Communication analysis for teams

Guidance

Last Modified  15 August 2016

Resources
  • A round or rectangular table, around which the whole team can sit comfortably with room to work
  • A large room with enough floor space for the team to move around freely
  • A flipchart
  • A video camera and playback facility.
Running Egg Rescue resources (for the facilitator):
  • a large plastic sheet
  • two raw eggs (includes a spare!)
  • scissors
  • string
  • sticky tape.
For the team:
  • egg-box
  • a sixth of a ream of plain paper
  • half-packet of non-marking adhesive
  • six sheets of A4 cards
  • roll of sticky tape
  • three feet cotton wool
  • ball of string
  • stapler
  • scissors
  • staples
  • six plastic cups
  • four garden canes
  • paper clips
  • a cardboard box
  • rubber bands.
Time needed
Allow for two 2 hours 20 minutes to run this tool.
  • Step 1 – 10 minutes
  • Step 2 – 30 minutes
  • Step 3 – 10 minutes
  • Step 4 – 10 minutes
  • Step 5 – 35 minutes
  • Step 6 – 5 minutes
  • Step 7 – 20 minutes
  • Step 8 – 20 minutes
Facilitator notes
Before the session
Tape a piece of string to the end of a raw egg using sticky tape, leaving about a length of about 12-inches. Fix the string to the ceiling of the training room, allowing the egg to dangle 12 inches from it. Make sure it is fixed immediately above an area where the team can assemble the rescue apparatus. Get the team's materials ready, putting everything in the cardboard box.

During the exercise
The team may ask for the rules to be clarified. Do this, if asked; otherwise, do not intervene at any time. All rules are given in the game instructions. Before the string is cut and the rescue apparatus is put in position, put the large plastic sheet on the floor, immediately under the egg (just in case it breaks!).

Cutting the string
Make a drama out of this point, capitalising on the symbolism. If the egg doesn't reach 'home', allow the team one attempt to get it home (such as a shake of the apparatus).

A note on possible solutions
There is no one solution to building a successful rescue device. Successful mechanisms may be very simple, using only a few materials, or very complex. In our experience, about one in three teams succeeds in this task.
Suggested steps – Step 1
Explain the purpose of the tool to the whole team; check people are clear and that they agree it is a worthwhile exercise to engage in. Deal with queries and challenges.

Describe the tool as a fun problem-solving task which the team will work on together. Explain that the team will be videoed doing this task. The team will then watch the video and record its communication patterns using a defined set of criteria. The results will then discussed in the team. Strengths and weaknesses should be highlighted and related to everyday team functioning. The team will then plan how its communication could be improved.

Explain to the team that the task is less important than learning from the process – the task is there to shed some light on how the individual members of the team communicate with each other.
Step 2
Give out the handout game instructions for Egg Rescue, one to each team member. Then give the Egg Rescue materials to the team. Give the team 30 minutes to complete the task. Announce what time the string will be cut. Start the video camera recording and step back and observe the team doing the task. Check from time to time that the whole team is within shot.
Step 3
After 30 minutes, ask the team to get its rescue apparatus in position. Ask for a volunteer to cut the string. Make sure you make the most of the drama around this. When the string is cut, before moving on, the team will want to talk a bit about its rescue device and how effective it was. There may be quite a lot of excitement in the room. If the team has 'failed', be sensitive, and let the team talk about why it happened. Do not allow the team to start blaming individuals for failure. Emphasise that 'success' or 'failure' in itself is not the main point of the exercise. Stress that it is the result of the whole team's efforts, and move on to the next part of the exercise.
Step 4
Explain that the team will be reviewing its performance by watching the video, and that the members will be recording each other's communication patterns. Give a copy of the handout Communication analysis to each team member and talk them through the various categories, with examples. Explain that there are balances that teams need to strike between the different communication categories to work together effectively.
Step 5
Give each team member the proforma Communication analysis record sheet and assign each team member the task of observing one other team member on the video (they must not observe themselves).

Explain how to complete the proforma and suggest that everyone writes quotes where they see a particularly striking example of a particular category. Play the video. Take notes yourself of quotes you could feed back in the review – making sure you achieve a balance across team members and communication categories.
Step 6
Draw up on the flipchart a matrix with the communication categories down the page and team members' names across the page. Include a 'Total' column for the whole team. Get team members to 'score' the person they observed. Go round the group and write up the scores on the flipchart. Add in the totals for each category for the whole team.
Step 7
Ask the group for its initial reactions on looking at the analysis. Useful prompts might be:
  • What does this tell us about this team's communication patterns in the task you have just done?
  • Are there any features that strike you immediately?
Look specifically at the balance between the categories and the possible symptoms detailed in the handout Communication analysis. Be sure not to let the team examine and criticise individual team members to the point that they are embarrassed or put on the spot. If, for example, someone is being criticised for making most of the contributions, say 'What about the quieter members of the group? Do you feel you got your suggestions and ideas across?'

Help the group to explore the links between this snapshot and its communication on work tasks. (Useful questions are given in the communication analysis handout.) Write up on a flipchart the areas the team identifies as strengths and the areas it identified as weaknesses.
Step 8
Agree next steps, which might be (for example):
  • agreeing to repeat the communication analysis at regular intervals in team meetings
  • personal reflection and identification of individual personal objectives
  • seeking feedback from other teams, customers, etc.
Review
Allow five minutes for comment on what has been learned from the session.
Opportunities
For fun
People tend to enjoy Egg Rescue immensely. Teams often go on talking about their designs long after the exercise is over. Building a successful (or even nearly successful) device can be a huge morale-booster and put teams on quite a high.

To improve team problem-solving
By using the Egg Rescue exercise and videoing it, the team gets a valuable opportunity to look at how it handles other important processes, such as problem-solving. The tool may highlight issues such as how well the group plans and organises its work; how it assigns roles and manages time; and how and whether it achieves its objectives. There is an opportunity here, perhaps at the point of 'next steps', to consider whether the team would benefit from further sessions, specifically to look at problem-solving.

Another process it may highlight is the team's decision-making. The video could show some weaknesses (or strengths) around how decisions are made in the team: Is it the person who shouts loudest who 'wins,' or does the team try to achieve consensus at every decision point? As facilitator, try not to let the discussion focus on these areas at the expense of the communication analysis. However, if the team does highlight issues around other processes, do discuss them and capture any actions in 'next steps.'
Risks
Don't let the team negate the outcome of the exercise with excuses
Some teams, particularly where the communication analysis feedback may not look too positive, focus on the exercise (in this case, Egg Rescue) as being unrealistic and therefore as not capturing a 'typical' piece of team-working. The members may say things like, 'We wouldn't normally do that in our meetings. In this task, we all took on different roles which will have influenced our behaviour.' Teams that have 'succeeded' in the Egg Rescue task may be more inclined to react like this (if the communication analysis is quite 'negative'). As facilitator, you obviously can't tell the team that it is typical of its members. You can only say it is a snapshot, and help the team to explore whether there are any links with its day-to-day performance. It might be a good idea to focus the team initially on 'contribution rates', as it is quite likely that this will be typical of the team's everyday performance and the team will be more likely to recognise this.

Don't let individual team members be singled out
It is quite difficult to observe and record communication in this way, and some mistakes (incorrect classifications) will be made. Because it is a difficult task, we suggest that individuals focus on observing only one person. This does, however, carry the risk that if the 'observer' does a bad job, this could paint a poor picture of the observed person. As the facilitator, be mindful of this and try to steer the conversation away from singling people out for negative feedback. The temptation for the team might be to single each person out in turn. Individuals who have been very quiet, and who may have said very little, may feel on the spot. When you are watching the video, keep alert to situations like this. Try to jot down some quotes yourself from the quieter members, so you can feed these in at the appropriate time. During the playback of the video, you could complete a communication analysis record sheet for the whole team, so that if a team member is wildly out in his or her recording, you can offer your observation.

Don't let the team get hung up on what the 'real' statistics should be
The most valuable benefit of using communication analysis is that teams consider the trends and patterns of their communication styles. Sometimes teams get preoccupied with what the 'ideal' statistics should be. For example, exactly how much agreeing versus disagreeing should there be? This is a red herring and stops the team considering how it needs to improve. The facilitator should focus the team on looking at the general trends – for example, is there more disagreeing than agreeing?