A major part of teamwork is communication. Team members send and exchange information to convey ideas, generate discussion, prompt action, create understanding, and coordinate activities. Effective communication means transmitting a message so that the recipient understands its content and intention. When team members communicate well, they can avoid common pitfalls such as misunderstandings, lack of trust, and conflict that can undermine team performance.
Team members share information in a variety of ways, including face-t0-face meetings and other forms of verbal communication, as well as in writing—through e-mail, texts, and memos. Teams develop practices for how members will communicate with each other and with the group as a whole. Norms typically emerge about preferred modes, frequency, and timing of communication.
Communication patterns describe the flow of information within the group and can be described as centralized or decentralized. When centralized, communication tends to flow from one source to all group members. Centralized communication results in consistent, standardized information being conveyed, but often restricts its flow to one direction. In contrast, decentralized communication means team members share and exchange information directly with each other and with the group. This allows information to flow more freely, but often with less consistency in format or distribution. The results can be incomplete, untimely, or poorly distributed messages. Most teams use a mix of the two approaches, choosing centralized communication for messages that are more complex, urgent, or time sensitive, and decentralized communication when discussion and idea generation are needed.
Barriers to Effective Team Communication
There are several barriers to effective communication within teams. These include lack of shared vocabulary or understanding of key task-related concepts, divergent personal styles of expression, and insensitivity to differences in individual characteristics such as age or gender. Good writing and speaking skills are essential to making oneself well understood. Limited time is often another factor in poor communication; understanding requires attention and effort, and it is easy to be distracted from one message by another. Virtual teams, especially those whose members are widely dispersed, can face additional challenges such as differences in language, culture, and time zones.