Signs Your Team Has Communication Problems

Nothing can be more frustrating – or costly to an organization – than team communication problems.

As a manager, your job is to ensure your employees are up to speed on goals, priorities, and their assignments so they can perform at their peak. If you know you have good people, but you’re running across constantly blown deadlines and subpar work, you need to take a look at your team’s communication.

Watch out for these signs that something’s wrong, then read on for some solutions to get your team back on track.

Problem 1: Radio silence

Emails go unanswered, phone calls are never returned, status updates are never sent in, and by the time problems are uncovered it’s far too late to solve them easily. Radio silence can be especially problematic if you have staff working remotely, or if you’re working with a offsite contractor – but even in-house staff can go dark on you sometimes.

The problem could simply be a miscommunication in expectations, or it could stem from deeper problems with how the project is progressing so far – say, if your silent employee is so far behind she’s afraid to return your emails. Either way, it’s important to get to the root of this problem right away.

Problem 2: Uncertain priorities

Have you ever asked for a status report on one project only to hear “Oh – I was working on this other project the whole week!”

Sounds like a problem of priorities. Your employees are probably always working on multiple projects, and every day they’re having to prioritize their to do lists. If you haven’t been clear in communicating your goals to them, those priorities aren’t likely to match up.  In order to keep things running smoothly, it’s crucial that everyone on your team is on the same page about which projects and tasks to put first.

Problem 3: Final projects miss the mark

Maybe you and your employee don’t share the same definition when it comes to a specific deliverable. Maybe you think you’ve explained things well, but your employee is still confused. Maybe your employee needs more instruction, but isn’t asking for it. Either way, the final project being turned in is miles off target.

If your employees are consistently turning in work that doesn’t meet your expectations – or is just completely wrong – there may be something off in the communication.

Problem 4: Work isn’t being done – or it’s being duplicated

When it comes to check-in time, the last thing you want to hear is that a crucial ball got dropped because everyone thought someone else was doing it. Or, that two employees worked independently on the same task, duplicating each other’s work without realizing it.

If you’re not clear when assigning projects and tasks to your team, be prepared for misunderstandings about who’s doing what.

Fixing your communication issues

Communication challenges can vary, but the basic steps to solve them remain the same. Try these strategies in order to fix your team’s communication woes.

  1. Clarify deliverables. Make sure that everyone’s on the same page about what you need, when you need it, and what it needs to look like. Get together as a team to define all your terms, and to make certain everyone knows what the deadlines are. You can even go as far as creating checklists of deliverables. For example: “A finished blog post must contain a headline, subhead, the post copy, a header image, 5 tags, and Twitter text.”
  2. Set expectations. Let your team know what you expect, and when you expect it. How often do you need status reports? Which communications do you want to be CC’d on? What milestones should trigger a check-in?
  3. Try a different method. Maybe certain members of your team work better with email, whereas others need in-person meetings. If you’re having troubles, try a new way of communicating: sketch out the next steps on a white board, set up a group checklist, or pick up the phone.
  4. Check in regularly. Avoid getting up to a deadline only to discover that no one understood your expectations by checking in frequently.
  5. Ask your employee to explain it back. If you’re not sure you’re being understood, ask your employee to explain in his own words what he thinks the project and priorities are. That way if your expectations are wildly different, you’ll find out right away.
  6. Nip it in the bud. Don’t wait to fix your communications problems in hopes that they’ll get better! Confront the issue head on by having a conversation with your team to work through past problems and to set communication expectations for the future.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Denise Foose

This is the best advice you could possibly give a Supervisor……… I know how it feels to be confused. If my boss would have actually did these things, It would have saved myself ALOT of humiliation. I really didn’t need this humiliation with so much other things going in in my personal life. Your advice is the best thing I have read in along time, and I even work in a Library. ( I read alot ) Thank you for this article. It makes me feel better. Denise F.

Corinne Stubbs

Great post, Jessie. I particularly liked reading about problems 1 and 2. For one, it is easy to assume why people aren’t communicating, but it is very important to get to the root of communication problems and find the actual reasons for “radio silence.” As for prioritizing, if someone is struggling to balance multiple tasks and deadlines, checking in and assigning priority levels to each duty is a way to ensure everyone is managing his or her time well.

Rachel Niebeling

This is a great post Jessie! It’s so important to look at what you can do differently to improve a situation before you look externally. Your behavior is the only thing you can control. Thanks for sharing!

Victor Romero

Outstanding post, Ms. Kwak! My favorite reference is “Radio Silence.” Thx for reintroducing this concept to the mix. Please know that I am sharing this post widely among my fellow federal communicators and, of course, my colleague managers here in my own office. Keep up the good work!