GSNE Week: Elizabeth Grim on Fostering Conscious Communication within Teams

Hello fellow evaluation lovers! My name is Elizabeth Grim and I work as an evaluation consultant with The Consultation Center at Yale, where I primarily consult with community-based agencies to build evaluation capacity. Prior to joining The Consultation Center, I worked as a policy analyst for Connecticut’s statewide campaign to end homelessness.

With the growing popularity of social media, evaluators increasingly discuss data visualization and how to communicate evaluation findings to stakeholders. Yet we don’t always talk about how to effectively communicate within our own teams, which is just as important to the success of a project. Effective communication involves fostering workplaces and teams in which people are heard, understood, and acknowledged for their unique contributions.

Lesson 1: Encourage curiosity: Communication is easier when questions and comments come from a place of curiosity rather than judgment. Ask questions when discussing a project or deliverable rather than jumping immediately to feedback and conclusions.

Lesson 2: Know your colleagues: The first step in fostering better communication is developing a relationship with members of the team. How do your colleagues prefer to communicate? What are their unique skills and professional goals? What are they passionate about inside and outside of the office?

Lesson 3: Table technology: Technology provides us with more flexibility in the workplace and allows us to communicate with partners across the globe. However, technology also allows people to talk around issues, reduces the ability to contextualize information through tone of voice or facial expressions, and encourages multitasking, all of which can result in a breakdown in communication. Ask team members to check their non-essential technology at the beginning of a meeting. Consider providing an incentive like a monthly gift card drawing for those that go low-tech.

Rad Resource 1: 4 Pillars of Integrity Video Series – Make impeccable agreements. Making impeccable agreements means that you only agree to what you are able and willing to complete and that you follow through with your agreements. On the flipside, this means that you also say no to those that you are unable and/or unwilling to complete. Teams are more effective and members have more trust in each other when each member takes 100% responsibility for themselves and their actions.

Rad Resource 2: The Great Genius Swap – Work environments and teams are more effective when people enjoy what they’re doing. Conduct a genius swap with your team. Gather the team together and ask each person to write down the one task they most love to do at their job and the one task they would like to stop doing. Find opportunities for team members to continue doing what they love and explore whether you can swap responsibilities around to minimize those they don’t enjoy.

AEA is celebrating GSNE Week with our colleagues in the Graduate Student and New Evaluators AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our GSNE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

4 thoughts on “GSNE Week: Elizabeth Grim on Fostering Conscious Communication within Teams”

  1. HI Sheila,

    I am currently a Masters student at Queens University. I am an elementary school teacher in my fifth year. I have been working on a group project for a different class and with members all over the country communication was challenging at times. Reading through your suggestions for tabling technology and knowing how your team communicates really resonated with me.

    I find it these are not only applicable when evaluating a program but also in working as a member of any team. We are so distracted by our technology and so easily offended by a section of text that we mis-understand and end up not completing the task we were setting out to do. I Think if we coupled the limited technology and building up relationships with you team you would be able to accomplish a great depth of things. I do see value in technology when it can be used for a focused matter. It allows us to research topics and data we may not know off hand but it can be so quickly mis-used… maybe having a group tech set up to research but the whole team can see what you are researching to keep people accountable.

    As I continue to move through my educational and professional career I find I see people’s insecurities and I have been better at wording my conversations carefully and without pressure to ideas as possible. These are learned awareness’s and I think your tips for communication and effective collaboration is key to working through the limits of everyone’s personalities and strengths as a team member.

    Thank you for your article. What would you advise a student struggling with program evaluation focus on? How can you be the most effective at setting up an evaluation with limited connection to the program and a steep learning curve to evaluation?

  2. Hi Elizabeth,
    Your article caught my eye as my current director worked for Yale and is also from the east coast in the Connecticut area. I’m writing you this from the west coast from Vancouver, BC. I’m currently a working through a Program Evaluation course for my Professional Masters program at Queen’s University and the ‘graduate student and new evaluators’ tab felt like a soft place to land in the land of evaluation.
    As someone very new to topic, I really enjoyed reading through your post as I felt like your ‘Rad Resources’ were ideas I could easily implement into my office environment as I also work in higher education. I had been asked to make contracts with co-workers and team mates before but ‘making impeccable agreements’ put a fun and fresh perspective on what feels like a traditional approach. This allows team members to take 100% responsibility for their actions in an authentic way. I work with a lot of millennials and I know this is an idea that will really strike them!
    This leads right into your second “Rad Resource” of team members doing what they love, feeling passionate about their project and owning their part. Again, it’s like giving what we all know a fresh coat of paint and making it look all shiny and new. I think this can be so encouraging and welcomed approach to help motivate and kick start collaboration with my team!
    Thank you,

  3. Dear Elizabeth,

    I am currently in a Progam Evaluation course as a part of the Masters of Education program at Queens University. While browsing, I came across your article and it resonated with me. Since beginning the course I have been drawn to the idea of creating a positive “culture of evaluation” in the workplace, and it has become clear that communication is key in achieving that.

    I have been reflecting on what “effective communication” looks like, and your points here have helped me to envision it. “..involves fostering workplaces and teams in which people are heard, understood, and acknowledged for their unique contributions”.

    From my own experience, in the work environments that have been person-centered, where I have felt that my personality and opinions valued, where I can contribute to the team, I am far more willing to evaluate my performance and make sacrifices for the team.

    The Genius Swap resource looks great. I wonder how the implementation of the 4 pillars works? Is it well-accepted? I was envisioning how it could be applied and was imagining some people viewing it as a little contrived. I am interested in learning more because it looks like a good tool for communication as well.

    Thanks for your article!

  4. Angela Campagna

    Hello Elizabeth,

    My name is Angela Campagna and I’m currently in the Professional Master of Education program at Queen’s University. I found your post on fostering conscious communication within teams particularly relevant to me as I am often collaborating with others at my workplace and also on assignments for my Master’s program.

    Your post gave me a new perspective on the use of technology within teams. I’ve always viewed technology in a positive light, as it has enabled me to connect with others easily and obtain information quickly on demand. However, your post made me realize that there is another side to technology and that we must proceed with caution. While some of the negative effects which you wrote about may be unintentional such as reducing the ability to contextualize information through tone of voice or facial expressions, or enabling people to talk around issues, they all can potentially lead to a breakdown in communication, as you mentioned. I also took interest in your comment about technology encouraging multitasking. In the past I’ve always thought of multitasking as a positive skill, but I am slowly realizing that at times it can be counterproductive. I don’t like how dependent on technology I’ve become, so I’ve recently taken steps to put away my phone and to communicate more in person than behind a screen. It’s been a challenge but I’ve felt positive about the results thus far.

    Before reading your post, I had never previously heard the term “Genius Swap,” but I think this idea has the potential to motivate people and improve collaboration in a workplace. Your tips about encouraging curiosity and knowing your colleagues made me ask myself whether or not I really have taken the time to get to know my team members, and whether I understand who they are and where they are coming from. What I’m still wondering about is how to collaborate with people who prefer working independently and may resist the idea of team work. If you have any advice on overcoming this type of barrier to communication, I would be very interested in hearing it. Thank you very much for all your insights. I look forward to inquiring more into the topic of communication within teams.

    Angela Campagna

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