Solid communication is a backbone for building effective teams, yet many organizations pay scant attention to it. Research conducted by Fierce Conversations and Quantum Workplace in June 2016 found that miscommunication and/or lack of communication in the workplace directly impacts morale and productivity and contributes to employee disengagement. Given its importance, business leaders may want to take a fresh look at how to improve team communication in their organizations.

Research highlights

After surveying 1,344 employees in different verticals, Fierce Conversations and Quantum Workplace researchers identified a variety of communication problems plaguing organizations today. Consider some of their findings:

  • Eighty-one percent of the respondents stated that miscommunication at work happens “very frequently,” “frequently,” or “occasionally”; however, only half of the respondents accepted personal responsibility for the miscommunication.
  • Nearly one in three respondents put the onus of poor communication on managers and supervisors, claiming they should take responsibility for reducing workplace miscommunication.
  • Conversations are a critical component of communication, yet only half of survey respondents rated their conversations with work colleagues and managers as “excellent” or “great.”
  • More than half of survey respondents reported that miscommunication is more likely to occur in group conversations such as meetings, because individuals interpret messages differently.
  • Although digital solutions can facilitate communication in what has become an increasingly global workforce, the study singled out technology as part of the problem. Forty-six percent of the respondents noted that technology-assisted communication such as email, texting, or phone conversations were more susceptible to miscommunication because they don’t leverage facial expressions, gestures, and intonation.

Use the right communication channel

Team communication occurs over a variety of channels—from face-to-face meetings to video conferencing and email. Each presents unique challenges.

  • To improve communication at face-to-face meetings, clearly broadcast the purpose in advance so attendees can arrive prepared. Encourage participation by structuring meetings more like dialogs than presentations.
  • Virtual meetings are an effective way to bring employees in different regions together; however, some perceive them as broadcasts rather than interactions. To prevent this problem when videoconferencing, encourage and welcome input from all.
  • Because they lack detail, emails and texts are often misinterpreted. Be specific when relying upon this method of communication.

Tips to improve team communication

There is much L&D leaders can do to improve team communication within their organizations. Here are some tips:

  • Ask employees how they prefer to communicate. Some may like email because they like to archive correspondence in folders, while others may favor the immediacy of text messaging. Choose the method(s) that resonate with your team members.
  • Workers won’t risk communicating honestly if they are worried that sharing their genuine feelings will have professional, financial, social, physical, or emotional repercussions. Build a foundation of trust and create a safe haven so team members can speak freely. It may also be worthwhile to offer a platform for anonymous feedback.
  • Require that all corporate communication be delivered in a professional and respectful manner. Keep the tone constructive and positive, with the goal of producing win-win outcomes.
  • Be specific when dishing out compliments. As Julia Samoilenko writes, “If you tell an employee she did a great job, she may be left thinking, ‘But what exactly did I do great? How can I replicate it again?’” Offer specific details such as, “You did a great job explaining how inbound marketing is important for our promotion in that presentation. The visuals really helped the audience understand the process.”
  • Provide training so managers can respond to feedback in a way that demonstrates openness and support.
  • Misunderstandings routinely occur among those who speak the same language. The problem is even more pronounced when people hail from different cultural or linguistic backgrounds. Be aware of the impact of language and cultural diversity when working with global teams. Language barriers have been cited as a reason why 40 percent of global virtual teams are not successful.
  • Communication improves with practice. Adopt good listening skills and consciously work on giving team members undivided attention. Maintain eye contact when conversing, pausing periodically to restate key points and assure mutual understanding.
  • Investigate online tools designed to facilitate project management. Cloud-based task management software can streamline communication among team members by centralizing information, clearly delineating tasks, and documenting work flows. Such systems also permit managers to quickly track the status of projects and monitor internal conversations.
  • In a blog post, Mattias Le Cren notes how closed doors in a shared workplace create an atmosphere of secrecy that impedes communication. Developing an open floor plan removes physical and psychological barriers, builds transparency, and encourages better collaboration and communication among workers.
  • Casual water cooler conversation helps build workplace camaraderie and improve communication. Foster informal interactions and encourage intermingling among departments by installing a large coffee station in a central location, rather than several smaller ones spread throughout the work space.
  • Build team spirit outside the office by staging opportunities for team members to create bonds with each other over lunches or sporting events. The unity will spill over into the office.

In conclusion

Good team communication is more important than ever in today’s global economy, where employees routinely work remotely with each other on projects. L&D leaders must do everything possible to facilitate and improve team communication.