How Can Managers Communicate With Staff? Team Briefing in Perspective

Over the coming weeks and months, we hope to provide a set of short briefings on key human resource management (HRM) policies and practices of relevance to all managers.

First up is the area of communication and a key way to communicate with your staff and employees – team briefing. This practice is often seen as an important means to communicate downwards to groups of managers and employees throughout an organisation.

Often, part of the team brief has core information, relating to corporate issues, supplemented by more local news at each stage. It may concern general information on goals and performance and explain reasons for decisions and aspects of change and so on. So, as a form of communication, it is only ‘one-way’ information flow as it is ‘cascaded’ down through organisational levels.

Such practices as team briefing evolved from the ideas of briefing groups promoted in the 1960s in the UK by the Industrial Society.

Such practices as team briefing evolved from the ideas of briefing groups promoted in the 1960s in the UK by the Industrial Society. Such briefings were increasingly recognised as an important tool for organisations, to communicate internally, since the end of 1970s. Indeed, the idea of greater communications came to be seen, as one part of the elixir, of so-called ‘Japanese management practices’ that from the 1980s had produced those famous world beating large firms from Japan.

The simple management principle underlying team briefing is that good communications are an essential part of organisational effectiveness because it enables regular face-to-face meetings of small groups, that are relevant to their work, and conducted systematically by team leaders.

In theory, a team briefing meeting usually comprises colleagues who normally work together and the number of members for briefings varies from about 4 to 16 with their manager or supervisor acting as the leader or coach.

Therefore, team briefing as a system, is designed to reflect the unitarist approach to HRM and employee involvement, which ensures that all employees, from executive management down to the shop or office floor, are fully informed of matters that affect their work (Gennard & Judge, 1997; Hyman & Mason, 1995). This is, on contract to a pluralist view of HRM, which would see other forms of communications, at least two-way, as required.

The six principal benefits for team briefing identified by Grummitt (1983: 4-7), former director of the Industrial Society, have been acknowledged by many in the academic and practitioners literature (Marchington, Parker, & Prestwich, 1989).

So, team briefing helps in:

  • Reinforcement – reinforces management through getting a team together where managers are seen as leaders and reliable sources of information;
  • Commitment – increases commitment to the task and the organisations through talking to people about how the team and organisation is doing and/or aiming for;
  • Clarity – helps prevent some misunderstandings and ensure employees receive information from the right person at the right time;
  • Change – helps people to accept change;
  • Formality – helps control the informal communications of the ‘grapevine’ and ensures that information finding its way on to the shop or office floor; and
  • Consistency – provides a base of information.

However, some of these benefits of team briefing may not be easily achieved in reality. This is because, in practice, the team briefing has a number of problems and pitfalls.

Timing of briefs is one of the most common problems. For example, it is difficult to set up team briefing meetings within a workplace that operates on a continuous shift-working basis or when organisations are widely dispersed geographically.

These include the areas of:

  • Timing – timing of briefs is one of the most common problems. For example, it is difficult to set up team briefing meetings within a workplace that operates on a continuous shift-working basis or when organisations are widely dispersed geographically (Marchington & Parker, 1990)
  • Content – content of briefs is the other most common issue. Employees may get irrelevant content when the agenda is driven from the top rather than by demand or when managers do not have sufficient skill to present material in a manner which makes it relevant (Marchington et al., 1989);
  • Leading – leading briefs is another issue when many people are involved in leading the briefing meetings because any one of them can mess up or mislead the briefs (Farrant, 2003); and
  • Regularity – briefings can be irregular, dispensable in times of pressure and variable in coverage.

There are skills needed for HRM practitioners to conduct effective team briefings (Farrant, J. 2003). Some of these are:

  • Preparing: make a good plan : agenda, content, venue, frequency and size of teams;
  • Clarifying: collect and analyse information, and provide clarification and justification;
  • Simplifying: simplify the message to be most easily understood;
  • Vivifying: make the information alive and relevant to staff; and
  • Being yourself: be confident and natural in communication.

In short, team briefings are not the panacea that too many naïve managers think they are. This is because they are too often simply top-down one-way communications giving information of limited utility about decisions already made with no opportunity for influence or feedback.

References and selected further readings

Adair, J., & Thomas, N. 2003. Briefings. In N. Thomas (Ed.), Concise Adair on Communication & Presentation Skills: 55-66. London UK: Thorogood.

Armstrong, M. (Ed.). 2001. A Handbook of Management Techniques: The Best-selling Guide to Modern Management Methods (3rd ed.). London UK: Kogan Page.

Farrant, J. 2003. Face-to-tace communication. In J. Farrant (Ed.), Internal Communications: 50-61. London UK: Thorogood.

Gennard, J., & Judge, G. 1997. Employee Relations. London: IPD.

Grummitt, J. 1983. Team Briefing. London UK: Industrial Society.

Hyman, J., & Mason, B. 1995. Managing Employee Involvement and Participation. London Sage.

Marchington, M., & Parker, P. 1990. Changing Patterns of Employee Relations. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Whestsheaf.

Marchington, M., Parker, P., & Prestwich, A. 1989. Problems with team breifing in practice. Employee Relations, 11(4): 21-30.

Rose, E. 2008. Employment Relations (3rd ed.). Harlow Essex: Pearson Education Limited.

This article is jointly written by Dr Qi Wei and Professor Chris Rowley.

Dr Qi Wei is a Lecturer at the Business and Management Research Institute, University of Bedfordshire, UK. With a PhD in Human Resource Management at Cass Business School, City University London, her teaching expertise includes employee rewards and relations, organisational behaviour and research methods. Dr Qi Wei’s research interests are in International Human Resource Management and Reward and Performance Management. Dr Qi Wei has had numerous articles published and contributed chapters to a number of books on Human Resources.

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