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5 Things That Deteriorate Team Communication

Originally published: 05.01.12 by Timothy Bednarz


Expect breakdowns and know how to address them.

Since leaders are dealing with individual personalities in the team environment, it is unrealistic to expect that communication will never break down. Even within the most effective and efficient team environment, issues and situations will arise that will cause an entire breakdown of team communication.

The breakdown of communication in the team environment often occurs when trust and respect are diminished or ignored by individual team members. Breakdowns also occur when chronic conflict has not been resolved within the team. Another source of communication breakdown is when team members feel their personal interests are stronger than the needs and identity of the team. These individuals are motivated by their personal desires and will do anything to achieve them, including disrupting the team environment.

It is important for leaders to recognize that communication breakdowns will occur within 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. However, in more mature and structured teams, leaders will find that the team itself will deal with the communication problem according to its defined boundaries, rules and standards.

Leaders should be aware that a breakdown in communication can have long-term ramifications on the structure and effectiveness

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of the team. Therefore, it is important for them to recognize potential problems and the symptoms in order to anticipate issues, such as those discussed below, before they occur.

Loss of trust and respect: If leaders allow problems to fester and 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 circumstances can be fatal to the team and might require the formation of a new team in order to overcome them. Broken trust requires prolonged periods of time to be reestablished.

Hindered free-flow of ideas: Once communication has broken down among team members, leaders will observe that discussions become more emotional and subjective rather than objective and factual. When discussions are based on emotion rather than fact, brainstorming will diminish to the point that there is no free-flow of ideas among team members. This effectively halts the team process until the issues causing the breakdowns are dealt with.

Intimidation: Leaders who experience a breakdown of communication observe that certain members will attempt to take control of the team process, subjugating the team to their personal agendas and perspectives. Once done, these individuals will 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.

Bias: Once the breakdown of communication has led to the destruction of the team order by one or more team members, a specific bias is created that supports the personal agendas of these individuals. When members allow the team process to be subverted by particular individuals, they undermine the entire team effort.

Faulty decision making: The 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. Consequently, decisions are impacted 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 will 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 behaviors and actions, they will place blame for the decision on the team environment.


Articles by Timothy Bednarz

5 Things That Deteriorate Team Communication

Even within the most effective and efficient team environment, issues and situations will arise that will cause an entire breakdown of team communication.
View article.