team growth - building, celebrating wins, and figuring out what type of communication works best in the future to accomplish these goals.

Surveys

Pulling together surveys for quick communication and feedback can also be valuable, especially if your team is growing. At XYPN, we do one-question surveys monthly. This helps us address one big task or event we’re doing now, and to give the leadership team concise gut-checks semi-regularly. I’ve seen clients do surveys for their team quarterly, or semi-annually. 

Team Communication is Challenging - But Worthwhile

When you’re used to it just being you, it can be tough to make space in your business for others. Figuring out how to create a communication plan (and stick with it) can be exhausting but it’s absolutely worth it. When you determine how to communicate with others on your team, you can set expectations to maximize success in the future

Ultimately, taking time to make space for communication on your team means better and more efficient processes, successfully handling off work without feeling the need to micromanage, and successfully setting expectations in other areas of your business. 

If you’re an extrovert like me, you might not necessarily think team communication is something that requires a lot of advance planning - communication just comes naturally to you. However, it’s important to be intentional about communication as you grow your team. Not being on the same page about something simple like response time to phone calls can lead to poor culture, low productivity, and even staff turnover. 

 

 

Arlene-Moss-Square-ColorAbout Arlene Moss, Executive Coach
Arlene gets a kick out of helping financial advisors get over being overwhelmed and take on their frustrations so their businesses soar. Arlene works to ensure XYPN members are able to help their clients prosper while creating a sustainable business model. Through XYPN Academy and one-on-one coaching, members get the support they need to grow their businesses and overcome the challenges that come their way.

 

  

 

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