A business may be a singular noun, but almost every business is a collection of individuals—tens, hundreds, sometimes even thousands—who must all work together in harmony. In the end, everything comes down to team communication. The more productively and meaningfully your team can collaborate, the more effective they will be—and the more successful your brand will be as a result.
In the guide below, we cover
- The challenges of team communication
- Why effective team communication is important
- How effective team communication can impact a business
- How to improve team communication
The challenges of team communication
Collaboration is never without its challenges. In a business setting, these challenges can take several forms:
Differences in communication styles, which can cause miscommunications and friction between team members.
Example: Imogene and George, who each manage a warehouse for a large chain, have to update their colleagues on their respective warehouses’ progress. Imogene is an analytic communicator and is frustrated by George’s more emotional style. Imogene’s presentation focuses on precise data and leaves George, who uses general trends and the “big picture” in his communication, bogged down by numbers without context.
Cross-cultural communication barriers, such as differences in language or etiquette.
Example: Neil, whose first language is French, works in the US. Although he is fluent in English, he feels left out and baffled when his colleagues use slang or American idioms in meetings or casual conversations. As a result, he finds it difficult to communicate and collaborate effectively with his coworkers.
Differences in experience or position, which often involve power dynamics that can be tricky to navigate in internal communications.
Example: Team leader Leona uses an approach and tone when speaking with people she’s supervising that appears to be dismissive and patronizing. While a manager needs to sound confident when speaking with a team member, Leona’s approach can be problematic if she is abusing her position of power by belittling or otherwise mistreating team members.
Challenges related to the specific type of communication, e.g., written versus verbal communication.
Example: Fiona is bewildered by her manager, a remote worker who communicates mostly over email. His written communication seems curt and unfriendly, but he’s effusive and kind whenever they meet face-to-face. When she asks him about it over lunch, he’s confused; his emails may be short, but he always says “Thanks.” However, Fiona’s feedback helps him understand how his messages land. After this, he might take the lack of context in some emails into account and make it a point to convey the right tone in his written communication.
Why is effective team communication important?
Most employees work in a team environment—and for many, that environment is at least partly remote. In 2020, 69% of US employees worked from home, and 82% of the workforce reported wanting to continue working remotely to some degree. The more remote your team, the more critical effective communication practices become.
But even if your company does not operate remotely, facilitating productive collaboration is a vital piece of the business puzzle. Few workplace projects can be completed by a single employee; team members must be able to work together well to ensure deadlines and expectations are consistently met. An estimated 86% of workplace failures can be avoided simply by improving team communication.
Effective communication also helps build trust among team members. This is important not only for avoiding miscommunication and conflict but also for nurturing a positive company culture and greater employee engagement.
How effective team communication can impact a business
Effective team communication can benefit your business in several ways:
- Encourage employee engagement, which in turn can double retention and increase annual revenue by as much as 19.2%
- Minimize costs (miscommunications cost businesses up to $62.4 million annually)
- Enhance employee performance by up to 10%
- Increase employee confidence, making team members more likely to offer feedback, suggestions, and innovative ideas that will improve the bottom line
- Build employee trust, which can in turn raise productivity by up to 50% and reduce team stress by 74%
In short, how efficiently and effectively your team operates is directly tied to the quality of your team communications.
How to improve team communication
Recognizing how important effective communication is for your team—and your company as a whole—is a good first step. Learning how to improve team communication is the next vital step forward.
Here are some steps you can take to foster better communication within your team, regardless of the size of your company or industry.
Use the right channel for communication
Even the most painstakingly crafted message can get lost in translation when it is delivered via the wrong channel. When choosing how to deliver your message, consider the length and complexity of your message as well as your intended audience.
A brand style guide that includes specific guidelines related to communicating on different channels can be an invaluable resource for uniting team members on this particular front.
Take cultural differences into account
Cross-cultural communications can be challenging to navigate, no matter who you are or where you’re from. Language differences are one obvious potential barrier, but there are others. Differences in social norms, geographic location, time zones, age, education, business etiquette, and more can all be problematic if not addressed effectively.
It is important to recognize cultural differences within your team and nurture empathy between colleagues. Sensitivity training, educational resources, and tools that facilitate effective collaboration can all help overcome barriers and improve cross-cultural communication. Simple changes in how you and your team members speak with one another are also helpful. For example:
- Avoid slang, jargon, and colloquialisms that can be difficult for multilingual speakers to understand.
- Set clear expectations around office etiquette that apply to all team members.
- Avoid emojis that may carry a different meaning than the one intended when viewed in other cultural contexts.
Learn to work with different communication styles
First, try to identify your own natural communication style. Are you more analytical, focused on data and numbers, or a process-oriented, functional communicator? Are you intuitive, thinking about the big picture and big ideas? Or is your approach more personal, centered around connecting to people on a deeper emotional level?
Equally important, you’ll need to identify your team members’ communication styles. Pay attention to what they ask about first, and most often. Someone who always wants to see the numbers, for example, is probably an analytical communicator. You can also take a more direct approach and ask individuals for what they think is the most important information.
Once you know another person’s style, you can adapt your approach when communicating with them to maximize the effectiveness of your message. The more skilled you become at doing so, the greater the engagement and motivation you will be able to inspire in your colleagues.
Model good communication habits.
Know what makes for effective business communication and model those habits for your team members.
→ Keep your messages clear and concise. Always proofread written communications to check for potentially misleading mistakes and cut any content that does not directly serve the primary purpose of your message.
→ Use the appropriate language and tone for every message and intended audience. A confident tone inspires trust and is useful in most communications. As a general rule, all business communications should be polite, respectful, and empathetic.
→ Maintain consistency across all communications and channels to instill confidence in your leadership. Encouraging your team members to do the same will increase trust between colleagues, which in turn will nurture a more supportive, positive working environment.
→ Craft compelling messages by taking your intended audience’s priorities and preferences into account when communicating. Focusing on what’s most important about your message to the person you’re conveying it to will improve engagement with every interaction.
Offer communication training for your team
Synchronous (real-time) training sessions—whether they are held online or in person—can be helpful in several ways. Not only do they offer you an opportunity to directly communicate goals and expectations to your entire team at once, but also they should give your team a safe space to voice questions and concerns. Communication workshops also allow you to identify areas for improvement and practice newly adopted strategies and skills.
Asynchronous, self-guided training materials, meanwhile, can provide convenient supplementary support. Team members can refer to these materials as often as they need to, and potential barriers such as time zones aren’t a concern. Be sure to update these regularly as expectations change over time.
Equip your team with the right tools
Access to the right tools can make all the difference in how quickly and effectively you and your team will be able to improve communications. Virtual workspaces like Slack help teams connect meaningfully and stay organized online. Teleconferencing platforms like Zoom provide opportunities for productive communication even when working remotely.
- An analytics dashboard that offers individual insights for users and aggregate team metrics for leaders to help measure progress toward goals that will improve communication
- An automated tone detector that can instantly analyze the perceived tone of written communications and suggest helpful revisions
- A brand style guide function that offers a scalable solution to keep teams aligned and up-to-date on expectations as new members join and the brand evolves
Team communication is one of those things that is all too often taken for granted and can, as a result, erode and deteriorate over time. Developing an awareness of the issue, understanding what it takes to improve, and consistently putting those methods into practice will protect your team from the pitfalls of poor communication. That, in turn, will allow you to work together more productively and positively. And of course, the effect is cumulative—the more successfully your team can collaborate, the greater the benefits will be to your company as a whole.