What is good team communication and why is it important

Good team communication is the foundation of good teamwork. In other words, in order for teammates to successfully collaborate together, they’ll need to communicate well throughout their joint work.  

In this article, we’ll introduce you to the topic of team communication and highlight its importance for successful teamwork, through the basic definitions of teams, communication, the communication process, teamwork, and team communication, as well as the crucial benefits good communication brings for teams. 

Working in a team — basic definitions

Before we explain what team communication is, let’s start with the basics of what working in a team implies. Here, we’ll talk about the basic definitions of teams, communication, teamwork, and how team communication connects these terms.

What is a team? 

The Cambridge dictionary defines a team as “people working together as a group in order to achieve something”. The Merriam-Webster dictionary adds that a team is an entity “marked by devotion to teamwork rather than individual achievement.”

Now, despite the fact that a team involves a group of people who are working together, a team is not the same as a workgroup. 

Namely, while people working in a workgroup also need to work towards a common goal, they do so by independently working on their assigned tasks. They may come together to share information, but they primarily focus on individual goals and are concerned with their own outcomes and challenges.

On the other hand, individuals working in a team need to work interdependently. They need to come together frequently, in order to make decisions, carry out discussions, plan future work, and solve problems. They primarily focus on team goals and are concerned with everyone’s outcomes and challenges. 

All of this implies that teams need to communicate frequently and effectively.

What is communication?

According to the Merriam-Webster definition, communication is “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior.” 

Moreover, according to the Cambridge dictionary, communication is “the process of sharing information, especially when this increases understanding between people or groups.”

So, effective communication involves more than a simple transmission of information. It also requires that the transmission of information be successful — i.e. that the person sharing the information is successful at conveying it properly, and that the person or group receiving the information is successful at interpreting it properly. 

What is teamwork? 

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, teamwork involves “work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole”. 

Factors that describe great teamwork include:

  • Clear directions towards common goals — A great team needs to know exactly what they are striving for, to build the motivation to strive for it; 
  • Well defined roles — Teammates need to understand what they need to work on, to understand their share of the responsibility on a joint project;
  • Trust — Unless teammates trust each other and believe in the team’s common goals, they won’t be able to succeed;
  • Constant collaboration — Teammates should help each other, ask questions, raise and answer concerns, to properly share the responsibility towards the common goals;
  • Open communication — Unless teammates communicate with each other, their managers, and other teams they are collaborating with, everyone’s efforts will be in vain.

Why is teamwork so important?

The benefits that connect great teamwork with successfully reaching a common goal while working interdependently are many:

  1. Teamwork breeds great ideas 

According to John J. Murphy, the author of “Pulling Together: 10 Rules for High-Performance Teamwork”, we may admire the “lone geniuses”, but each famous name whose inventions and skills we praise today had a team of people behind them who made it all possible to such an extent.

  1. Teamwork encourages healthy risk-taking

Sometimes, to achieve greatness through innovations, you’ll need to take risks. 

Unfortunately, taking risks when working alone means that you’ll suffer the entire blame for an outcome of an idea, in case the results are not as good as expected. 

On the other hand, working in a team means that you reap the rewards of a job well done together, but also share the blame for subpar results. 

So, working in a team provides individuals with more ease in terms of responsibility, and thus encourages them to take some healthy risks and propose new solutions to old problems.

  1. Teamwork makes individuals happier (and more successful)

One Atlassian research reports that honest feedback, mutual respect, and personal openness  (which are all integral to great teamwork) help make the members of a team 80% more likely to report high-emotional well-being. Moreover, people working in teams are 60% more likely to achieve more and perform work faster.  

  1. Teamwork helps teammates grow as individuals

According to Susan McDaniel, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, teamwork can help individuals understand their weaknesses and then work on improving them:

“We all have blind spots about our behaviors and strengths that we may be unaware of, and feedback from a team member can expose them.”

  1. Teamwork decreases the chance for burnout

According to various research, 7 out of 10 people have had at least some contact with burnout. Burnout is linked with stress, and stress is linked with having a lot of work to do, and not enough time and resources to do it. 

As a logical solution to decreasing the chance of burnout, we can cite teamwork, or, more precisely, sharing the workload. 

If more people are assigned to work on a task or project, they have more time to work, which means less stress, and a smaller chance for burnout. 

The listed benefits of teamwork prove why great teamwork is something worth pursuing at all costs. But, as implied in the list of factors that describe great teamwork, none of the listed benefits would be possible without proper team communication.

What is team communication? How does it relate to teamwork?

Team communication represents all interactions and exchanges of information that occur in a team. These interactions and exchanges in a team may occur:

  • as different types of communication (e.g. verbal, nonverbal, written, or visual interactions);
  • as different communication situations (e.g. 1-to-1 conversations, job interviews, or meetings);
  • as different communication styles (e.g. aggressive, passive, or assertive forms of communication);
  • via different communication channels (e.g. phone calls, direct messages in team chat apps, or emails). 

Team communication is a crucial element in establishing great teamwork across the workplace. 

After all, the flow of new ideas, recognition meant to highlight your efforts thus far, feedback meant to inspire you to improve further, or, in gist, everything beneficial that comes from teamwork, requires constant, proper communication.

🎓 To learn more about different types, situations, styles, and channels of communication, check out our other dedicated guides:

What are the components of the team communication process?

In order to understand the processes of team communication, once again, we’ll need to understand the processes of communication first.

According to various theoretical frameworks, the communication process is a series of actions taken in order to successfully communicate a message. It involves 8 main components:

  • The sender; 
  • The message;
  • Encoding;
  • Noise;
  • The channel;
  • The receiver(s);
  • Decoding;
  • Feedback.

Certain theoretical frameworks add 2 more components: 

  • The environment;
  • The context. 

Here’s what each is about:

The sender

The sender (also often referred to as “the source”) is the foundation of the communication process, as the sender is the person who initiates communication. 

After the sender generates a piece of information they want to transmit, they encode it in such a way that the receiver is able to understand it. 

According to A.C. “Buddy” Krizan et al., the authors of “Business Communication”, the obligations of the sender in the process of communication include:

  • selecting the type of message
  • analyzing the receiver
  • using the you-viewpoint
  • encouraging feedback
  • removing communication barriers.

The message

The message is the piece of information (e.g. a thought or idea) the sender wants to transfer to others. According to Scott McLean, the author of “The Basics of Interpersonal Communication”, a message in a communication process represents “the stimulus or meaning produced by the source for the receiver or the audience”.

The message may be transmitted in several different ways, including: 

  • In spoken form, in which case your tone of voice, choice of words, your appearance, but also your body language may convey additional messages. (e.g. online video 1-to-1 conversations centering around the due date for a series of tasks);
  • In written form, in which case your writing style, punctuation, the formatting you choose, but also your headings may convey additional messages. (e.g. direct messages in a chat app asking about clarifications for a task);
  • As visual information (e.g. a screenshot printed and handed in in-person, to help inspire the illustrator to create a suitable illustration for a blog post cover);
  • As nonverbal cues (e.g. thumbs up to signify a job well-done).

The way in which the sender will transmit the message will depend on the situation and the type of information the sender wants to convey. 

Encoding

Encoding is the process of turning the thought or idea the sender wants to convey into communication. 

The process of encoding may involve the sender choosing the right words in the right order to “describe” the thought or idea (or selecting a suitable visual aid for this purpose) and then placing the message into an appropriate channel.

Noise

Noise (also often referred to as “the interference”) represents everything that interferes with the communication process and distorts the intended message. Noise may occur during the process of encoding (on the sender’s end), the process of decoding (on the receiver’s end), or during both processes.

According to Julia T. Wood and her book “Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters”, there are 4 types of noise:

  1. Physiological noise — i.e. the factors that affect how we feel and think (e.g. hunger, headaches, fatigue, etc.);
  2. Physical noise — i.e. the interferences in our environment (e.g. cold offices, music on the radio, people talking loudly nearby, etc.);
  3. Psychological noise — i.e. our qualities that affect how we communicate with others (e.g. personal worries, relationship problems, etc.);
  4. Semantic noise — i.e. when communicators don’t understand each other (e.g. due to jargon or technical language).

The channel

According to McLean in his book “The Basics of Interpersonal Communication”, the channel is “the way in which a message or messages travel between source and receiver.” 

Each channel of communication (sometimes also referred to as the “medium of communication”) has its advantages and disadvantages, so the sender will need to be careful to select the appropriate channel when encoding the message.

The receiver(s)

According to McLean, “the receiver receives the message from the source, analyzing and interpreting the message in ways both intended and unintended by the source.” 

The receiver(s) (sometimes also referred to as “the audience”) may listen, read, view, or otherwise experience the message. 

For the communication to be effective, the receiver(s) will need to:

  1. be attentive in order to understand the message;
  2. have the right communication channels active;
  3. not be distracted by the previously mentioned noise.

Decoding

Decoding is the process of turning communication into a thought or idea, to make sense of what was communicated. 

The process of decoding involves the receiver interpreting the message (e.g. a thought or idea disclosed by the sender), and trying to understand it in the best way possible.

Feedback 

Feedback (sometimes referred to as “the response”) represents the reply the receiver has to the message transmitted through a particular channel of communication by the sender. 

Feedback is the crucial step in the process of communication, as it answers the question of whether the message was properly encoded, sent, decoded, and interpreted.

The additional components of the communication process

McLean recognizes two additional components in the communication process — the environment and the context. Here’s how he defines them:

“The environment is the atmosphere, physical and psychological, where you send and receive messages.” 

For example, the environment in the communication process may refer to the room where a conversation is taking place (e.g. smaller rooms require you don’t speak loudly, as your receivers are likely standing right next to you). 

But, it also refers to the appearance of the communicators (e.g. formal dress implies that the conversation is formal and professional).

“The context of the communication interaction involves the setting, scene, and expectations of the individuals involved.”

For example, the context in the communication process may be interpreted differently by different participants in a conversation, in terms of its formality and the rules the communicators should follow. 

So, now that we’ve understood the communication process in general, it’s time to see how this process applies to communication in a team: 

Well, in gist, the team communication process involves the same listed elements in its process. 

In any instance of the communication process among teammates, members of other teams, and managers, someone will be regarded as a sender who’ll need to encode/transform a line of thought into a message. 

Moreover, someone will be regarded as a receiver who’ll need to decode/understand the message and then provide suitable feedback/reply. 

At any point during this process, noise/interference may arise to distort the original message and/or feedback and disrupt communication.

Let’s look at an example of good communication among teammates.

An example of good team communication

Imagine Rose, who writes articles for a blog, and Thomas, who creates illustrations for that blog. 

Initiating communication

Rose (the sender) wants Thomas to create a graph for her future blog post. 

So she encodes her process of thought that led to the idea of creating a graph into written form, where she explains how she wants the graph to look. 

She manages to convey her idea for the graph clearly and concisely, despite being distracted by her dog loudly barking at the front door of her home office (physical noise).

She sends her request to Thomas (the receiver) as a direct message in a chat app, such as Pumble (the channel of communication)

Rose also adds a reference image for the graph, just to make sure that Thomas understands what elements this particular graph is supposed to have:

Rose Tennant: Hey Thomas! I’ve just finished a new blog post titled “Fun facts and statistics about time zones”.

I’m sending you a link to the draft – https://docs.google.com/document/d/example

At one point in the text, I talk about the top 5 countries with the largest number of time zones, and I wanted to create a graph for this data. The data I want you to create a graph for is in the draft, I’ve highlighted it for you.

I was thinking that we could create a graph that involves a horizontal bar graph and an appropriate illustration above it.

Here is an example of the layout I’d envisioned:

So, the title of the graph should be “5 countries with the largest number of time zones” and it should be at the top. 

The accompanying illustration should be below it. And, the actual horizontal bar graph should be below the illustration. 

The footnote should read:

France spans across 12 different time zones, despite being only 42. on the list of the largest countries by total area. Source: United Nations Statistics Division

The illustration above the data and below the title could be a map of the world, with the mentioned countries highlighted.

Conversation in Pumble

Replies

Thomas (the receiver) receives this written message and the reference image, and decodes everything in such a way that he understands clearly what Rose has envisioned for the graph. He manages to do so, despite being quite hungry (physiological noise).

He sends her a reply that he will send her a sketch of the graph by 2 pm today, and finish everything by tomorrow morning, 10 am at the latest (the feedback/response). 

Rose thanks him, and makes it clear that she is available for any further questions.

This communication process may repeat several times in the future, as Rose and Thomas talk more about the graph, in which case the messages and feedback they want to convey, their roles in the communication process, and even the noise that obstructs their communication, may change.

Thomas Clark: OK, Rose, I’ve looked into everything and I understand what you’re looking for. I’ll have a sketch for you by 2 pm today. Once you approve the sketch, I’ll finish everything by tomorrow morning, at 10 am at the latest.

Rose Tennant: Thank you, Thomas! Let me know if I’ve left anything unclear or if you have any further questions, so we’ll discuss the graph more.

Thomas Clark: Will do! 🙂

Conversation in Pumble

Why is this an example of good communication?

There are several reasons why the above-described example of communication between Thomas and Rose was successful:

  • Rose was effective at explaining her request

Rose, as the sender, was successful at encoding her idea into a piece of information. She explained everything she wanted the graph to contain, and she was clear, precise, and concise while doing so. She sent Thomas a link to the draft that contains the data, so he can take in a larger context of the data for the graph, if needed. In the end, she made it clear that she’s available for further questions.

  • Thomas was effective at interpreting and replying to the request

Thomas, as the receiver, was successful at decoding the piece of information he had just read. He was also successful at sending Rose appropriate feedback, i.e. a suitable reply. He was clear about understanding the request and provided precise times when he’ll deliver upon that request.

  • The channel of communication was effectively chosen

The chat app they used proved to be a great channel of communication for this conversation, as it allowed Rose to attach a reference image to clarify her request. Plus, considering that the conversation was realized in written form, Thomas can use Rose’s description of the graph as a reference whenever he needs a reminder of the points they’ve discussed.

  • Both parties were effective “listeners”

Both Rose and Thomas were attentive when reading each other’s replies.

  • The interferences were successfully overcome

Both Rose and Thomas managed to overcome the noise (i.e. the barking dog and the feeling of hunger) threatening to disrupt the effectiveness of their communication process. 

  • The communication environment was suitable

The atmosphere the two communicators built while communicating was pleasant, and Rose did not let her dog (who was a part of that environment, at least on Rose’s part) disrupt her line of thought at the time. 

  • The context was clear

Both parties understood the context of this communication interaction, i.e. each other’s expectations.

How this example of team communication could have gone wrong

So, the previously described example of communication between Thomas the illustrator and Rose the blog post writer is an example of good team communication. 

However, the course of this particular instance of the communication process could have gone in a completely different direction:

  • The interferences could have won

The dog barking in front of Rose’s door could have led her to forget to highlight important elements of the graph in her written message. Moreover, Thomas’s feeling of hunger could have led him to misinterpret the type of graph Rose wants him to create, even if she was clear about this in her written message. Thomas also could have been distracted by his other assignments, meaning that he may have not been paying sufficient attention to understand what Rose is requesting.

  • There could have been a lack of clarity

Rose could have also been vague in her request, meaning that Thomas may not have understood what type of graph he needs to create. Thomas could have been vague about when he’ll get back to Rose about her request. In addition, Rose could have paid less attention to the formatting of her written request, which means that Thomas could have had a harder time distinguishing where Rose’s written request ends and where the data she wants to include in the graph starts.

  • There could have been technical issues

Thomas could have received the message later than it would have been ideal, due to problems with his internet connection he wasn’t even aware of, considering he usually creates illustrations in an offline app. 

Rose Tennant: Hey Thomas! I’ve just finished a new blog post titled “Fun facts and statistics about time zones”. At one point in the text, I talk about the top 5 countries with the largest number of time zones, and I wanted to create a graph for this data: France – 12; The US and Russia – 11; The UK – 9; Australia – 8; Canada – 6. Something simple, but elegant.

Thomas Clark: OK, Rose, sounds great. I’ll get back to you about this today or tomorrow.

Rose Tennant: OK, great!

Good communication involves properly conveying and understanding a message. And yet, the process of communication can go wrong in various different ways, as evident. 

However, good communication among teammates, but also with other colleagues and managers is always worth pursuing, as it has a number of tangible benefits to establishing great teamwork.

Why good team communication is important (a.k.a the benefits of team communication)

From better understanding, easier collaboration, increased productivity, to improved creativity, easier problem solving, and a lower chance for conflict, here are all the benefits of good team communication that highlight why you should pursue it, for the sake of great teamwork.

Good team communication promotes understanding

According to a survey conducted by Interact and reported by the Harvard Business Review, as much as  57% of employees report not being given clear directions for their work. What’s more, as much as 69% of managers report they’re often uncomfortable communicating with employees.

But, teammates and managers who communicate with each other are more likely to understand each other and overcome a number of obstacles in their work. 

If you have a question, problem, or any concern, simply reach out to your colleagues, managers, or employees for answers. 

If you’re clear, concise, precise, but also attentive on your own end when conversing with someone, you’ll increase the chances of understanding what has been communicated, for both parties in the communication process.

Good team communication leads to good collaboration

According to an infographic reported by the Queens University of Charlotte, 39% of employees believe that the people in their organization don’t collaborate enough.

But, collaboration and communication go hand in hand and help build an effective workflow. Teammates that collaborate with each other and share the workload manage to decrease stress levels across the team, and minimize the chance for individuals burning out. 

In order for teams to collaborate well, they’ll need to maintain proper communication throughout their work together. 

As a result, business processes will run more smoothly and all obstacles in work will be noticed and addressed in a timely manner.

🎓 For in-depth information about collaboration among teams, visit our Team Collaboration Hub

Good team communication increases productivity

All teams strive for productivity. But, productivity is only possible if everyone understands their roles in a team, the roles of their teammates, as well as the expectations for their work:

“What task should I work on first?”

“What resources will I have to work on the task?”

“What is my deadline?”

Answers to these and similar questions bring clarity, and such clarity only comes with investing an effort when communicating. As a direct result, everyone can fully focus on pursuing the roles they play in the expectations for the common goals of the team.

Moreover, good communication and better productivity are also connected indirectly. When you communicate more frequently, you decrease the chance for misunderstandings, which helps you work faster, and with better quality. 

Good team communication increases creativity 

It’s often said that two minds think better than one. And, according to another article by the Harvard Business Review, communication that occurs between team members (i.e. internal communication) and communication that occurs with people outside of your team (i.e. external communication) both promote innovations, as they enable you to learn from others and work with a larger pool of information.

So, once you have a particular idea, it’s a great practice to further discuss it with other people. They can share their own knowledge and experience on the subject, and contribute to your original idea with their own suggestions and alternative solutions. 

As a result of such brainstorming sessions, teams will increase the creative potential of individual teammate’s ideas and perhaps build innovative solutions that retain worth from the point of view of many different perspectives. 

Good team communication helps you accept changes easier

According to an article by Forbes that cites a 10-question assessment called “What’s Your Style of Change Management”, as much as 45% of frontline professionals prefer to retain their status quo.

But, the business world is often changing, and so is the marketplace. 

By fostering good communication tactics and strategies, you’ll ease the negative effects people may associate with changes, by making everyone aware of these changes in a detailed and timely manner. 

When everyone is aware of what benefits certain changes may mean for the future of the team, a project they are working on, and maybe even the entire company, these changes become much easier to accept.

Good team communication helps you solve problems easier

Working on a project usually comes with its fair share of problems — problems that may require some difficult decisions. And, according to the consulting firm McKinsey, as much as 73% of senior executives believe their companies make bad decisions more often than good decisions.

But, consulting with others makes difficult decisions easier, as you get a more diverse set of opinions and solutions to choose from. This applies both when trying to solve problems plaguing your individual tasks and your team’s project on the whole.

Good team communication improves employee morale (and decreases employee turnover) 

According to a survey by Recruiter, as much as 33% of employees state that a lack of honest communication affects their morale negatively. 

But, teammates who communicate with each other, and aim to communicate honestly, connect with each other better. 

Moreover, if managers communicate with their teams more, they may better understand individual team member’s skills and talents, and then use this knowledge to assign the right tasks to the right people. 

As a result of improving the connection between team members and acknowledging the value of individuals, the environment in which the team works becomes more positive and attentive. This results in improved employee morale, but also in decreased employee turnover. 

Good team communication helps you deal with conflicts easier 

Diverse teams have teammates with different opinions, and such different opinions may result in occasional conflicts. After all, the report “Workplace Conflict and How Businesses Can Harness It to Thrive” shows that as much as 85% of employees have conflicts to deal with, at least on some level. These conflicts may stem from misunderstandings or the feeling that you’re disrespected, taken advantage of, or disregarded in any way. 

Good communication helps people voice their concerns, better understand each other’s behaviors and thought processes, and then respond to differences in opinion with a more open mind — thus easing or even preventing conflict. 

Good team communication builds trusts 

According to Lexicon, more than 80% of Americans say employee communication is the key to developing trust. 

If you are able to listen attentively and convey your own messages with clarity, as well as accept other people’s ideas and opinions, you help build the trust that everyone understands their responsibilities and duties. More importantly, you help build the trust that everyone means to carry out their work as expected. 

Good team communication encourages future input

According to Westside Toastmasters, effective communication makes people more open and willing to share with the team, as they know that their opinions will be heard and valued. 

Every time the team listens, respects, and maybe even accepts a new idea or opinion, it paves the road for more diverse and useful input from other colleagues, across the entire team, in future interactions.

Conclusion

Good team communication plays a crucial role in establishing effective teamwork and improving the work experience for the entire team. Ultimately, it stands as the foundation of everything teamwork stands for, as it can be linked to various crucial benefits that lead an organization to success.

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Marija Kojic is a researcher and writer specialized in team communication and collaboration. She enjoys helping people discover meaningful and effective ways to communicate and collaborate smarter. Marija has written many blog posts for Clockify, but she has also appeared in G2 Crowd Learning Hub, The Good Men Project, and Pick the Brain, among other places.