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How to Overcome Three Common Communication Issues on Teams

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Almost every team I’ve worked with has the same core problem: communication. Often communication problems manifest themselves in other ways: high turnover, low productivity, and a lack of employee engagement.

This is because communication -good and bad- ripples out through an entire team or organization like waves on a pond. Bad communication begets bad communication and good communication begets good communication.

Here are three common communication issues that I see across many teams:

  1. Not Going to the Source

  2. Not Clarifying Communication

  3. Not Using Discretion and Discipline

Keep reading to learn more about each issue as well as how you can overcome it on your team.

Not Going to the Source

Every team or group of people will have to deal with some level of relational conflict at some point. No one is perfect and disappointment, missed expectations or simple annoyance among team members will come up.

Go to the Source is a tool that will help you prevent these issues from becoming crippling problems undermining your culture and performance. In reality, Go to the Source reflects the team's commitment to a principle that every team member will resist the urge to talk about someone else when they're offended or annoyed, and will instead go directly to that person with an issue and give them a chance to address it and make the change themselves.

So in the tool, if Person 1 has an issue with Person 2, they should "Go to the Source" - that's the healthy way to deal with issues and it actually deepens relationships. If instead Person 1 goes to Person 3, then it's the responsibility of Person 3 to be a "Firewall" and prevent the drama and gossip from spreading further and undermining the team. They should ask, "Have you been to Person 2 and given them a chance to respond? We have a value of Go to the Source." There is a healthy situation in which Person 1 may seek the advice or counsel of Person 3, but they should also encourage Person 1 to go back to the Source. If they don't, then they are simply a conduit for the drama and gossip that can destroy team culture, trust, and performance.

This simple vocabulary and language has singlehandedly changed many cultures and it can change yours for the better, too. Try it and see.

Not Clarifying Communication

Have you ever thought out-loud and created unnecessary pain or drama when people thought you meant it as a concrete promise and responded negatively to it? A lack of clarity in communication is one of the biggest sources of misalignment, drama, and performance issues inside any team.

This is especially true when we fail to communicate the status, direction, and level of commitment to certain ideas, plans, and initiatives. So here are 3 "code words" you can use in your team to help you clarify your intent and the level of certainty or expectation people should have about a particular idea.

"Provisional" simply means "I'm thinking out-loud." All ideas are good ideas, collaboration is welcome, and this is an invitation for others to join you in ideating and shaping the future. It may or may not happen at all. "Plan" means we've done our work and this is our considered opinion and strategy of how we're going to move forward. It is open to change and adjustment, but this is the direction we're moving and now is the time to bring your opinion and share any gaps, dangers, or potential opportunities you see to improve the plan. "Promise" is one that people need to be very careful in committing to as you are giving people your word and full commitment that this will happen.

When something is a promise, you are communicating that this will be a new reality and people will begin to adjust themselves around it. Changing your course once you've promised something will undermine your influence and integrity tremendously, causing a great deal of friction while undermining your culture and performance.

Encourage your team to use this language, and when in doubt, give everyone the chance to clarify their communication by asking if it is Provisional, Plan, or Promise. This simple act will save you a lot of time, money, and headache!

Not Using Discretion and Discipline

Have you ever said the wrong thing, at the wrong time, to the wrong person? Or perhaps been on the receiving end of that ill-fated experience? Sometimes it's something offensive that undermines a key relationship and ability to execute. Sometimes it's an over-enthusiastic sharing of a new strategy or change that throws off alignment and productivity. Or maybe it's something that kills a deal.

Either way, performance suffers and culture stagnates. The Discretion and Discipline tool helps you avoid these unnecessary issues because it gives you a filter to be intentional about what you say, when you say it, and to whom you say it. When you are intentional to consider these things you put them first. This is especially important for leaders with positional authority because your ideas and what you say are more powerful than you think. The more authority you have, the more people assume you wouldn't say something unless you were committing to do it.

So let's get intentional with this tool. "What to share" relates to the content you share with people, including what needs to be communicated and how much is beneficial. "Who to share it with" relates to the people that need to know it - this should take their role and responsibilities into consideration. "When to share" relates to the timing - people should receive what they need to know but is now the right time?

Clarity and confidence in the leader’s message is necessary for a strong team. But if you demonstrate a poor use of Discipline and Discretion, then it can undermine your authority with them as much as anything else you could do. So be intentional. And use the filters of who, what, and when to help you communicate with your team in a productive way.


Effective communication is essential for the success of any team or organization. Failure to address communication issues can lead to negative consequences such as high turnover, low productivity, and a lack of employee engagement. It is important to identify and address common communication issues such as not going to the source, not clarifying communication, and not using discretion and discipline. By improving communication within a team, positive and productive communication can ripple out and lead to better overall performance and success.


Want to learn more about your personal communication style? Take the 5 Voices assessment now!


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