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Effective team communication: What it is and how to achieve it

Add up all of the interactions your team members have each day, multiplied by the number of people on your team.

Whatever your total, there’s a good chance that somewhere in there, someone will be misinterpreted in some capacity. Now factor in the number of channels through which you communicate—Slack, Zoom, email, phone calls, etc.—and the number of business days in the year.

You get the point.

Effective team communication can be the difference between smooth productivity and total failure to achieve goals as a group. Let’s dive into the nuances of team communication skills and how your organization can benefit from better messaging.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What Is effective communication in the workplace?
  • Barriers to effective communication
  • How to improve communication across teams
    • Team communication strategies
    • Activities and ideas

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What is effective communication in the workplace?

At its core, effective communication is the ability to competently and clearly relay the correct information to the correct people at the correct time. It’s a staple of what makes a successful team, but effective communication is increasingly fleeting.

With integrated teams more often working remotely (and with various tools across various time zones), miscommunication can occur within any interaction. But good communication typically looks like:

  • Communication tools that work (video conferencing software, messaging platforms, etc.)
  • A workplace environment that appreciates and encourages open communication on a wide range of subjects
  • Regular team or staff meetings
  • One-on-one check-ins between contributors and their managers
  • Active listening skills displayed by all staff at all levels of the business
  • Prompt, relevant responses from team members when requested
  • Complete, clear information streams so all silos are removed
  • Mechanisms for low-stress conflict resolution
  • Boundaries and guidelines on the type of information that should be shared, at what times of day, and to whom

Compiled together, the above elements of communication should be made clear to the entire team from day one and should be embedded into the company culture at large. With broad buy-in, you’re more likely to achieve team cohesion.

Barriers to effective communication

Especially in hybrid environments where information isn’t exchanged solely in-person, the potential for miscommunication is high. Nonetheless, poor communication can occur anywhere at any time—and with plenty of collateral damage.

Loss of productivity, declines in employee engagement, and the derailment of projects are just a few of the repercussions to miscommunication in the workplace, setting aside serious HR violations. At worst, poor communication can even create a toxic work environment.

Many of these issues stem from:

  • Too many communication channels
  • Lack of clarity around escalation
  • Sour interpersonal relationships or incompatible team members
  • Vague direction or feedback
  • Unhelpful, terse, or accusatory language
  • Inconsistent or uneven enforcement of company protocols
  • Cultural or language differences
  • Jargon, or otherwise exclusionary language (particularly for new people who aren’t aware of existing team-specific dynamics).
  • Inflexible communication styles
  • Information overload
  • Imperfect formats for exchanging particular information (visual, verbal, written)

Removing these communication barriers should be top of mind for all company and team leaders. By making smarter, effective communication a common goal for all, you can unite the entire workforce in a necessary, constructive cause.

How to improve communication across teams

Communicating in situations in which everyone knows everyone is one thing. Communicating horizontally with other teams that have their own dynamics is another.

Essentially, communication has to scale outside individual business units and work broadly for the whole organization. Here’s how to do just that:

Team Communication Strategies

  • Ideas for better communication, collaboration, and culture should be welcomed with an open-door policy. All employees on all teams should feel comfortable voicing their opinion and offering suggestions for areas of improvement.
  • A project management tool with several useful chat and messaging functions.
  • Recurring team building efforts and employee engagement activities, both within teams and in partnership with other teams.
  • Role-reversal. Let different team members set agendas, speak first, or present to the group so that communication isn’t so top-down and one-sided.

Activities and Ideas

  • Coffee breaks can go a long way. Setting up communal areas of the office (e.g., coffee maker, fridge, couches, etc.) in high-traffic areas will allow employees to organically cross paths throughout their days, ideally leading to spontaneous interactions and personal bonding.
  • Face-to-face meetups. Easier for in-office organizations, but virtual teams should also be encouraged to group up at centralized locations throughout the year. This might be an additional investment for travel, lodging, and events, but the opportunity to meet colleagues in person can be the glue that holds virtual teams together.
  • Professional communications training. It’s not uncommon for organizations to source professional actors, speakers, or improv artists to facilitate stronger lines of communication between staff. A little bit of comedy and critique can force people out of their comfort zones, and closer to their colleagues.

Unlike customer experience or services rendered, team communication is something you can change quickly—and with lasting impact. As internal teams become great communicators, they can devote more time to completing the work in front of them, and spend less time bogged down in superfluous meetings and opaque emails.


Jenny is the VP of Marketing at PI.

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