Many advisory firms are building advisory teams with the hopes of sharing the workload and increasing client satisfaction. However, there are inherent challenges faced by teams, which consist of a group of "Many Minds" whose conversational mechanics are increasingly complicated by the growing number of participants, specifically when it comes to effective team communication. In fact, Harvard researchers studying how communication changed between two-person ‘dyad’ conversations and multi-person group conversations found that group communication is inherently more complex (and more problematic, as expected) because of two primary issues: 1) the ambiguity that arises regarding how and when to talk or listen, and 2) what to say (or not to say) when it is a person’s turn to speak.
When it comes to assessing how and when to talk and listen in a group conversation, there are three important considerations that will help an advisory team successfully communicate with clients: airtime (i.e., the time a person is given to speak during the meeting) is shared, typically unequally, among the meeting participants; taking turns to speak can be much more confusing in groups than between two people, as whose turn it is to speak when someone else is finished talking can often be very ambiguous; and back-channel feedback provides cues – both non-verbal (e.g., head nods, hand gestures, etc.) and verbal (e.g., saying 'yes', 'mmm-hmm', 'oh', etc.) – from listeners that let the speaker (and other participants) know they are being heard, but it is typically more limited in group conversations (as we may engage less like a participant and more like a staid audience).
Deciding what to say and how much information to offer to an advisory team can be an especially difficult process for a client, who must evaluate whether and how much to disclose personal and sensitive information… the specific type of information required during a financial planning meeting. The situation can be worse, too, if the client prefers working with a single advisor and is not yet comfortable sharing sensitive personal details with their entire advisory team.
Some tools that advisory teams can consider to optimize client communication and to develop trust include preparing agendas for all meetings that are sent to participants in advance with the aim to encourage thoughtful discussion by all who attend; setting clear expectations to facilitate a better balance between the client and advisory team members with respect to distributing conversation airtime; using active listening techniques that involve fully concentrating, understanding, and responding to what the person they’re talking to says; and organizing role-playing exercises for team members to practice communicating and focusing on the dynamics between participants.
Ultimately, while advisory teams are commonly faced with "Many Minds" issues that can make it difficult to communicate effectively with clients (and to keep them happy!), there are several tools (using meeting agendas proactively to spark engagement and develop rapport, setting clear expectations, active listening, and role-playing activities for advisory team members) that can help to overcome these challenges. Because despite the challenges that all teams face in working to communicate better, the benefits of working in a well-developed and well-trained team can far outweigh the drawbacks as, in the end, team members can work to keep clients happy while supporting each other in the process!