How to Instill Effective Team Communication Habits

By Emily Roner | Updated: 19 Dec, 2019

A study of over 1,400 corporate executives and employees found that 86% think poor communication is the primary driver of project failures. When team’s don’t know how to communicate effectively, it creates a host of issues including:

  • Lack of goal alignment
  • Personal conflicts between employees
  • Poor expectation setting

To prevent these challenges from derailing your team’s productivity, you need to instill effective communication habits. Here’s how.

Start From the Top

Employees look to their leaders to understand the company’s communication standards. If managers slowly, if ever, respond to their emails, give vague responses and/or yell frequently, it creates a stiff culture that stifles communication.

Fostering strong team communication starts by leaders adhering to basic best practices including:

  • Responding to messages within 1-2 business days
  • Using a calm tone
  • Providing negative feedback using constructive, not aggressive language
  • Sharing all of the information that their employees need to know

Until you’re practicing those basics, you won’t be able to improve your team’s communication.

Train Your Team to Communicate Efficiently

Although nearly every job requires frequent communication, very few employees ever receive formal training on how to communicate efficiently. As a result, employees are constantly wasting time going back and forth to clarify ideas and action steps since the person who sent the initial message wasn’t clear.

If you have the time and resources, rolling out formal training to all of your employees can vastly improve their communication. However, if that’s not feasible, you can still make significant strides by training on the job. Here’s how:

  • Have a meeting with your team explaining that they need to work on improving their communication habits. Share examples of their specific weak areas and how you want them to change.
  • Send out a document or slides containing your examples so your team can reference them.
  • Whenever someone communicates ineffectively, provide constructive feedback, ideally in a way that others can see, so that your team starts to learn the difference between effective and ineffective communication. To avoid demoralizing your employees, make it clear that no one is going to be punished for making these small mistakes.

Providing this kind of ongoing feedback improves communication since it directly shows your team what they can do better and allows you to demonstrate effective communication through your feedback.

Related: 4 Strategies to Ignite a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Encourage Productive, Not Necessarily Frequent, Collaboration

Collaboration is often promoted as the solution to increasing employee productivity, creativity, engagement, and overall performance. However, research shows that a third of value-generating collaborations come from just 3% to 5% of employees. The vast majority of collaboration requests are made by employees asking for advice on tasks that they’re more than capable of doing on their own.

To help your team communicate more productively, encourage them to only collaborate for strategic conversations including:

  • Brainstorming new project ideas
  • Solving challenging problems
  • Pressure-testing assumptions at critical project stages

These kinds of conversations are worthwhile since they help your team produce better results than they’re capable of doing independently.

Related: 7 Employee Engagement Activities that Will Boost Productivity

Encourage Transparent Communication

A Harvard Business Review survey found that 70% of employees are most engaged when senior leadership provides frequent and transparent updates about the company’s strategies and activities.

Not only does transparency boost engagement, but it also improves team communication by encouraging employees to speak openly without fear of asking the wrong questions or accidentally sharing too much information when asking advice from someone on another team.

Here are a few ways to encourage transparent communication:

  • Be transparent about your company’s performance and other issues affecting your team. They should feel empowered to ask you almost anything work-related and get an honest answer.
  • Confront difficult topics in your team meetings in a constructive way. Leading difficult conversations without getting angry or blaming people shows your team that they don’t have to be afraid of admitting mistakes or pointing out hard truths.
  • Provide frequent feedback. Praise and constructive criticism require transparency and when employees receive both regularly it makes them much more open to candid conversations.

Taking these actions to encourage transparent communication will boost performance by giving your team easy access to knowledge.

Enforce Active Listening

Teaching your team to practice active listening is one of the most effective ways to prevent miscommunications. Not only do active listeners remember more of what they hear, but they also ask more clarifying questions so they fully understand what’s expected from them.

To get your team to practice active listening, you need to:

  • Never interrupt your employees.
  • Call people out for interrupting others in meetings.
  • Give your employees constructive feedback when they ask questions or make statements that show they clearly weren’t listening.

Over time, active listening will become the norm, helping your team to communicate far more effectively.

Embrace Different Communication Styles

No matter how well you instill best practices into your team, you’ll still encounter challenges if you don’t embrace the fact that everyone has their own communication styles.

There are two ways to understand your employees’ communication styles:

  1. Have them take a personality test like DiSC or the Big 5.
  2. Observe their language and behavior.

Which option you should use depends on your ability to read people. To effectively communicate with your team, you need to learn preferences around conversations like:

  • Feedback - positive and negative
  • Instructions
  • Small talk

Knowing these preferences allows you to communicate with your team in the most effective way possible and sets an example for them to do the same with each other.