The way you and your colleagues interact and exchange information affects culture, engagement, performance, and ultimately, your bottom line. So how can you improve team communication? Read on for practical tips.
5 Undeniable Benefits of Improving Team Communication
1. Communication is an essential ingredient of a high-performing team
McKinsey research indicates that open communication is one of the three key elements that comprise a high-performing team. After asking more than 5,000 executives to describe their “peak experience” as a team member, one of the emerging themes was high-quality interaction “characterized by trust, open communication, and a willingness to embrace conflict.” That is effective communication.
Further, at MIT’s Human Dynamics Laboratory, researchers found evidence that echoes McKinsey’s findings.
“We’ve found patterns of communication to be the most important predictor of a team’s success,” director Alex “Sandy” Pentland writes for Harvard Business Review. “Not only that, but they are as significant as all the other factors—individual intelligence, personality, skill, and the substance of discussions—combined.”
2. Ineffective communication leads to workplace failures
In a survey of more than 1,400 corporate executives, employees, and educators, development and training company Fierce, Inc. found that 86% believe ineffective communication or lack of collaboration cause workplace failures.
3. Poor communication costs businesses $11,000 per employee per year
As mentioned earlier in the article, poor communication and collaboration cost businesses an average of $11,000 in productivity loss per employee per year, according to a 2017 Mitel report. The report found that employees waste nearly 15% of their total work time on inefficient communication.
4. Poor communication hurts morale
In an Accountemps survey of more than 300 HR managers, “lack of open, honest communication” was the most cited cause for decreasing employee morale.
5. Good communication aids in conflict resolution
With better communication, there are bound to be fewer misunderstandings, and with fewer misunderstandings come fewer conflicts. But even when your team does find itself in a disagreement, effective communication helps you find a resolution without damaging relationships.
14 Helpful Ways to Improve Team Communication
1. Use a noise-cancelling app to eliminate distracting sounds
How much more productive could your team be if they weren’t distracted by noise? A 2015 British Gypsum study found that reducing workplace noise increased focus by nearly 50%.
Whether you’ve returned to the office or not, online meetings will undoubtedly remain a part of your work life. Make them more productive with a noise-cancelling app like Krisp. It’s easy to install and uses artificial intelligence to isolate and eliminate sounds that aren’t supposed to be there—whether coming from your microphone or the participants’ mics.
2. Use virtual backgrounds to ensure all eyes are on you
Let’s not forget about visual distractions too. When your team is working from home, it’s hard to control what’s going on behind them. Ask everyone to set a virtual background to maintain a distraction-free, professional environment even if their cat is pouncing behind them or their roommate is walking past the screen once again.
With Krisp, we’ve got you covered there too. Not only does the app offer noise-cancellation, but it also comes with virtual backgrounds. You can select an image from our gallery or upload your own. Once it’s set, it’ll work across all your video chat apps so you can be consistent across platforms.
3. Cultivate psychological safety
Psychological safety, which Harvard professor Amy Edmondson defines as “the belief that the work environment is safe for interpersonal risk taking,” is the foundation for creating a workplace that enables open communication.
In her book The Fearless Organization, Edmondson writes, “The concept refers to the experience of feeling able to speak up with relevant ideas, questions, or concerns. Psychological safety is present when colleagues trust and respect each other and feel able—even obligated—to be candid.”
In short, when you make your team feel psychologically safe, they won’t be afraid to communicate. So how can you cultivate this essential trait in your team? In her book, Edmondson offers some ideas:
- Frame the work: Let your team know the nature of the work, such as its complexity, interdependence, and level of uncertainty. Reframe failure not as a mistake to be punished but as a learning opportunity for everyone.
- Emphasize purpose: Remind your team of why they’re doing the work and its impact on others. Convey what’s at stake.
- Show humility: Communicate that you realize you don’t know everything, which is exactly why you need your team to speak up.
- Make a proactive attempt at inquiry: As simple as it seems, ask your team questions if you want information. Invite their input, especially their differing perspectives.
- Express appreciation: Be sure to say “thank you for sharing that,” even if you disagree with what your team member has said. It takes guts to be open in communication, and it’s important to recognize the bravery it takes to speak up.
By doing the above, and more, you can show your team that it is safe for them to communicate, opening up the floor to ideas and insights that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.
4. Invest in team bonding
If you want to improve team communication, create an environment and the relationships that make your team members want to communicate with each other. No one wants to do a video check-in with someone they don’t know or trust. No one wants to collaborate with someone they don’t like.
That’s why team bonding is important, and this can be created through formal team-building activities or in the way you structure your schedule and set up your work environment, creating those “watercooler moments,” as we’ll talk about next.
5. Encourage “watercooler moments”
Watercooler moments are those unplanned, informal connections that naturally happen throughout the day (often at the watercooler) when you work in an office. It doesn’t have to be a literal watercooler that sparks this interaction, though. The key is creating a workspace with areas dedicated to gathering and conversing; this can be a break room, a communal table in the office kitchen, or a standing desk area for employees to switch up their working position. Creating spaces to interact with your coworkers is crucial and appreciated, especially when you’re normally isolated in a private office or a cubicle.
Even just modifying break times can make a huge difference. Take this call center study, for example: Researchers advised a call center’s manager to change the break schedule so that people on the same team took a break at the same time. This resulted in a more than 20% decrease in Average Handling Time (AHT) for the lower-performing teams. Creating space and time for team members to bond outside of their work areas can improve team communication.
6. Craft a communication guide
Written documentation of your company-wide and team-wide communication policies helps to clarify your expectations. It’s a record that anyone can refer to anytime there is confusion. Include things such as preferred communication tools and expected response times.
Need some inspiration? Check out these excellent examples of handbooks from three different companies:
7. Schedule regular team check-ins
Whether it’s an all-hands (where all teams are present) or a team standup (just for your department), consistent check-ins are a key ingredient in good communication.
Simplify these check-ins as much as possible to avoid adding unnecessary meetings to your team’s workload. For some teams, you don’t even need to have a synchronous (real-time) meeting. You could just have everyone post an update on their progress, with key points, to a Slack channel so everyone can check in and read the updates on their own schedule.
8. Practice empathy
Empathy is crucial in communication, and if you’re a manager, it can help you do your job better too. The Center for Creative Leadership has found that empathy is positively related to a manager’s performance.
How can you practice empathy?
- Listen first. Instead of thinking of what you should say next, try just listening. Give the speaker your full, undivided attention. People can tell whether you’re listening or not, and when they feel heard, they’ll trust you more.
- Validate. Even if you don’t agree with or understand where someone is coming from, what they are feeling and experiencing is always valid. You can’t argue that they don’t feel the way they do (how could you possibly know their personal experience)?
So instead of trying to argue or correct, meet them where they’re at, even if it’s just by saying, “I hear you. I’m not going to pretend that I know what it’s like, but I can say that it sounds really difficult, and I’m here to listen.”
- Practice perspective-taking. Take it one step further by placing yourself in their shoes. Try to picture what they’re describing to you. How do you think it would feel if that happened to you? How do you think you’d respond? This is a key part of empathy, where you try to see things from others’ perspective.
9. Schedule regular one-on-ones between managers and direct reports
In a bold move that made headlines, Adobe got rid of performance reviews in 2012, replacing them with Check-Ins, which are essentially one-on-ones where the manager and direct report discuss things like priorities, feedback, and compensation.
- Saved 80,000 manager hours in the first year
- Decreased voluntary attrition
- Boosted the number of employees who say Adobe is “a great place to work” by 10% between 2012 and 2015
Having that face time with your manager is crucial to your success and helpful for open communication. While some employees may not feel comfortable sharing their true struggles in a group meeting, one-on-ones give them a private space to open up and to develop more as a professional.
Whether it’s monthly or quarterly, these one-on-one check-ins can improve team communication overall.
10. Banish all but necessary meetings
No one likes meetings. Even if they get to see colleagues they adore and partake in fun icebreakers, if you asked the average employee if they’d rather join a meeting or do whatever they need to do to get their work done, they’re probably going to opt out of the meeting.
And yet, some meetings can’t be missed, such as brainstorming sessions where you truly need those real-time interactions to gauge the energy around an idea, or in a crisis situation where you need answers fast.
If you want to improve team communication, audit your current meeting schedule and discern which ones are essential and which ones are fluff.
Best way to find out? Ask your team. Send them a survey inquiring about which meetings they see as necessary, which ones could be axed, and what they’d like to see improve about current meetings.
11. Turn that camera off occasionally
We all became familiar with the term “Zoom fatigue” during the pandemic, but now there’s research to suggest a solution for it. In 2021, researchers Kristen M. Shockley and colleagues published a paper in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggesting that turning the camera off during meetings can help reduce fatigue and improve performance.
The study authors say that when we’re in a video meeting, we feel like we’re being watched, so we constantly look at our own face and are hypervigilant about the expressions we’re making.
So, announce ahead of time which meetings will be camera-off so your team can take a break from the continuous strain of being watched.
12. Dedicate channels purely to fun and informal communication
Yes, it’s work, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be any play. Consider providing channels specifically for fun so that you don’t inadvertently distract anyone who doesn’t want to participate. For example, Museum Hack has a dedicated #pets-of-museum-hack Slack channel, where team members can bond over cute photos of their furry friends.
13. Remember that praise, recognition, and encouragement are communication too
A common mistake managers make is thinking that “effective communication” consists only of conveying information that’s necessary to completing a task. Not so. There is value in the communication of praise, recognition, and encouragement too.
According to a Thnks Corporate Gratitude Survey, 96% of employees say it’s “somewhat” or “very important” to feel appreciated at work—but only 37% of them say they’re satisfied with the amount of gratitude expressed at their job.
14. Keep in mind that you don’t know what you don’t know
Team communication can sometimes feel like an echo chamber. There will, inevitably, be team members who, for whatever reason, do not feel comfortable or safe enough to voice their true opinions. How can you ameliorate this? Some ideas include:
- One-on-one meetings. For sensitive matters, especially conflict management, one-on-one, face-to-face meetings are ideal so you can read facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language.
- Private Slack messages or emails. For those who don’t feel comfortable speaking their mind during group meetings, Slack messages and emails provide an outlet where they can feel more free to express themselves.
- Anonymous feedback. Try using an app like Slido, which allows users to submit anonymous questions.
10 Questions to Ask to Improve Team Communication
Call a team meeting and go through this list of questions to help you ascertain how communication is working for you (or not) at the moment. From there, you can brainstorm which of the ideas above could be implemented to improve communication.
- What are some typical blockers that prevent a project’s timely completion?
- Do we have a written communication guide?
- What tools are we currently using to communicate?
- What are some of the biggest miscommunications we’ve had recently?
- Do we have a communication chain of command?
- Does each team member know who to contact for each type of question?
- Which hours and days are we expected to be online versus offline?
- When can we use asynchronous communication, and when is synchronous communication absolutely necessary?
- What is the expected response time in each method of communication we use?
- Do people on the team feel psychologically safe enough to have open communication? If not, how can we remedy this for a healthier team culture?
Use These Tips to Improve Team Communication Today
By now, you’ve seen how effective communication builds up your team (and how poor communication destroys it). But you don’t need to feel overwhelmed by all of this advice. If you’re looking for an easy way to get started, install Krisp today. It’s free, and it works in the background to eliminate audio and visual distractions so you can experience better, more productive communication with your team.