communication skills required for leading a small team

Valerie Dansereau has more than twenty years of experience in corporate America, so the world of business is very familiar turf. She has written for many different types of business from healthcare to addiction recovery to banking to B2B. For Peaceful Leaders Academy, she focuses on conflict management, de-escalation, and leadership development.

Excelling in communication is a trait that leaders in every setting need. Poor communication can lead to missed opportunities, falling short of performance goals, decreased revenue, and dwindling morale. Communication skills required for leading a small team and communication skills required for leading a big team may vary, good communication skills are needed to inspire positive change and to make sure staff members have a shared vision.

Leading a team comes with challenges, regardless of whether the team is large or small. Large teams are likely to have a wider range of people with diverse backgrounds and personality types which may mean a higher likelihood of conflict and miscommunication. Small teams may have a greater number of opportunities for team members to collaborate closely with each other. This can give them the opportunity to get to know each other much better than in settings where teams are large. Small teams may experience greater engagement and reliance on each other.

A leader with poor communication skills may trigger a toxic work environment and high employee turnover. The decision to leave a company is often tied to dissatisfaction with managers. To be effective in a leadership role, you must be committed to improving your leadership skills whenever possible, especially your communication skills. What are some essential communication skills required for leading a small team?

Team Unity and Team Building

Small teams typically interact closely with each other, and leaders need the ability to promote team unity. This starts with communicating with clarity in every interaction. For example, tasks may be divided among just a few people when your team is small. Each member of the team needs to clearly understand their individual role and what’s expected of them. There should be no confusion about job duties or about what each team member’s priorities should be.

You’ll need the ability to communicate to all members of the team in a clear way both verbally and in writing with as much transparency as possible. Be clear about why individual tasks are important and when they’re expected to be completed. Be available to answer any questions your employees may have.

Find ways to improve the unity of the team. Periodically have team building exercises to help staff get to know each other in a more relaxed interaction. The goal is to improve communication, collaboration, and trust.

Authenticity and Honesty

An important skill for leaders is authenticity. In a small team, everyone in the department directly interacts with you as the team leader, and they value sincerity and honesty. Most employees want to have a leader they can look up to and trust. They’re interested in getting to know you as a person and they want to see the real you.

If your communications are based just on what the company wants you to say, your team may have a hard time trusting you.  Let your personality shine through by using humor or telling personal stories. A storytelling ability can help to foster connections and may help to encourage others to open up to you.

Empowering Employees to Meet Their Potential

As the leader of a small team, you have the opportunity to lead each employee in a way that empowers them to meet their potential. Get to know the strengths and weaknesses of each individual team member and consider how each can make a contribution to the team by utilizing their strengths. Strategically delegate tasks among your staff while giving individual team members the autonomy to complete tasks in a way that makes sense to them.

The attitude you project can have a big impact on your team’s morale. Effective leaders project a positive attitude. If you’re facing any stressful situations, remember to set a positive example and don’t focus on the stress or openly demonstrate signs of fear or negativity. Work on remaining calm under pressure.

There are times when your team may look to you to be inspired or motivated. Even if times are challenging, work on conveying a positive attitude and show them that you have faith that the team will get through stressful times. Offer words of encouragement or praise and positive feedback when appropriate. Know what motivates your team and work on keeping them focused and driven.

Listening Skills

Listening abilities are important in leading teams of all sizes, but they’re among the most important communication skills required for leading a small team. Be available to listen when team members have questions or concerns. Avoid being constantly tied up away from your office or in the office with the door closed. Having an open-door policy helps to build trust and helps employees know that you want to be involved in whatever is going on.

Give your employees opportunities to voice questions or concerns. When members of your team approach you with a concern or an idea, they want to know you’re paying attention and that their concerns matter to you. When an employee wishes to have a conversation with you, try to avoid being interrupted. Close the door and put your phone on “Do Not Disturb.” Practice active listening skills by closely focusing on what people are telling you.

Work on being empathetic toward the members of your team. Paying attention to what employees are telling you doesn’t just depend on their word choice. Facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice can offer added cues about how they’re really feeling. Besides paying attention to the nonverbal cues others are giving, have self-awareness about your own body language and nonverbal signals. Consider whether you’re projecting an image of confidence and assertiveness.

Advocating for Employees

There are many communication skills required for leading a small team, but not all of them pertain to communication with your employees. You’ll also have to interact with senior management, and you’ll need the ability to advocate for your team when necessary. If you need additional resources, it falls on you to communicate this to superiors. Keep senior management informed about what’s needed for your team to do the best job possible.

Being able to advocate for your employees depends on having a clear picture of what’s needed. Encourage your staff to let you know what is causing them stress and what resources they need. The more thoroughly you understand any issues your staff is facing, the better you’ll be at advocating for them.

Keeping Staff Informed

Keep your team informed whenever you can about any information you have about the direction the company is going in or any imminent changes that may be ahead. Communicate with authenticity and transparency. Employees that sense that there’s secrecy about company decisions may have a hard time trusting you. Poor communication about job duties can lead to confusion and miscommunication with other team members.

Besides meeting regularly with your team to communicate important information, plan to have one-on-one meetings with individual team members. This gives you a better understanding of problems staff members may be dealing with. Encourage innovative ideas and suggestions.

Have a plan about what you need to cover in staff meetings. Don’t hold your staff hostage while you ramble aimlessly. Your employees don’t want to take time out of their day to hear about things that aren’t important to them. Have a clear agenda and make sure you don’t leave out anything important during a meeting.

Think Before You Speak

Leaders need the ability to adapt to different styles of communication. Even with a small team, you may interact with people of very diverse backgrounds. Get to know your staff and you’ll find some may want frequent feedback while others prefer to work more independently.

In a leadership role, you may need to choose your words carefully. Don’t blurt out comments that might come across as discriminatory or offensive. The first thought that comes into your mind may not be your best thought. Pause and think through what you say to make sure the words that come out are what you mean.

Take your time with written communication for the same reason. Don’t dash off an email in a moment of annoyance or anger that you may end up regretting.

If you do end up saying something you regret, don’t make excuses. Admit you shouldn’t have said what you said. You may not be able to completely make up for an offensive comment, but admitting you were wrong is an important step toward repairing a relationship with a colleague or employee.

Mediation and Conflict Resolution Skills

Conflict may happen less often in small teams than in large teams, but leaders need to be prepared to deal with conflict if and when it occurs. Coworkers spend a lot of hours together and if they’re feeling stressed, they may lash out at each other. In small teams, conflicts between two employees may affect the entire staff.

Some conflicts become more intense if they aren’t resolved quickly, and if that happens, your staff is looking to you to restore a peaceful working environment. You may need to get between two staff members who can’t work through a dispute. You need to be able to mediate calmly, keeping your own emotions under control while not saying or doing anything that might make it appear that you’re taking sides.

At some point, you may find yourself in direct conflict with an employee. They may be hostile or uncooperative, or there might be a personality clash that makes it difficult for you to work together.  Work on learning from every challenging situation, and don’t hesitate to involve your HR department if things seem to be spiraling out of control.

Being able to promote a peaceful workplace is one of the key communication skills required for leading a small team. Reach out to Peaceful Leaders Academy for information on becoming a certified peaceful leader.

Valerie Dansereau has more than twenty years of experience in corporate America, so the world of business is very familiar turf. She has written for many different types of business from healthcare to addiction recovery to banking to B2B. For Peaceful Leaders Academy, she focuses on conflict management, de-escalation, and leadership development.