Communicating in a Team


Good communication, along with cooperation and trust, are the threads that bind a team into a cohesive unit. Without good communication, cooperation and trust are unlikely to develop. In a cohesive team, communication is clear and positive, and ideas flow freely. Poor communication, on the other hand, leads to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, missed opportunities, and conflict.

  • If people on your team take offense quickly, make avoidable mistakes, and are frequently in conflict, your team may have communication problems.
  • If your team members are hesitant to say what they mean because other team members are "touchy," communication on your team isn't as good as it should be.

You can use three overall strategies to improve communication and build a cohesive team: respond positively, demonstrate a sense of partnership, and talk to each other.
Responding positively
Sometimes a coworker says something offensive or ambiguous that could be taken as an insult or a slight. When that happens, there are three useful ways to respond positively and build a cohesive team:

  • Start by thinking the speaker didn't mean to offend. Assume good intentions and don't get defensive. If you assume the worst, you'll probably get it.
  • Don't retaliate. Going on the offensive will just escalate the negative part of the conversation. Rather than saying "Now wait a minute. What do you mean by that?" reply in a way that's neutral, or better yet, positive.
  • Go beyond simply avoiding a negative response and say something positive that helps the team move forward.

Demonstrating a sense of partnership
Brainstorming, problem solving, and decision making require the free flow of ideas, and when you and your teammates put forth your ideas, you make yourselves vulnerable. As your ideas, beliefs, and opinions are laid bare and criticized, this criticism can feel like a personal attack.
The second strategy to improve team communication is to demonstrate a sense of partnership. Creating a sense of partnership will ease or prevent feelings of personal attack. To build cohesiveness in this way, you should keep a couple of simple communication tips in mind:

  • Try to communicate your sense of partnership. Let your teammates know you look forward to working with them, and you value their opinions and ideas.
  • Express your desire to work together on problems and resolve any issues as a team.

Talking to each other
A third strategy for helping to build cohesiveness on your team is to simply get your people to talk to each other. For social individuals, team members who have things in common, or those who are already friends, this will probably come easily. For others, keeping lines of communication open and flowing may be more difficult.
When some team members don't get fully involved in the discussion and aren't social with other members, you may have a communication problem. It's important to find ways to bring these introverts into the normal conversational flow of the team. To get people talking to each other, you need to help them get to know each other on a personal basis.
Teams are often under pressure to meet deadlines, and time can be a precious commodity. But it's important to devote some of that time to building cohesiveness. You need to allow some time for casual conversation and try to get everyone to participate. To bring people into the conversation and get them talking, you may need to figure out what they are interested in and discuss it.
To increase your team's cohesiveness, some communication methods are more effective than others. Keep things positive by assuming your teammates just want what's best for the team and not rising to the bait of aggressive or ambiguous remarks. Going the extra step of focusing on team progress is even better for building cohesion. Express your desire to work together and show respect for the ideas of others to help create a sense of partnership. To draw people into the overall team conversation, you can work on getting to know them on a personal basis.