Common Team Communication Problems [5 Signs and Solutions]

Studies show poor communication between team members can cost businesses dearly. By some estimates, ineffective communication can cost as much as $1.2 trillion each year. This translates to $12,506 per team member. Simply put—communication is critical to your team and the overall organization’s success.

Team communication can be costly if it is not performed well, so let’s dive into the five most common signs that team communication problems exist and show you how to solve them constructively.

The Importance of Team Communication

Effective team communication builds a nurturing and engaging work environment. A team that communicates well will also understand both what needs to be done and how it should be done. Moreover, team members will feel more motivated to achieve the team’s goals and business objectives.

According to research:

  • 86% of team members believe workplace failures are due to ineffective communication.
  • Team members who are a part of effective communication plans are 3.5 times more likely to outperform their peer groups.

By investing in improving team communication, leaders will ensure both the team’s success as well as the individual contributors’ success.

team sitting at long table working on laptops

The Top 5 Signs Your Team Faces Communication Problems

What happens when communication is not present or is strained? How can you help your team members face and overcome these communication challenges as their leader?

Here are the top five signs that your team has communication problems and ways to solve them.

1. Competing Priorities

Competing priorities are often due to differences in speed, quality, and cost in one’s work. While it’s nothing out of the ordinary for each person to manage different tasks and priorities, communication can decline when self-interest versus group-interest becomes disproportionate. Competing priorities lead to poor communication and impact the overall team outcomes.

Solution

Develop team members on how to initiate open and proactive dialogue on matters such as the following:

Setting boundaries with an honest yet caring attitude
Using effective questions to acquire the right information and accomplish what needs to be done
Finding solutions (e.g., new deadlines, processes) that better accommodate all parties

Learn how to foster more productive business relationships with CMOE’s Conflict and Collaboration workshop.

2. Personality Conflicts

With teams of various sizes and demographics, it is important to remember that each individual has a unique personality and frame of reference. Some of these personalities may not mesh or work well together. When personalities collide, team members are less eager to communicate, share information, and collaborate with each other. This can produce unresolved issues that fester over time and lead to more poor communication.

Solution

Consider administering a personality profile with the purpose of helping individuals better understand their own personal style and temperament as well as their team members. This practice provides greater understanding in how you can best work and interact with those who have a different style.

Two effective personality profiles are:

  • DISC
  • MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator)

A tool such as DISC combined with facilitated discussion or training creates a foundation for improved communication and maximizing individuals’ strengths across a team.

Whether your team members have conflicting ideas or different workstyles, understanding and applying conflict resolution skills can help alleviate some of their issues.

Here are the five stages of conflict resolution to consider:

  1. Define the conflict
  2. Watch for underlying issues
  3. Identify needs
  4. Brainstorm possible solutions and goals
  5. Agree on a solution and implement it

Be sure to also develop your team’s conflict resolution skills. Studies show 85% of workforce members who receive training say it has encouraged them to take a proactive collaborative approach to conflict rather than reactive approach. Conflict resolution encourages individuals to work together to solve their disagreements and further improve communication practices in the team.

3. Under Sharing Information

When team members fail to disclose or share the necessary information that sets one another up for success, team members are less likely to trust each other. This lack of trust can lead to decreased morale among the team.

Under sharing can occur for various reasons:

  • Personal reasons: A person may keep information under wraps as a power play (self-interest), to get ahead on a particular project, or earn a promotion among many other self-serving reasons.
  • Cultural reasons: Team members may come from various office cultures that may or may not mesh well with their current team’s culture. For example, if a team member came from a firm that did not champion transparency, they may:
    • Stay silent to avoid conflict with other members
    • Avoid raising ethical or legal concerns
    • Possess a “Us” vs. “Them” mindset because they don’t truly feel like a member of the team
    • Alleviate a negative situation by attempting to put a positive spin on something rather than being candid or honest.

Solution

Make time for communication by initiating frequent team discussions. These discussions should involve:

  • Establishing communication goals and a team purpose that addresses these goals
  • Discussing any issues (business, interpersonal or task-related) that need to be addressed and resolved
  • Spearheading communication barriers that occur when collaborating virtually

By prioritizing these discussions, leaders will show team members that they are safe and able to be honest within the team. Leaders will also build trust and promote a culture of sharing information rather than withholding information.

4. Communication Overload

Communication overload can take different forms. Here are some examples of what it can entail:

Overloading team members with numerous facts, figures, and anecdotes that don’t offer apparent value. Often, when leaders need to pass on information urgently, they dump a lot of information (often unstructured) within a short timeframe.

This can lead team members to:

  • Feel overwhelmed
  • Be more likely to forget the core information that was given (which defeats the purpose of communication)
  • Have difficulty in understanding what work assignments or tasks should be prioritized.

Skimming email messages which may lead to missed information. This results in rework or follow up communication and reduced productivity.

Including more people than necessary in email correspondences to show everyone that you are diligent at following up. This habit can lead to full email boxes and other important emails getting forgotten or overlooked.

Solution

There are a few ways to address communication overload:

If you’re in a time crunch, prioritize your tasks and information. Highlight the top three takeaways you want to communicate with your team and the specific action items for each.

Consider communicating in-person when possible as opposed to email, chat, or other written forms. Written communication and information may be misinterpreted.

Trust your colleagues to follow through on their commitments, and try to only follow-up on action items or status updates as it is appropriate. Evaluate who needs to be included on email communication changes so you don’t unnecessarily flood the inbox of others. When in doubt, err on the side of over communicating rather than under communicating.

5. Abusive Working Situations

Abusive leadership and uncivil behavior in the workplace have become more prevalent in recent years. Abusive, toxic, or uncivil interactions can stifle critical communication and can be manifested by the following:

  • Team members purposely withholding pertinent information from their co-works, peers, or leaders.
  • Team members not feeling like their ideas are valued or acknowledged.
  • Team members fearing the repercussions if something is does not meet the abusive party’s expectations.

Solution

Hold regular 1:1 check-in meetings with your team members. Create a safe environment for them to offer up concerns, provide feedback, and report toxic behavior or issues. This can help both parties proactively address any problematic behavior or address unspoken issues.

You can do this by asking:

  • Specific questions that relate to workplace and relationships
  • For direct feedback on your communication style and where you can improve
  • How you can better support your team members
  • What the organization can do to support its workforce.
  • Questions that directly address illegal, abusive, or unwelcoming behavior

Stay Equipped with CMOE’s Communication Skills Workshop

If you’d like to learn more on how you can eliminate communication barriers, take a look at CMOE’s Communication Skills workshop. Help yourself and your team members to develop the confidence and competence to communicate both proactively and easily.

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About the Author

CMOE Team

CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.