Five things that deteriorate team communication
Since leaders deal with individual personalities in the team environment, it is unrealistic to expect that communication will never break down. Even in the most effective and efficient team, issues and situations arise that cause an entire breakdown of team communication.
Breakdowns of communication in a team often occur when trust and respect are diminished or ignored by individual team members or when chronic conflict has not been resolved. They also happen when team members feel their personal interests are stronger than the needs and identity of the team and, motivated by their personal desires, will do anything to achieve them, including disrupting the team environment.
In the early stages of team growth, communication problems and breakdowns are more frequent, as individuals struggle to obtain position and retain power in a new and changing environment. In more mature and structured teams, leaders find that the team itself often deals with the communication problem according to its defined boundaries, rules, and standards.
A breakdown in communication can have long-term ramifications on the structure and effectiveness of the team. Therefore, it is important that leaders recognize potential problems and the symptoms to anticipate these issues before they occur:
1. Loss of trust and respectIf leaders allow problems to fester that lead to a breakdown of team communication, they will experience a corresponding breakdown of trust and respect among team members that can be difficult, if not impossible, to restore. These can be fatal to the team and even require forming a new team to overcome them. Broken trust requires a long time to be re-established.
2. Hindered free-flow of ideasOnce communication has broken down among team members, discussions become more emotional and subjective rather than objective and factual. Brainstorming diminishes to the point where there is no free-flow of ideas among team members. This effectively halts the team process until the issues causing the breakdown are dealt with.
3. IntimidationAfter a breakdown of communication, certain members attempt to take control of the team process, subjugating the team to their personal agendas and perspectives. They then use emotional responses to intimidate other team members into accepting their points of view. This is where the bonds of trust and respect among team members can be broken. The communication breakdown destroys the team structure and subjects it to the will of one or more members.
4. BiasOnce the breakdown of communication has led one or more team members to destroy the team order, a bias is created that supports their personal agendas. When members allow the team process to be subverted by individuals, they undermine the entire team effort.
5. Faulty decision makingThe breakdown of communication in the team environment inevitably leads to faulty decision making. Specific biases that hinder the free-flow of ideas prevent teams from considering all options and alternatives when making decisions. Decisions are affected by the biases of the specific individuals controlling the team. In these circumstances, decision making and outcomes will be flawed. Individuals who have hijacked the team process use the team environment as a cover to mask their activities when decisions produce faulty results. As they do not want to be held accountable for their behaviours and actions, they blame the decision on the team.
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Reprinted with the permission of Timothy Bednarz, PhD, author of the 125 books in the Pinpoint Skill Development Training Series. He also wrote Great! What Make Leaders Great, selected by Forward Review Magazine as one of the top ten career books published in 2011 and a finalist in the 2011 Forward Review Book of the Year Awards, and a contributing author to Practical Ethics for the Food Professional.