By Emily Faracca – On
Team communication in any industry is necessary - even when it feels like a necessary evil.
Whether your team is big or small, it's a guarantee you'll be navigating different styles of communication. And even if each member of the team operates efficiently on their own, they will at some point need to rely on team communication to get the job done.
There is a certain industry in which the struggle is multiplied - real estate.
This is partly because, by the very nature of the job, your team is out of the office the majority of the time.
Factor in that your team is often made up of independent contractors.
Then, factor in that real estate agents are already bombarded with e-mails, texts and voicemails.
This seems to add up to an impossible equation.
There are an infinite number of articles that discuss how important good communication skills are as a real estate agent, but today we are discussing a different mode of communication - the communication your agents achieve with their colleagues in and out of the office.
Your agents may be satisfied with their individual wins - as long as they are showing homes and closing deals, there's nothing to improve upon. But, according to The Real Estate Trainer, a real estate team's demise can often be attributed to a breakdown in communication. On the flip-side, an agency that sold 473 homes in one year said their key to success was teamwork.
Whether you are the CEO, the lead agent, the president, or the owner of a real estate team, this guide is for you.
The truth is, every industry feels pressed for time. Those of us who are intentional with our communication, despite time restrictions, win.
We're going to discuss three ways to achieve optimal team communication in real estate:
- Effective Meeting Procedures
- Maintained Checklists and Procedures
- The Right Technology
While there are many other strategies you can use, the key is intention.
"Effective communication doesn’t just happen, it must be purposefully initiated continuously," says Real Estate Trainer. '
As you surely know, communication style is initiated from the top down. Agents and administrators take into account the style and habits that are set forth by leadership.
With this in mind, lets discuss the style and habits you can initiate today to improve your real estate team's communication!
If you've ever seen an episode of The Office, you've probably chuckled (or cringed) at Michael Scott's meeting policy - "Conference room, 5 minutes" - basically, whenever he felt like it, about whatever he was in the mood to discuss.
You're probably further on the "cringe" end of the spectrum if you have ever sat in a pointless meeting. I'm sure everyone reading this can recall sitting in a meeting, thinking, "Why am I here?"
If you already have a predetermined aversion to meetings, I don't blame you. But despite their bad name, when they are led effectively, meetings can be an excellent tool for communication.
The Undercover Recruiter found that 74 percent of senior management surveyed found meetings effective. But there are other reasons, besides what senior management thinks.
Meeting are a powerful business weapon - knowledge is power. Keeping your employees informed as much as you can is an untapped tool. For example, let your employees in on your important meeting with a client later. This will not only improve their workplace behavior, but boost their morale. We all want to be in the know on what's happening, right?
Speaking of morale: meetings can allow (or force) your employees to interact. If your office is spread out, and especially if your employees mostly remain in their office or in their cubicle with headphones on most of the day, communication might be limited to slack messages or e-mails. Yes, this can get the job done. But let me put it this way - if you asked me to, let's say, stage a house, with my best friend or a complete stranger, I can say with absolute certainty I would do a better job with my best friend. We're comfortable with each other; we have no problem shooting down each other's ideas. I don't work with my best friend, but my point is that it's a lot easier to work with people you know and understand. Am I saying you need to be best friends with your coworkers? No! Only that it helps to get to know the communication style and preference of your coworkers, and meetings are a great place to start.
Other ways meetings can help your team out:
- Communicating what your priorities are as they change
- Making decisions
- Updating your team on changes to procedure or structure
But just because meetings have the potential to be productive doesn't mean they always will be.
What Makes a Meeting Pointless?
A couple statistics found by Project Management Hacks:
- The typical American professional attends over 60 meetings per month.
- Approximately 50 percent of meeting time is wasted.
- 39 percent of people attending meetings actually admitted to dozing off during the meeting!
Speaking as a former reporter, I have sat in my fair share of pointless meetings. These sometimes included internal editorial meetings, as well as the town board meetings I covered on a weekly basis. The meetings that I knew were going to be a waste of time right off the bat had a couple things in common:
It Was a Meeting for the Sake of a Meeting
In other words, there wasn't much to discuss or decide - it was simply a meeting that had been scheduled because it was protocol to have a meeting that day.
Weekly meetings are a great idea for a team that incurs a lot of change or activity on a weekly basis. There will be a lot to go over and inform your team of. But if there's nothing to discuss one week, it's okay to cancel the meeting. You'll save your team a lot of frustration and more importantly, you'll save a lot of time.
It Was a Meeting Without an Agenda
It was organized on the premise of a vague topic and not much else. Here's the thing to keep in mind when calling a meeting: A group of people with better things to do might not be any more productive than an individual on his/her own. If you want to get opinions on your idea for new business cards, a meeting might not be the best way to go. Unless it requires a team effort all at once, consider sending an e-mail or making the decision on your own. Find a balance.
What Makes a Meeting Productive?
There are a couple ways to take advantage of the opportunity presented to you when you have your entire team in the same room.
The Parking Lot Method
If you've never heard of it, let me blow your mind.
Imagine this: You call a meeting on updates to your agency's marketing materials. Suddenly, an agent jumps in with a question about compliance. It's a fair question, but it requires a lengthy answer. No one else seems to relate to the question - in fact you begin to see eyes glazing over. They're frustrated and bored. You're about to lose them! What do you do?
Park it, baby!
Your "parking lot" is going to be filled with questions and ideas that cannot be addressed right away. Kindly park these issues and address them whenever possible. To be sure your employees feel heard and valued, you can even create a visual "parking lot" with the questions and ideas written down. This way you can track them and remove the issues that have already been addressed. If implemented well, your employees may get into the habit of utilizing the parking lot first, instead of bringing it up in a meeting. Go team!
Respect for Time
I'll make this quick - if you schedule a meeting to begin at a certain time, begin the meeting at that time. If you schedule a meeting to end at a certain time, end the meeting at that time. Period.
Points if you share the agenda beforehand, so that meeting attendees can look it over and come prepared to discuss if/when necessary. Craft a meeting with flow - it should have a discernable beginning, middle and end. Like a work-out class, a poorly run meeting will have your employees dreading it and staring at the clock the entire time. But if it is curated with intention, it can be smooth, short and sweet.
Respect for the 10-Minute Rule
John Medina of Brain Rules explains: We don't know why the 10 minute rule exists, but it does. He explains that based on extensive research, the human brain tends to zone out after 10 minutes of paying attention to a given topic. He says our brain will ask questions like "Can I eat it? Will it eat me? Can I mate with it? Will it mate with me? Have I seen it before?" If the answer to any or all of these questions is no, our brain wanders off to it's own little world.
The solution? If you are responsible for holding the attention of a room, try appeals. You might be thinking, "I'm in charge. I shouldn't have to "appeal" to my employees to pay attention to me." Wrong. You might have their physical presence, but you really want to captivate their minds.
The 10-minute rule states that you will need to find a way to get someone's attention and keep it for 10 minutes, and then do something to buy it for another ten minutes.
There are emotional appeals, humor appeals, fear appeals, adventure appeals, empathy, music, scarcity, testimonial - I could go on.
You need to find the method that works best for your team. Attention is not cheap, and no one will regret attending a meeting that makes a genuine effort to buy and keep attention.
And there you have it - the difference between a productive meeting and a waste of time.
To review: Meetings are a great way to cultivate team communication by creating meaningful work relationships, informing your team of changes to protocol or events, and making big decisions. They are NOT the place for you to enjoy the sound of your own voice. Use the opportunity wisely and respectfully.
Yes, this is for you - no matter how well-versed you are in your industry, or how second nature the real estate process has become.
For new hire purposes, for compliance purposes, for organizational purposes - you simply cannot overdo this. Your team may be independent contractors, but they still represent your agency.
Keep these checklists and procedures "alive" - use software that allows you to update them as necessary, and keep them accessible to the necessary personnel.
Keeping a Consistent Brand
A colleague of mine who works in marketing for a real estate agency expressed the frustration that comes with agents who want to curate their own personal brand, and the toll it can take on team communication. Even though she works hard to create branded marketing material, agents sometimes forego her materials for their own.
There's nothing wrong with having your own "brand" - unless the brand you've cultivated contrasts the brand of your agency in some way. This can be a time waster, and it can also be a deterrent for new business.
Brand consistency is hugely important for any industry, including real estate. But it's not just brand consistency that is affected without checklists and procedures. It's also team communication.
Keeping Communication Clearcut
When there are no set procedures in place for your agents or your administrators, things can get messy. This can happen in obvious ways and subtle ways, too.
Obviously, your agents will perform their job however they see fit - while this may not necessarily be a bad thing, it may not align with your desired protocol.
Subtly, your agents may subconsciously perceive a lack of material and preferred, documented procedures as a lack of investment on your part into the team.
There is a fine balance between micro-managing and laissez-faire - it's your job to find it.
Trust in you as the team leader leads to better communication over all - by giving your employees a "safe space" to communicate their questions, problems and concerns, show you are invested in the way your agency is run.
The last element to making team communication blossom is using the right technology.
Technology Inside the Office
Although the focus is often on your agents who are out showing houses and closing deals, there is a lot of support that goes on behind the scenes. So this is for you, support staff!
There is plenty of freeware available to assist with team communication efforts from inside the office. Applications like Slack, Trello, Monday, and others allow your team to communicate seamlessly, keep track of and manage projects from anywhere.
Applications like Google Drive allow you to keep track of and manage the documents you'll use to outline procedures and protocol, and make changes as needed.
Depending on the size of your office, it can be easier to simply call or text to communicate small things, but remember: if you want your team to get in the habit of using these freewares, they will follow your lead!
Technology Outside the Office
Since the majority of the "heavy lifting" gets done outside of the office, you'll want to make sure agents who are on location are provided with on-the-go options to relay messages back to your support staff.
Your agents can be considerate of your support team, who needs to get in touch with your agents on a moments notice, in a few different ways:
- Making themselves available - if they can't answer the phone, use software that allows their support staff to send them a text message, and then actually respond to it.
- Leave feedback for their support team - rather than just internalizing an error and taking it out on their team members, communicating what works better for them
- Being clear about the status of their outings - as much as they can, and especially if it affects others, letting their team members know where they will be and for how long
Of course, none of this is possible on a mobile phone that drops calls or goes in and out of service. And of course, your internal team will be ineffective on desk phones that don't operate efficiently either.
You'll need to invest in mobile phones that don't drop calls and can act as an extension of your agent's desk phones. Not only will your other team members need to get in touch with them - their clients will as well. Of course giving out their mobile phone number is an option, but wouldn't it be easier if they didn't have to?
Arbeit Voice is a VoIP office phone system that gives you optimal flexibility, especially for agents who are on-the-go.
You can integrate a mobile phone with your agent's desk phone, but it won't just be an extension - you'll be able to eliminate a mobile service provider, because Arbeit acts as their own carrier as well. Based on your agent's preferences, calls can go to their desk phone or mobile phone, using the same network your desk phones operate on. If you're using Arbeit Voice, your voice quality will be crystal-clear and your calls will never get dropped. Plus, you'll have a mobile hot-spot anywhere.
Arbeit Voice supports the majority of the most modern mobile devices and if you decide to make the switch, you can probably keep the desk phones and numbers you already have.
To answer my original question, no - team communication is not an impossible dream.
Yes, it will require a lot of work. Yes, it will require the investment of time. Yes, you might need to switch things up.
But for the sake of your employee morale, your brand, your efficiency as an agency - I promise you it's worth it.