November 24, 2014

Learn the Shortcut to Better Team Communication

Shortcuts: Getting Through to People Who Slow You DownLife’s first moments leave indelible marks on the memory.  From baby steps to the first day at school….from the first kiss at a dance to the firstborn in your family, you certainly have strong feelings about your own personal milestones.  So it makes sense that with increasing numbers of people starting businesses, many would recall business milestones such as their first partnerships.  Many connections are formed over Skype, email and Google Docs. And it makes sense that someone would develop a book focused on a specific first step in starting a business: working with someone new for the first time.

Brian Tolle, a management consultant who specializes in team dynamics, change management and collaboration, has written Shortcut: Getting Through to People Who Slow You Down to help us get better at working in teams. This short business behavior ebook focuses on how we handle team member challenges that can hinder project success.  I was sent an ebook copy by the publisher.

Don’t Trick Yourself Into Doing Work that Others Should be Doing

Tolle makes clear that the reason behind a team struggle is typically misunderstanding the other person’s nature. He opens with a statement many small business owners have likely uttered at one time or another:

“I can do it faster and better myself. So why waste time and energy trying to explain to certain direct reports what they need to do and how to do it? I’ll just do it myself.”

Shortcut is organized to address behavioral styles and problems that a business owner encounters in teams.  The first section outlines details for imagining a working relationship.  You outline a person, imagined or real, and then assign one of four persona profiles:

  1. A person who is too independent
  2. A person who offers too much cheerleading
  3. A person resistant to new ideas
  4. A person with a perfectionist streak

These personae are presented with consequences you can easily recognize, such as the anti-new-idea people who, Tolle writes, are “more likely to drag their feet than openly challenge the change.”

The second segment of the book gives a deeper examination of motives behind the first four points, and offers examples of how to speak to those who exhibit each of the behaviors.  Tolle notes that the basics for this approach, the DISC model of human behavior, come from William Moulton Marston, author of Emotions of Normal People. Tolle explains the basics:

“The DISC framework is based on the degree to which an individual views his or her circumstances, or frame of reference, as favorable or unfavorable. A favorable frame of reference reflects the belief that one operates within a supportive environment where he or she can feel comfortable. An unfavorable frame of reference reflects a belief that one operates within an antagonistic environment and he or she feels challenged by these forces.”

The third segment describes a combination of the four styles. Tolle believes we all use some combination of these behavioral styles.

Included in the text are exercises to help you frame your language to match each personality’s different work effort. The language to which your team members will be most receptive is noted as “Music to Their Ears.” Keywords to use and listen for in an encounter are given alongside each exercise–a great aid if your communication is through email.

Honest Shortcuts That Don’t Shortchange Best Practices for Teamwork

Now, a 93-page book cannot cover every aspect of teamwork. Shortcut, like any other ebook, covers each topic in a few pages, and some topics could benefit from longer explanations.  Nor is there a deeper explanation of why Marston’s book is important, so those unfamiliar with it will have to trust Tolle’s point of view. But Tolle does show solid judgment in moderating the advice, noting, “These are not clinical tools to understand people’s psyches and such applications are strongly discouraged by the professional community.“

Despite the short length, I think Tolle picked a good subject for the ebook format.  The personae are broad enough to make you think without being too stereotypical or casting a blind eye to your own failings. And the book’s list-like organization will help you decide whether the suggestions fit your situation.

You’ll have to weigh how the material in Shortcut fits for other situations, like dealing with people with disabilities or structuring teams.  If you do not feel you “read” people well, you may also want to augment Tolle’s exercises with books about body language. Overall, however, Tolle offers advice that does not try to oversell or inflate a perception.

With businesses today relying on teams around the globe, professionals must make decisions about each other very quickly with limited information.  Shortcut offers a quick checklist as to whether you’ve struck personality gold or just another rock in the dirt. Applying Shortcut to your selection of teams and partners can make the experience as rewarding as your first bike ride.

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Pierre DeBois - Associate Book Editor


Pierre DeBois Pierre Debois is Associate Book Editor for Small Business Trends. He is the Founder of Zimana, a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and medium sized businesses that rely on web analytics data. A Gary, Indiana native, Pierre is currently based in Brooklyn. He blogs about marketing, finance, social media, and analytics at Zimana blog.

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