Team communication can make or break a work environment. It can propel a team forward or prevent it from reaching goals. Good communication in group projects leads to an almost unbeatable synergy that makes accomplishing goals and meeting projections nearly seamless. When the teams in your company are doing well, your bottom line and long-term success will reflect that.

Understanding Team Communication

The interactions that the individuals on a team share with one another are referred to as team communication. This includes things like emails and conversations but also things like body language and nonverbal sounds. With different ways of communication come different results, so strengthening team communication is imperative to the success and thriving of just about any company.

Even when someone is working independently, they typically need to communicate with others in order to achieve their goals. Whether it be with their boss, a colleague in another department or a client, excellent communication skills help ensure their success. This is even truer when it comes to communication in group projects, where people are collaborating more than working independently. One person could be in charge of running the numbers while another creates graphics, someone else communicates with clients and yet another person prepares a presentation for upper management.

Importance of Team Communication

Most of us have had both good and bad experiences with communication in group projects. In the school setting, sometimes one or two students end up doing the bulk of the work and then feeling resentful that other team members weren't more involved. Yet, communicating this frustration can be difficult without the proper skills. In other cases, lack of communication could mean that parts of the project are overlooked entirely, resulting in incomplete work.

Proper communication skills can help solve these common problems when it comes to teamwork. Assertiveness skills make it easier for overworked team members to communicate their stress and ask for help with parts of the project. Checklists or workflow applications help team members with a visual reminder of what needs to be completed in order to turn in completed work.

Focusing on Team Communication

An intentional focus on team communication in your organization can make it easier to reach or exceed your projections. When everyone is focused on what they do best and most efficiently without distraction, less time is wasted and work quality goes up. While many managers recognize this, team communication rarely improves without an intentional focus on it.

There are multiple ways to organize your efforts to improve communication in your organization, but the underlying principle is that good communication is based on healthy relationships, so the focus needs to begin there. You can model healthy relationships with your teams, create opportunities for them to gather over lunch and be intentional about spending time with key leaders in your organization. Then, encourage them to take the same approach with those they supervise so that the focus on cultivating strong relationships gets handed down through the entire organization.

Interacting With Team Members

Once relationships within your organization are strengthened at the human level, it's easier to enhance communication on work projects. Because work can sometimes be stressful, identifying some ground rules for interacting with team members is essential for success. Consider the culture you want to foster around work, whether it be peace, appreciation, care or even fun. Then, craft some solid communication ground rules that can be used going forward. Good ideas could include:

  • We communicate clearly.
  • We include all the important communication.
  • We value open and honest dialogue.
  • We use "I" statements whenever possible.
  • We remain calm and affirm our teammates.
  • We offer and receive constructive feedback with gratitude.
  • We are kind in our interactions, even under stress.
  • We know when to take time to cool down or think, and we act on that.
  • We value growth above perfection.
  • We assume people want the best outcome and communicate accordingly. 
  • We take turns speaking and listen actively.
  • We ask for help when we need it.

Types of Communication

In order to have a well-rounded focus on communication, it's important to understand that communication is about more than our words. We do communicate verbally, but we also communicate nonverbally, with sounds and even with our personal space. In order for communication to be healthy and effective on a team, these different forms of communication must all be saying the same thing.

For instance, imagine someone saying to you with a smile, sweet tone and open hands, "I value your work." Now, imagine the same person with furrowed brows and crossed arms yelling across the room, "I value your work!" It's the same words and the same person, yet the interactions have very different meanings and would likely elicit opposite emotional reactions from you. For best results, encourage your team leaders and team members to make sure their words, body language and other forms of communication mirror the same message and emotions.

Improving Verbal Communication Skills

Any good focus on communication usually begins with verbal communication because this is what most people think of first when they think about communication skills. To improve verbal communication skills on your team, encourage friendliness, even under stressful circumstances like an impending deadline. Encourage people to practice eye contact, think before speaking and listen before thinking of what to say next.

In the workplace, you likely have many different personality types and communication styles represented on your teams, so verbal modeling can also be helpful. In verbal modeling, you match your volume and tone to the person you're communicating with. If Joe from marketing is soft-spoken and takes time to pause before speaking, model the same patterns in your communications with him.

Likewise, if Shirley from the legal department is bubbly and loud, it's probably OK to joke around and laugh a bit in your communications with her. Verbal modeling will help both Joe and Shirley feel more comfortable communicating with you as you work together.

Nonverbal Communication Skills

Your focus on communication is incomplete unless you also include an awareness of nonverbal communication between you and other team members. If you want to get your team in gear to meet a goal without creating hostility or fear, your nonverbal communication skills are what could make or break this aim. Here are some things you might want to pay attention to:

  • Eye Gaze: Maintaining soft eye contact conveys interest, while a hard stare can look threatening and avoiding eye contact looks fearful or uninterested.
  • Body Language: Posture communicates just as much or more than words about what we're saying. Sitting or standing straight with relaxed arms communicates interest, while crossing arms can look angry and slouching can seem disengaged or unsure. 
  • Personal Space: Be aware of people's needs for boundaries as you communicate. Most people are most comfortable having a conversation a couple of feet away. If you get too close, it can feel uncomfortable or threatening. If you're too far away, it's hard to form a connection.
  • Nonverbal Sounds: Watch your nonverbal sounds as you communicate with others. Be sure affirming "mmmhmmm" sounds aren't interrupting the other person. When you disagree, watch to make sure you're not grunting or letting out heavy sighs. 
  • Facial Expressions: The way we move our faces conveys a lot to others about how we feel. If you need to have a difficult conversation, try saying what you need to say in the mirror first so that you can correct any furrowed brows or smirks before you get to the actual conversation. Likewise, when you care, let your face reflect that with a kind smile and happy eyes.
  • Gestures: Pointing, waving, holding up fingers and using your hands while you talk communicates a great deal about your feelings and intentions. For instance, pointing can feel threatening when you are angry yet feel really good when you're happy and choosing someone for a special assignment. 

Effective Written Communication 

In an increasingly technology driven workplace, written communication is becoming more and more common. From emails to instant messages to texts and workflow app posts, many employees spend much of their time communicating with coworkers and clients in written form.

Without the use of body language, eye contact and intonation, choosing your words wisely in writing is especially important. Using fewer words but carefully choosing them is more effective that ambushing your colleague with a 2,000-word email overloaded with details. In addition, if your workplace allows it, consider adding emoticons into things like texts and short messages, as it helps to make up for the lack of body language.

Strengthening Team Communication

When it comes to strengthening team communication, a multifaceted approach is key. Consider including this topic in your continuing education and training days. Things like personality tests can help people better understand how they and their colleagues tick, strengthening both relationships and communication skills. You might also consider including information on emotional awareness and emotional regulation, as well as role-playing communication in challenging circumstances.

Difficult Personalities on Teams

While most people genuinely want to learn how to communicate and relate better with their colleagues, almost every office or team setting includes someone who's especially difficult. Whether this person is actually personality disordered or simply challenging due to manipulation and aggression, special skills are needed.

When dealing with difficult personalities, it's especially important to remain calm, communicate clearly and remember that your communication is your responsibility, but their response isn't. Avoid giving highly emotional responses that could simply give this individual more reason to be manipulative or volatile. Instead, practice detaching but communicating in a calm and factual way.

Seeking Communication Help 

When your own efforts and training aren't enough to strengthen positive team communication and sense of morale, sometimes it's necessary to reach out for help. Specialized consultants and psychologists are trained to work with groups in order to increase communication and emotional management skills. These professionals can come work with your team for a day, a week or on a recurring basis as you make needed changes.

In addition, modalities like HeartMath can help to strengthen communication by guiding teams to operate from a more heart-centered place in their interactions with one another. For individuals who struggle in an environment that's otherwise healthy, consider modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy, neurofeedback or even physical movement. Each of these possibilities can aid people in emotional regulation and developing the needed communication skills to thrive in the workplace.