The HOW of Effective Team Communication

Successful happy group of doctorsWhether you are part of a medical team, a corporate team, or a family, effective team communication demands that you and everyone else involved in your group’s activities know HOW to share important information…

Late one afternoon, during the heat and boredom of a July day, with our children all lounging around the house, my wife asked what I would like to do for dinner.

To keep her happy, I figured it was best to suggest that we could take the kids and go out somewhere.  “We haven’t been to Appleby’s in a while – how does that sound?” I asked, expecting that would satisfy everyone…

My wife, not wanting to appear critical of that option, said that would be “fine,” and told the kids to put on a clean shirt and find their shoes.

The kids looked at each other, shrugged, and meandered through the house to their rooms, then found their shoes and made their way back to the garage.

We pulled out of the neighborhood, stopped to get gas, and drove the 20 minutes or so to the restaurant.  Everyone remained quiet for the trip there.

We got out, and the evening started to unravel.

My wife told me as we went inside that we had just paid for summer camps, and home owner association dues, so we didn’t really have much in our checking until I got paid at the end of next week.  We probably needed to use the visa (which bothered us both, as we had been focused on getting it paid off).

When we sat down, two of our three children were not interested in looking at a menu.

“I’m not really hungry” answered my son, who had apparently just had pop-tarts as a snack a few minutes before we left home.

“I just don’t like this place” said one daughter. 

I then looked at my wife, and asked her if this was what she wanted.  She was confused.  “Honey, we came here because you wanted to!”

I was about to go nuts.  “Me? I would’ve been happier staying home.  I thought you guys wanted to go out, and I just mentioned this because we haven’t been here in a while.”

“Honey – we haven’t been here because the last time we came it just wasn’t that good.”

“Oh.” I said. “So, you mean, instead of changing your clothes and spending money on gas and coming here to eat, you guys would’ve been happier just staying at home?”

All four of them, in unison, said “yes…”

“Then why didn’t you say anything – I would’ve rather stayed home, too!”

“I thought it was what YOU wanted” my wife said.

“We didn’t want to upset you and mom” my other daughter said.

And so it went…

The tragedy is that most every group of people – whether a family, corporate office, coaching staff, or teaching faculty – is susceptible to the dangers of these same wasteful and inconvenient silent assumptions.

Your silence has consequences!

In order to keep from “rocking the boat,” many teammates silently comply with what they think others might prefer, and in doing so bite their own tongues and seldom share their own VERY VALUABLE opinions.

This scenario occurs far more than any organization would like to believe, in board rooms and meetings across the country – and the unnecessary work and stress that these situations create are all the result of poor team communication.

When working with groups, I often emphasize that they should remember the HOW of team communication in order to become more effective:

–       Honest

–       Often (and on-time)

–       With helpful intent


The story above is a great example of the first part – good communication demands you are honest.  If we had been honest instead of “sugar-coating” our responses or remaining silent, we would’ve likely enjoyed a much more relaxed evening at home.

Your organization is the same way.

In order for your people to work well together, you must create a culture of honesty.  Encourage people to share their opinions and thank them for offering comments that in the past may have been met with defensiveness.

By valuing others honest input, you keep from falling into traps that might’ve been avoided had someone felt more comfortable speaking up or telling the truth about their perspective or their teammate’s behaviors.

The second part of HOW team communication should occur is often (and on-time).

I once heard another married man say “I told my wife I loved her back when we were dating.  I don’t need to tell her every day – if anything changes, I’ll let her know.”

You and your people should encourage each other and remind each other of important goals and information constantly

Repetition is the key to learning.

And be sure also to say what you need to say before it is too late.

Just like my kids shouldn’t have waited until after we sat down at the restaurant to say they didn’t want to eat there, you shouldn’t tell your boss the report was flawed after it is sent to the client – and you shouldn’t tell your teammate to block out after he gave up the offensive rebound!

Finally, good communication demands that you speak with helpful intent.

Just because you honestly think someone’s shirt is ugly doesn’t mean you should share that information constantly (unless it is having an adverse effect on your team’s performance).

Your comments should have one purpose – to help the team to achieve its goals.

If you share your comments with good intent, even harsh truths will usually be digested more easily if the recipient knows you are sharing them for the right reasons.

Don’t waste anyone else’s time with information not relevant to the team’s stated goals, and never say anything with cruel intent. 

One of the activities I oftern use in my seminars, “jumbled pictures,” requires teammates to share information in order to complete the challenge.  Without EVERYONE’S honest and timely and relevant contributions, there is little chance of finishing successfully.

Speaking up and sharing important, timely and relevant information will help your team avoid the consequences of silence and work together far more effectively.

According to the USA Today, “More than a dozen times a day, doctors sew up patients with sponges and other supplies mistakenly left inside.”  Mistakes can cost people their lives – and may sometimes be the result of a timid assistant remaining silent.

Fistitude, a team leadership book is a parable that shares how one person can influence an entire team – through conversations and positive communication.

Has there been a time in your organization that a teammate’s silence resulted in an uncomfortable or unnecessary situation?

IF your group could use a fun day of engaging activities to boost morale and improve team communication skills, consider adding a half day of business team building activities to your next annual meeting.

You can also follow Sean on twitter or to connect with Sean on LinkedIn for additional information, quotes, and teamwork resources…