Effective team communication. A simple enough concept, right?

It’s not rocket science to build a productive and functional team – but it does require dedication and hard work.

A strong team that performs well together can take any project from good to amazing! What could your team achieve together if everyone communicated effectively and worked towards the same goal?

Let’s first look at some leading causes of poor team communication in a workplace.

What causes team communication breakdown?

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, Patrick Lencioni writes a captivating story of a newly appointed CEO in a struggling startup. In it, he notes the five most common dysfunctions within a team:

  1. Absence of trust
  2. Fear of conflict
  3. Lack of commitment
  4. Avoidance of accountability
  5. Inattention to results

In the workplace, trust doesn’t necessarily mean being familiar with people. Instead, it comes from vulnerability. If team members trust one another, they feel comfortable enough to admit weakness or even fail. They know other members or management won’t chastise them. “Fail early. Fail often” is a buzzword of sorts, and by creating an open culture towards trial and error – creativity can arise.

Different personality types often clash in the workplace. If a conflict affects an individual, this can negatively impact team collaboration. And worse, if a disagreement goes unaddressed, it creates a state of “artificial harmony.” These unspoken truths prevent authentic team communication and breakthroughs.

Poor team communication can also increase the workload. Managers need to communicate project specifications clearly to avoid rework and potentially, more rework.

What is the cure for effective team communication?

Effective team communication is vital for team productivity

When employers seek to build trust, creativity, and productivity amongst team members, they need to focus on creating a sense of community and teamwork.

“In this day and age of informational ubiquity and nano-second change, teamwork remains the one sustainable competitive advantage that has been largely untapped,” wrote Patrick Lencioni in his sequel Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers, and Facilitators.

Let’s look at ways we can eliminate dysfunctional team behavior and replace it with trust, loyalty, and open communication.

1. Know your team

Obvious as it may sound, a sure way to foster effective team communication is to know who is on your team. The roles and responsibilities should be apparent to avoid ambiguity later on.

Business management expert Patrick Lencioni believes that not everyone belongs on a team – or on a specific team – and that’s ok. Some work better by themselves with little instruction, while others thrive after they have migrated to another team. Companies can create a system to capture feedback and respond with the best solution for their employees’ work style.

2. Understand the company’s culture

Company culture is the unspoken glue in a company

Simply put, if a company were a person, the company culture would be its personality. Is he likable, is it easy to get along with him? Do you enjoy spending time with him? How proud or satisfied are you to be with him?

Company culture encompasses various components including; company mission, value, ethics, expectations, work environment, and goals. Each company operates differently and embodies a different company culture.

Some may mimic college campuses setting and encourage openness and a flexible work schedule. Others may have set hours with three weekly mandatory meetings. Remember, your job is not just your pay stub. Considering the amount of time you’ll spend working at the company, it’s essential for both the employer and employee to make sure it’s a great fit.

How can companies work on creating a company culture that attracts and retains employees? Psychologist Ron Friedman believes the best way to cultivate workplace pride is to have a “grand narrative,” “group distinctiveness,” a focus on the “greater good,” and proof that “every member counts.”

Examples of companies with great company culture:

  • Zappos

    The online retailer has become almost synonymous with company culture. The company hires new employees only if they believe the recruit is a cultural fit. Zappos offers to give $2,000 to new employees if they decided to quit after their first week of training. No buyers remorse here!

    Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has a lot to teach about company culture and the positive impact it has on ensuring effective team communication.

    “We want the person to be the same person at home or in the office because what we’ve found is that’s when the great ideas come out, that’s when their creativity shines, and that’s when true friendships are formed – not just coworker relationships. When people are in that environment, that’s when the passion comes out, and that’s really what’s driven a lot of our growth over the years,” Hsieh said in his “Building a Formidable Brand” talk at Stanford.

  • Prezi

    Prezi, the online presentation software company, acknowledges the power of the introverted employee. Too often, the outgoing employee is the one who seems to get the promotion and accolades for work well done.

    CEO Peter Arvai, who refers to himself as an introvert, believes there is room for both.

    “While partying and extroversion are the norm in some startups, most companies need a variety of roles within the company and different personalities that fit those roles. Some (extroverts) need to be around others to thrive, while others (the introverts) need to be alone, so they can focus and get their work done,” Arvai said in an interview with Fortune.

3. Have a truly open-space office

Open-space offices can be distracting for some team members

Some 70 percent of companies have an open-plan office space to encourage open collaboration and team communication. Some even use a “hot desking” system where desks are not assigned, but team members sit wherever they please.

The primary goal behind these strategies is to break down barriers and increase interactions. Yet the constant noise and visual distractions can overstimulate the senses. Most end up using headphones to block out noise, or “stack books” to create some privacy.

This begs the questions – is an open-space plan helpful for companies bottom line? A study of 10,000 workers found that distractions caused by open-space offices lead workers to waste an average of 86 minutes per day. Open-space offices can leave many employees “unmotivated, unproductive, and overly stressed. Yikes.

Be mindful of falling into this trap. Instead, make use of private meeting rooms or breakout rooms when you need that extra bit of silence. When employees feel comfortable shifting their work environment depending on the type of work they’re tackling, it can increase their morale and performance on the job.

4. Use a clutter-free communication tool

Real-time communication is an integral part of teamwork. Future of Work author Jacob Morgan believes email won’t be the primary mode of team communication in the imminent workplace.

Well, that future is already here. Chat is immediate and direct.  Collaboration is more accessible as there are multiple users on the platform, ready to offer their input. Meanwhile, email is slower and more deliberate. Feedback and suggestions can get lost in an email thread before they’re converted into Action Items.

However, team collaboration tools keep teams engaged, informed and connected. Brief is a chat and task management tool that does just that.

Brief offers a clean, clutter-free workspace where users can communicate with their team members and create Hubs. Here, you can share files, chat with your team, manage tasks and video chat.

By chatting, managers can learn from the team’s “collective intelligence” and encourage innovation and helps solve problems faster.

Decide which mode of communication works best for what purpose. If you’re working remotely, take advantage of Brief’s built-in Zoom conferencing feature. If your project team is in-house, then have a face-to-face meeting. Follow up both by continuing the chat on Brief, ensuring further collaboration and clarity if needed.

5. Get happy at work

Fostering genuine friendships at work ensures teams work better

We all share a primal need to connect. Workplace friendships don’t only make employees more content, and they tend to make them more productive because they have more at stake.

Researchers have identified some basic building blocks that create friendships. This includes “physical proximity,” “familiarity” with one another, “similarity” of interests and “self-disclosure.”

The top companies on “Glassdoor’s 2018 Best Places to Work Employees’ Guide” support these elements of friendship by offering regular social activities. Yoga classes, scavenger hunts, game days and wine tastings are just a few of the options. These team building activities can spark new friendships or deepen existing ones.

Employers can even implement this during onboarding of new employees. Instead of rushing through employee orientation, take your time and allow for connections to take root.

6. Maximize those coffee breaks

Enjoy a coffee break with a colleague

If you’re stepping out for a coffee or Matcha tea, don’t miss the opportunity to connect with your team. Invite someone you’re working with, but aren’t that familiar with yet. Engaging in a relaxed conversation outside of work fosters a connection that would otherwise be missed.

The Swedish take their coffee break very seriously, they even have a particular term for it – fika. Swedes won’t grab a cuppa and drink it solo at their desk. Oh no. Fika is a Swedish custom where people come together to eat, drink, and talk. It’s a workplace activity as routine as sending emails and having meetings.

Coffee breaks are so crucial in Sweden that even the country’s megastore, Ikea, incorporates it into its company culture. “More than a coffee break, fika is a time to share, connect and relax with colleagues. Some of the best ideas and decisions happen at fika,” according to the company’s website.

7. Discourage overworking

Working too much or too long in a day is terrible for you. Research with Finland’s state workers over a 40-year span found that those who worked more than 11 hours a day “doubled their risk of depression.” Furthermore, another study found that working more than 55 hours a week can cause you to lose cognitive function. Scared?

Sleep is also incredibly important for effective team collaboration. When a member goes for a long time with less than seven hours of daily sleep – their brain will function as though they drank more than the legal alcohol limit.

Now there are times where deadlines are looming, or a product rollout is imminent, and you have to put in some overtime. Moderation is your secret weapon. Take regular breaks and stretch, get some natural light and fresh air. If you’ve hit a roadblock, focus on a different task for a while. Sometimes not thinking about the problem can stimulate a solution when you least expect it. Encourage a team member to take a break with you if they’ve also been at it for a long time. Come back to your task at hand when you are feeling fresh and invigorated.

8. Create a safe space

Team members don’t have to agree with every decision. In fact, individual ideas and thinking should be encouraged. Once a member feels safe and knows their crazy new feature idea won’t be brushed aside without a bat of eye-lid, creativity can shine.

Adopt an open and collaborative philosophy in which ideas are welcome. Offer team members the opportunity to ask questions and to seek help when they need it. By using a chat tool, this opens up team communication and allows members to problem solve collaboratively.

9. Start a book club

Enjoy fun activities with your team to create meaningful connections

By encouraging team members to engage in an activity that is not work-related, can help cement bonds. Not only is it great for personal growth, but it also builds community as everyone comes together to share notes.

The book doesn’t need to be a business book. Select a fun fiction book, fantasy, history or a Russian mystery novel.

By reading fiction or anything off-topic – it opens you up to see the world through the eyes of others. It forces your mind to travel to different places, and by doing so, it stimulates different parts of your brain. Books teach us to be more empathic and understanding, all vital qualities for effective team communication.

Sticking to book genres and information you’re comfortable with may feel great, but it’s only building up what’s already familiar. Your mind needs the freedom to wander for creativity and problem-solving to flow.

Keep your book club small and enjoy a relaxed get together once a month. Create a Book Club Hub in Brief and share book notes as you go along to foster connections. Once again, this relaxed connection between team members translates into better teamwork in the workplace.

10. Develop group norms

“Group Norms” can have a profound effect on productivity

Google conducted an extensive analysis to find out what makes up a competent team in 2012. Dubbed “Project Aristotle,” researchers studied 180 Google teams and conducted 200-plus interviews.

Before the study, Google execs believed the secret ingredient to building the most active teams, was hiring smart people. This logic makes perfect sense. If you add an Ivy League Ph.D. graduate, together with the 16-year-old whizkid and your company’s best engineer – well there you go, the perfect team. Well, not so fast.

‘‘We had lots of data, but there was nothing showing that a mix of specific personality types or skills or backgrounds made any difference. The ‘who’ part of the equation didn’t seem to matter,” said Abeer Dubey, a manager in Google’s People Analytics division, in a New York Times article.

The researchers were scratching their heads as they could not find any patterns. Then they came across research by psychologists that highlighted “what are known as ‘group norms’ – the traditions, behavioral standards, and unwritten rules that govern how teams function when they gather… Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their influence is often profound,” the article noted.

The study found five essential characteristics that build effective group norms:

  1. Psychological safety

    Team members feel safe enough to be vulnerable and share their ideas. They trust the group or managers won’t dismiss their suggestion or judge them.
    – “If I make a mistake on our team, it is not held against me.”

  2. Dependability

    Say what you mean and mean what you say. Team members are reliable and get things done on time.
    – “When my teammates say they’ll do something, they follow through with it.”

  3. Structure and Clarity

    Teams that work well together have clear goals and well-defined roles.
    – “Our team has an effective decision-making process.”

  4. Meaning

    The work is vital to team members on a personal level.
    – “The work I do for our team is meaningful to me.”

  5. Impact

    The team believes their work has value and will serve the greater good of the company and society.
    – “I understand how our team’s work contributes to the organization’s goals.”

According to Google re:Work, the most essential dynamic of effective team communication is psychological safety. Organizational behavioral scientist Amy Edmondson of Harvard defined team psychological safety as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.”

Watch Amy Edmondson’s Ted Talk on “Building a psychologically safe workplace” below:

11. “Talk Lean” in meetings

Keep meetings short and stay on topic

Meetings can be a time hog. The average business executive spends a whopping 18 hours a week at meetings. Wow. Nearly half of all attendees say that meetings are the number one time waster at work.

Harvard Business Review has a meeting cost calculator. It’s eye-opening to see how much you’re spending on meetings, and how much you could be saving.

What are some simple tips to run a productive meeting:

  • Have a clear objective and lay it out
  • Have an agenda to help you stay on track (create a task list in Hubs to add topics to talk about)
  • Only invite a few people
  • Stand during the meeting
  • Keep it brief
  • End with a QA
  • Follow up by turning action items into Tasks on Brief and stay on top of progress

The most important tip is to stay true to the meeting topic. Segway conversations can be tabled for follow up in a next meeting, or continued via chat.

In his book “Talk Lean: Shorter Meetings. Quicker Results. Better Relations,” Alan Palmer offers tips on how to have productive meetings. Palmer believes the most effective way to communicate with your team is to “talk lean” – by being simultaneously direct and polite.

“It is much more powerful and seductive to say to a potential customer: ‘I really want to work with you’ than to say ‘We’re hoping we can possibly reach a mutually beneficial agreement,'” Palmer wrote.

12. Get feedback

In many workplaces, it can be difficult for team members to be candid and frank all the time. The easiest way to understand the needs and concerns of your fellow team members is to circulate an anonymous survey. Ask team members to voice their opinions regarding current company norms and ask them to bring up any issues.

Team members are more likely to be honest if they know their opinions and suggestions will be anonymous.

Here is a sample template with questions to measure employee satisfaction.

13. Encourage healthy competition

Host a lip sync competition for team members

When done correctly, team building activities can promote friendly competition between teams or team members. These activities don’t necessarily need to involve work performance and output; it could be something personal and fun. This only adds to building connections which transfers into the better team communication.

Team members can track and share their step count with a Fitbit tracker, or compare how many hours of meditation they’ve logged on Headspace. Don’t add stress, but instead select workplace competitions that are pleasant and light. These competitions encourage healthy habits, and a healthy team means a stronger mind to tackle projects.

Team building games is another powerful way to bring teams together and reveal different sides of their personalities to team members. Who would have thought Silent Joe in HR could juggle three coffee mugs while balancing a pen on his nose? Get creative – have a lip sync battle, go on a geocaching adventure or keep a shared memory book. The sky is the limit.


Team communication is the glue in any organization. Without it, you have loose cogs jiggling aimlessly in a clock. When team members feel relaxed, then cohesiveness can flow.

Know who does what on your team, ask when in doubt, be open and receptive to feedback and take advantage of team chat tools like Brief to ensure everyone is on the same page. Now relax, sit back and reap the rewards of effective team communication.

Ready to try Brief for free? Download it today.

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