Why we need to understand and articulate the benefits of our skills in multidisciplinary collaborations, and how a skilled communicator can be a secret ingredient to successful team dynamics.
“Hello, I am a communicator.”
The meaning of this sentence as an introduction will have different levels of significance, depending on how familiar you are with the intricacies of communication as a practice. When collaborating in multidisciplinary teams, naturally we are working with people from different disciplines to our own. So I might assume it’s not very meaningful beyond some obvious assumptions. Possibly meaningless!
A mutual depth of understanding is a key element that could bring that spark of genius the virtues of ‘multidisciplinary’ promises but might not always deliver. This problem lies partly in the difficulties in explaining our skills to others outside our domain of expertise – it can be surprisingly hard to explain what we know so well! In this context, giving a short-hand answer normally sufficient as a get-out at a dinner party isn’t enough. We need to truly think about what benefits our own skills can bring to others and to the project outcome beyond common assumptions, framed in a way that is meaningful to them. And often, it’s the intangible skills that make all the difference. Only by making this effort can we begin to understand others’ values, as well as help others to appreciate our own.
A skilled communicator can be an incredible asset in a multidisciplinary team, especially when diverse people from fundamentally different backgrounds are involved. Here are five reasons why…
Pick up on jargon
Every discipline has its own specialised words and phrases. We usually take our own for granted because we have become so used to using them. When we hear them from others, they may be easy enough to ignore – perhaps we don’t want to come across as ignorant, or we simply can’t be bothered to ask. A communicator picks up on jargon and gets it explained in plain language. This helps everyone to progress in the project on the same level of understanding.
Help to draw out information
Communicators experienced in interviewing people are skilled in asking open yet probing questions. In a multidisciplinary team, they can help to bring tacit knowledge to light and share this amongst the team. It is also a great asset for exploring clients’ and other stakeholders’ underlying needs. When interviewing highly qualified specialists, they should have the ability to ask questions without feeling intimidated by expertise.
Listen for meanings
Listening is a core skill in effective communication. Skilled communicators listen for the underlying meaning or motivation of how and what is said. They will look out for different uses of words, ways of phrasing and their meanings, asking for clarifications when necessary to prevent miscommunication. They can also help to summarise long winding trains of thought, articulate ideas in a concise way.
Bridge gaps in viewpoints
In a mixed group of practitioners shaped by diverse experiences, backgrounds and vested interests, viewpoints can differ widely. The ability to put oneself ‘in someone else’s shoes’ (understand things from another’s point of view) is a key skill of a good communicator. They can help to clarify points of views where necessary, or mediate between different opinions to help bridge gaps of understanding.
Show off team achievements
Team members from different disciplines will naturally have different biases. These may be biases towards a discipline, a technology, a method, a medium, etc. Good communicators are biased towards the audience – the receivers of whatever message is to be conveyed. When it comes to showing the results achieved by the whole team, they can craft the message according to who the audience is and why they should care. Tease out the core meanings, then adjust the content delivery, framed in a compelling and inclusive way that will resonate with a new group of people.
“Hello, I can help people from different disciplines to work better together and then show off our achievements in the most engaging and meaningful way.”
How about you? I would love to know!