Top 7 Signs of Poor Team Communication

Ten Thousand Coffees Team -
July 12, 2019

Poor communication is a major contributor to project delays, according to 44% of respondents surveyed by The Economist. Not only does it impact productivity, but miscommunication also creates extra stress for teams, hurts overall employee morale, and lowers sales. This gives leaders plenty of incentives to invest in strategies that will improve communication.

Good workplace communication is defined by teams in which everyone knows what is expected of them, and individuals have trust in each other and aren’t afraid to voice dissenting opinions. This type of dynamic is vital for not just collaboration but for overall business success as well. In this article, we’ll discuss five strategies managers can use to improve team communication.

1. Focus on clear messaging

One of the most common communication problems is that professionals aren’t clear enough about what it is they’re trying to communicate. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, more than 70% of employees in a recent study admitted that they’ve experienced “some form of unclear communication from their colleagues.” Not only does this cause confusion among the team, but it also wastes time — according to that same study, employees waste four hours every week deciphering these unclear messages.

The best way to avoid miscommunication is by eliminating possibilities for misunderstanding by proactively answering what, why, and how. This helps provide context for team members, giving them a more complete understanding. For example, let’s say an HR manager needs to present a significant change in the company’s benefits policy. They should start by explaining what the specific policy change is. Next, they should explain why the policy is changing, what employees can expect the change to look like in practice, and when it will go into effect.

2. Repeat the important details

Communicating messages multiple times, in more than one way, helps teams remember information — and according to Harvard Business Review, it also helps everyone understand things better. This makes it vital for managers to revisit important topics like changes in personnel, updates to strategy, and new initiatives. Repeating the details of these updates provides team members with plenty of opportunities to absorb new information and ensures everyone within the team has the same level of understanding.

While managers shouldn’t repeat themselves so much that they annoy their teams, it is important to make sure every member of the team is on the same page. A great way to keep everyone on the same page without making teams sit through repetitive meetings is to prioritize keeping internal documentation like meeting notes up to date. This will give everyone on the team access to information they may need to reference and saves managers from having to re-explain topics they’ve already discussed.

3. Foster relationships between team members

Believe it or not, employee friendships are good for business. It makes employees more productive, and a recent survey hints that it can also help improve communication. Having a best friend at work makes 57% of employees happier, but more importantly, it makes them feel supported. And when employees are happy and feel supported, it’s much easier for them to communicate openly and effectively.

There’s no way to force genuine friendships into existence in the workplace. But managers can foster an environment for friendships to thrive by providing opportunities for employees to initiate and grow them on their own. Many workplaces do this by implementing practices like starting meetings with ice breakers, to encourage team members to get to know each other outside of their work roles.

But finding opportunities to meet colleagues and form friendships is difficult for hybrid and remote teams, who work in different locations and at different times. Managers that oversee dispersed teams will need to find ways to introduce employees that may otherwise never interact. One way to do this is by planning virtual events like movie-watching sessions or happy hours. Another option is to implement a tool that replicates workplace watercooler chats. For example, Ten Thousand Coffees is an informal learning and development platform that facilitates these conversations by matching and introducing team members for networking and coffee talks.

4. Prioritize individual team member needs with one-on-one meetings

Just as managers need to communicate effectively with their entire team in group settings, they need to be able to communicate with each member of the team at an individual level. After all, while team meetings are an effective way to give the team updates, not every conversation needs to include every member of the team. For example, while it’s great to recognize individual wins in front of the team, the team meeting isn’t an appropriate place to discuss an individual’s struggles at work. Instead, those conversations should take place one on one.

One-on-one meetings let managers give their team members the individual attention they need, whether they’re discussing a performance problem or setting goals for their future. But what those meetings look like will vary from team member to team member, and managers need to be able to adjust how they communicate based on who they’re talking to. There are four different communication styles that managers should understand so they can adapt to them:

  • Analytical: These communicators focus on the data and tend to be less emotionally connected to work when compared to other types of communicators. Because of this, they tend to be more logic-driven and prefer that managers use specific data points to illustrate things like exactly how much sales have increased.
  • Personal: These team members are the opposite of analytical communicators. They drive connections within teams, homing in on personal connections by using emotional language. Personal communicators lead with their hearts — so managers should prioritize making space for emotions when they talk to team members with this communication style.
  • Intuitive: Managers may find it difficult to keep these team members engaged in the details as these communicators would rather focus on the end goal than the steps it takes to get there. Fortunately, intuitive communicators are direct and to the point, which means they tend to be goal oriented and will want managers to focus on the big picture.
  • Functional: Talking to functional communicators is often very effective because they are detail and process oriented. They tend to discuss things logically and in order — managers can expect functional communicators to focus on implementation plans, processes, and the little details that intuitive communicators might overlook.

5. Communicate via preferred channels

Good communication isn’t just about the phrasing of the message. According to Harvard Business Review, companies that use “old tools and systems tend to move slowly,” which means that good communication also requires managers to use the right channels. This means using tools that are not only up to date but also the tools that the team prefers to use.

Team members might tell their managers if they don’t like the tools they use. But managers shouldn’t wait for employees to complain; they should proactively ask their team how they like the tools they’re using. To do this, leaders should also pay attention to communication breakdowns, especially problems that are related to the communication tools the team uses. For example, if team members complain about a constant barrage of emails, managers should instead use a tool like Slack to send team updates.

Regardless of which tool a team uses, perhaps the most important thing is that everyone on the team can use the tool effectively. Managers should make sure that everyone on the team is comfortable with all of the functions of the tool, whether it’s a simple messaging app, email platform, or more complicated networking tool.

Communication tools and systems are just one piece of the puzzle. Good communication also requires clear and thorough messaging. And teams with the best communication draw upon their individual relationships to build a healthy team dynamic. Learn more about improving team dynamics and communication by taking a look at our article on meaningful human connection in remote and hybrid workplaces.

6. There is No Conflict — Only Agreement

As teams become increasingly dysfunctional, employees will often start to withdraw. A lack of conflict in team meetings, where people often simply agree or don’t say anything, it is one of the main signs that something is wrong.

This subtle shift could be caused by multiple things: a fear of ‘rocking the boat’, loosing respect amongst colleagues, or a lack of interest or motivation on the topic of discussion.

7. Ideas Are Often Shot Down

The way employees react to ideas presented by others speaks volumes to their communication skills. If their first reaction is to shoot down new ideas, then there may be some underlying fears or uncertainties preventing proper communication.

To help employees be more self-reflective on their current communication skills, they could ask themselves the following questions:

  • What is between you and listening?
  • Are you feeling irritated/hurt/angry/frustrated/confused/insecure?
  • Are you afraid to spend too much time entertaining a “bad” idea?
  • Are you afraid that listening may encourage them?
  • Are you concerned by the time or resources necessary to carry out this project?
  • Are you afraid that this idea could result in more work?
  • Can you give this person the space to explain their idea and vision without letting your fears or insecurities get in the way?

Respectful communication should be the norm, but it can take time! Schedule 30 minutes each month for employees to meet colleagues from different teams or departments to create a routine. Spending time discussing projects, insights and ideas helps employees to develop essential communication skills and expand their knowledge and understanding of other areas of the business.

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Top 7 Signs of Poor Team Communication

Poor communication is a major contributor to project delays, according to 44% of respondents surveyed by The Economist. Not only does it impact productivity, but miscommunication also creates extra stress for teams, hurts overall employee morale, and lowers sales. This gives leaders plenty of incentives to invest in strategies that will improve communication.

Good workplace communication is defined by teams in which everyone knows what is expected of them, and individuals have trust in each other and aren’t afraid to voice dissenting opinions. This type of dynamic is vital for not just collaboration but for overall business success as well. In this article, we’ll discuss five strategies managers can use to improve team communication.

1. Focus on clear messaging

One of the most common communication problems is that professionals aren’t clear enough about what it is they’re trying to communicate. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, more than 70% of employees in a recent study admitted that they’ve experienced “some form of unclear communication from their colleagues.” Not only does this cause confusion among the team, but it also wastes time — according to that same study, employees waste four hours every week deciphering these unclear messages.

The best way to avoid miscommunication is by eliminating possibilities for misunderstanding by proactively answering what, why, and how. This helps provide context for team members, giving them a more complete understanding. For example, let’s say an HR manager needs to present a significant change in the company’s benefits policy. They should start by explaining what the specific policy change is. Next, they should explain why the policy is changing, what employees can expect the change to look like in practice, and when it will go into effect.

2. Repeat the important details

Communicating messages multiple times, in more than one way, helps teams remember information — and according to Harvard Business Review, it also helps everyone understand things better. This makes it vital for managers to revisit important topics like changes in personnel, updates to strategy, and new initiatives. Repeating the details of these updates provides team members with plenty of opportunities to absorb new information and ensures everyone within the team has the same level of understanding.

While managers shouldn’t repeat themselves so much that they annoy their teams, it is important to make sure every member of the team is on the same page. A great way to keep everyone on the same page without making teams sit through repetitive meetings is to prioritize keeping internal documentation like meeting notes up to date. This will give everyone on the team access to information they may need to reference and saves managers from having to re-explain topics they’ve already discussed.

3. Foster relationships between team members

Believe it or not, employee friendships are good for business. It makes employees more productive, and a recent survey hints that it can also help improve communication. Having a best friend at work makes 57% of employees happier, but more importantly, it makes them feel supported. And when employees are happy and feel supported, it’s much easier for them to communicate openly and effectively.

There’s no way to force genuine friendships into existence in the workplace. But managers can foster an environment for friendships to thrive by providing opportunities for employees to initiate and grow them on their own. Many workplaces do this by implementing practices like starting meetings with ice breakers, to encourage team members to get to know each other outside of their work roles.

But finding opportunities to meet colleagues and form friendships is difficult for hybrid and remote teams, who work in different locations and at different times. Managers that oversee dispersed teams will need to find ways to introduce employees that may otherwise never interact. One way to do this is by planning virtual events like movie-watching sessions or happy hours. Another option is to implement a tool that replicates workplace watercooler chats. For example, Ten Thousand Coffees is an informal learning and development platform that facilitates these conversations by matching and introducing team members for networking and coffee talks.

4. Prioritize individual team member needs with one-on-one meetings

Just as managers need to communicate effectively with their entire team in group settings, they need to be able to communicate with each member of the team at an individual level. After all, while team meetings are an effective way to give the team updates, not every conversation needs to include every member of the team. For example, while it’s great to recognize individual wins in front of the team, the team meeting isn’t an appropriate place to discuss an individual’s struggles at work. Instead, those conversations should take place one on one.

One-on-one meetings let managers give their team members the individual attention they need, whether they’re discussing a performance problem or setting goals for their future. But what those meetings look like will vary from team member to team member, and managers need to be able to adjust how they communicate based on who they’re talking to. There are four different communication styles that managers should understand so they can adapt to them:

  • Analytical: These communicators focus on the data and tend to be less emotionally connected to work when compared to other types of communicators. Because of this, they tend to be more logic-driven and prefer that managers use specific data points to illustrate things like exactly how much sales have increased.
  • Personal: These team members are the opposite of analytical communicators. They drive connections within teams, homing in on personal connections by using emotional language. Personal communicators lead with their hearts — so managers should prioritize making space for emotions when they talk to team members with this communication style.
  • Intuitive: Managers may find it difficult to keep these team members engaged in the details as these communicators would rather focus on the end goal than the steps it takes to get there. Fortunately, intuitive communicators are direct and to the point, which means they tend to be goal oriented and will want managers to focus on the big picture.
  • Functional: Talking to functional communicators is often very effective because they are detail and process oriented. They tend to discuss things logically and in order — managers can expect functional communicators to focus on implementation plans, processes, and the little details that intuitive communicators might overlook.

5. Communicate via preferred channels

Good communication isn’t just about the phrasing of the message. According to Harvard Business Review, companies that use “old tools and systems tend to move slowly,” which means that good communication also requires managers to use the right channels. This means using tools that are not only up to date but also the tools that the team prefers to use.

Team members might tell their managers if they don’t like the tools they use. But managers shouldn’t wait for employees to complain; they should proactively ask their team how they like the tools they’re using. To do this, leaders should also pay attention to communication breakdowns, especially problems that are related to the communication tools the team uses. For example, if team members complain about a constant barrage of emails, managers should instead use a tool like Slack to send team updates.

Regardless of which tool a team uses, perhaps the most important thing is that everyone on the team can use the tool effectively. Managers should make sure that everyone on the team is comfortable with all of the functions of the tool, whether it’s a simple messaging app, email platform, or more complicated networking tool.

Communication tools and systems are just one piece of the puzzle. Good communication also requires clear and thorough messaging. And teams with the best communication draw upon their individual relationships to build a healthy team dynamic. Learn more about improving team dynamics and communication by taking a look at our article on meaningful human connection in remote and hybrid workplaces.

6. There is No Conflict — Only Agreement

As teams become increasingly dysfunctional, employees will often start to withdraw. A lack of conflict in team meetings, where people often simply agree or don’t say anything, it is one of the main signs that something is wrong.

This subtle shift could be caused by multiple things: a fear of ‘rocking the boat’, loosing respect amongst colleagues, or a lack of interest or motivation on the topic of discussion.

7. Ideas Are Often Shot Down

The way employees react to ideas presented by others speaks volumes to their communication skills. If their first reaction is to shoot down new ideas, then there may be some underlying fears or uncertainties preventing proper communication.

To help employees be more self-reflective on their current communication skills, they could ask themselves the following questions:

  • What is between you and listening?
  • Are you feeling irritated/hurt/angry/frustrated/confused/insecure?
  • Are you afraid to spend too much time entertaining a “bad” idea?
  • Are you afraid that listening may encourage them?
  • Are you concerned by the time or resources necessary to carry out this project?
  • Are you afraid that this idea could result in more work?
  • Can you give this person the space to explain their idea and vision without letting your fears or insecurities get in the way?

Respectful communication should be the norm, but it can take time! Schedule 30 minutes each month for employees to meet colleagues from different teams or departments to create a routine. Spending time discussing projects, insights and ideas helps employees to develop essential communication skills and expand their knowledge and understanding of other areas of the business.

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