Effective team communication? Focus on quality!

Key points

  • The relationship between team communication and team performance may depend on many different factors, like how much face-to-face time the team has, how familiar they are with each other, or the way that team members communicate with each other.
  • The link between communication and performance seems to be stronger when you focus on the quality, rather than the quantity of communication.
  • When you are seeking to improve the quality of your team’s communication, it may help if you address both the “what” – the content of the communication, and the “how” – the way your team communicates.

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It probably goes without saying that effective team communication has many benefits. But have you ever tried  to put a price tag on the consequences of poor communication? Those who did, found amazing results. For example, it is estimated that in U.S. hospitals the economic loss due to ineffective team communication reached $12 billion per year! If you are concerned that poor communication may be costing your business money, keep reading. In this Evidence Summary, we outline some of the latest science on how you can improve communication within your team.

Effective team communication goes hand in hand with better performance

Shannon Marlow, Christina Lacerenza, Jensine Paoletti, Shawn Burke and Eduardo Salas conducted a robust meta-analysis to investigate the link between team communication and performance. This meta-analysis included 150 studies and over 9,000 teams! The main findings confirm that communication may be related to the results the team achieves. Even so, given that the studies included in the meta-analysis were cross-sectional, we can’t say that communication causes changes in performance. That’s because there might be other variables (such as how similar the team members are to each other) influencing both communication and performance.

How well you communicate may be more important than how often

The authors also investigated what factors might influence the communication – performance relationship. These factors can be related to the context – the way in which the team is working, or to the characteristics of team’s communication. For example, the association between communication and performance may be weaker when the team is virtual or when the team members don’t know each other. On the other hand, this relationship tends to be stronger, when the focus is on communication quality, rather than quantity. Of course, it’s important to create opportunities to communicate, but it’s even more important to pay attention to how people communicate.

Team communication

Improving communication quality – what exactly does that mean?

While it may be expensive and time consuming to improve familiarity and face-to-face communication, you can probably address the quality of your team’s communication much more quickly. When thinking about how to improve communication quality you should keep in mind its two aspects: content and process.

Team communication

Regarding the content of communication you should ensure that the information you share is:

  • relevant – directly related to the topic,
  • complete – covers all the issues important for the topic,
  • clear – all the members of the team understand it.

You should also pay attention to the process of communicating. It should be:

  • equitable – the information is equally distributed across the team and all the members have equal opportunity to contribute,
  • fluent – the team shares information freely and easily,
  • prompt – responses and feedback are provided with minimal delays.

Treating these characteristics as a checklist and applying them in your practice should help you to improve the quality of communication within your team.

Takeaways for your practice

Summing up, putting more effort into how your team communicates may increase communication effectiveness. Better communication, in turn, is related to better performance. Here are some strategies that may help your team to communicate in a more effective way:

  • Make sure that your team understands that the results they achieve may depend on how well they communicate with each other.  
  • Confirm that the interventions designed to improve team communication, address both amount and quality. Remember to focus on both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’, e.g.:
    • When preparing for a meeting, choose a moderator or facilitator, so the conversation will be fluent and won’t stray from the main topic. This person should ensure that all the team members have equal opportunities to contribute and participate in information elaboration.
    • Learn from surgeons who use briefing protocols and safety checklists to ensure that the information they share is complete. A checklist with all the important issues can be helpful when communicating to the team (e.g., in a meeting) but also to support team members to communicate detailed information to one another, such as during a shift change.
    • Encourage team members to recap and summarise the key messages of your meetings, to make sure that all the important information is clear to everybody.
    • Create opportunities for knowledge sharing – encourage people on your team to learn from each other, for example, on shift changes for the outgoing shift to share learnings with the incoming shift.
    • Make sure that people in your team receive answers and feedback early enough to be able to implement them.
  • Cultivate a team environment that encourages questions and learning from mistakes (psychological safety) – it is strongly related to the information sharing within a team.

In this Evidence Summary we focus on team communication quality, but if you’re particularly interested in virtual teams, you may enjoy this Evidence Summary by Mark Seabright.


Special thanks to Shannon Marlow from Rice University who supported and guided us with her valuable insights during the writing of this Evidence Summary.

Trustworthiness score

We critically evaluated the trustworthiness of the study we used to inform this Evidence Summary. We found that it has a moderately high (80%) trustworthiness level to demonstrate a causal relationship, such as effect or impact. This means that there is a 20% chance that alternative explanations for these results are possible, including random effects.

Learn how we critically appraise studies to assign them a Trustworthiness Score.

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González-Romá, V., & Hernández, A. (2014). Climate uniformity: Its influence on team communication quality, task conflict, and team performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 99(6), 1042.

Marlow, S. L., Lacerenza, C. N., Paoletti, J., Burke, C. S., & Salas, E. (2018). Does team communication represent a one-size-fits-all approach?: A meta-analysis of team communication and performance. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 144, 145-170.

Ritu Agarwal, M. B. A., Sands, D. Z., & Jorge Díaz Schneider BS, M. B. A. (2010). Quantifying the economic impact of communication inefficiencies in US hospitals. Journal of Healthcare Management, 55(4), 265.

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