Signs Your Team Isn’t Communicating Effectively

When teams communicate well, you usually know it: Work flows smoothly, people are in sync, everyone’s clear on priorities, and bad surprises are rare. But when a team isn’t communicating effectively, those things tend to fly out the window. Yet surprisingly, poorly communicating teams don’t always recognize that that’s the source of the problem.

Here are four signs that your team isn’t communicating effectively – and that you need to revisit the way you work together.

1. Work is coming back to you differently than what you’d envisioned. When this is happening, two culprits are likely: First, you’re probably not doing enough work on the front-end to ensure that you and the person you’re delegating to are on the same page – which usually means spending more time talking through the details and what a successful outcome will look like. (For instance, rather than just saying, “The web page should look inviting and modern,” actually looking together at sites that have the feel you’re going for is more likely to ensure you’re both envisioning the same thing.) Second, with longer-term projects, you should be checking in along the way in order to get a feel for how the work is progressing and avoid any gaps in what you’re envisioning and what’s actually happening.

2. Deadlines are being missed. If deadlines are being missed, then either your staff didn’t understand the deadline and its importance in the first place, or they don’t believe you take deadlines seriously. The latter will happen if you don’t take deadlines seriously yourself, and/or if there aren’t consequences for missing deadlines. (Even a simple “what happened?” conversation with you can communicate that deadlines need to be taken seriously.)

3. You don’t trust that work is being carried out correctly. If you don’t trust your team to do their work well, there’s a problem. It might be that you’re not delegating well to begin with (see #1 above), or that you’re not checking in enough to feel confident about how work is progressing (or to course-correct early on if it’s needed), or it might be that there’s a performance issue on your team that you need to address – but generally a lack of trust in your team’s work is a serious flag that something isn’t working and you, as the team’s manager, need to make a change.

4. If you asked your team members what the most important things for them to accomplish this month/quarter/year, their answers wouldn’t match yours. Little is more important for employees to understand than what success in their roles would look like, but it’s incredibly common for managers to neglect to do the work of spelling that out. As a result, employees often have one idea about what’s most important for them to achieve (and thus what they should prioritize and spend time on) while their managers believe something else entirely.














Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

More Posts