Overcoming team communication challenges

Posted 14 August 2023 by
Melissa Summer, The Myers-Briggs Company

7 min. read

In this post, based on an interview with Myers-Briggs Professional Services Principal Consultant and Depth Psychologist Dr. Marta Koonz, we’ll discuss communication in teams, the psychological needs of teams, and their impact on collaboration. Marta’s also an MBTI Master Practitioner and a faculty member for various certification programs. 

If you’d like to listen to this episode of The Myers-Briggs Company Podcast, which highlights communication challenges, the consequences of unmet psychological needs, and the benefits of addressing them, you can find it here.

These benefits include but aren’t limited to: improved communication, enhanced leadership styles, and increased trust in psychological safety. Read on for insights into the connections between team communication, psychological needs, emotional intelligence, and practical tips for leveraging interpersonal needs within teams.


Psychological needs

Understanding and meeting a team’s psychological needs unlocks the full potential of teams and cultivates an environment ripe for productive collaboration and success. Understanding the psychological needs of each team member, as well as the dynamic of the entire team, depends on the quality of communication between leaders and their team members.

What, to start with, are “psychological needs?” According to Dr. Koonz, psychological needs  can largely be summed up in one word: safety. Using the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation™ (FIRO Business) assessment framework, psychological safety in a team context includes:

Each of these needs can be a Wanted need—what one wants others to provide to them, or an Expressed need—what people want to provide for others. 

Individual psychological needs interact to affect teams as a whole. According to Dr. Koonz, each team member has different needs at different levels. In order to tackle communications challenges, those needs must be addressed. 

In a team setting, she refers to these needs as a visual analogy with each person having certain buckets that represent their individual needs. Teams are made up of human beings, each with their own required levels for various needs. When each team member meets the other’s interpersonal needs, it’s like they’re filling up their teammates’ buckets as needed, to just the right level. This doesn’t always happen naturally; sometimes a team has to work at it deliberately.

People drawn to management roles tend to have larger buckets of expressed needs, meaning they possess a certain quality in abundance that they need to provide for others; the largest bucket they share from tends to be an indicator of their leadership style. It’s what they foster most as a leader, and it’s probably at least one of the three major needs as defined by the FIRO Business assessment: Involvement, Influence, and Connection.

It all comes down to providing team members with a sense of safety. That is, a sense that their voices will be heard and their needs (both Wanted and Expressed) are going to be met without negative repercussions.

Effective team communication is the essential ingredient for achieving job satisfaction at every level of an organization, retaining quality talent, and ensuring high productivity in any endeavor.

Benefits of effective team communication

Key elements of effective team communication

Active listening and open-mindedness are key aspects of a feeling of psychological safety. When someone bravely advances an idea, does a leader brush them off, or treat them with dignity and respect? Do people feel comfortable speaking their minds? Leaders create the environment. It’s their responsibility to make that environment one in which team members feel that their ideas are valuable and heard by management. Invite team members to share their opinions, and listen. 

Unfortunately, clear and concise messaging is not something found in every workplace. The workplace is no place to beat around the bush. Although it’s advisable to “read the room,” taking into account the needs of individuals and making use of situational awareness, clear and concise messaging conveyed with respect is the way to avoid misunderstandings, false starts, and bad feelings. People must know their tasks, the conditions under which they’ll be working, and the standards for excellence in their organization and their team. Clear messaging is leadership’s number-one tool for steering a team, as a unit, in the right direction.

Non-verbal communication and body language can augment clear communication, or they can subvert it. If a person says something, but their facial expression, stance, or gestures imply anger, defensiveness, or in the worst case, contempt, they’re simply not going to be trusted. 

Leaders must be mindful of the effect their appearance and physical behavior can have on what they say. Not everyone is good at this, and it’s probably why some people rehearse in front of a mirror before making an important announcement, laying down the law, or even congratulating someone. 

The use of appropriate communication channels is paramount in certain hierarchical organizations such as large corporations or the military. It’s not appropriate for an entry-level employee to storm into the CEO’s office with a minor complaint. Likewise, it would be quite alarming for the CEO to stand over a worker’s desk demanding answers that a manager is responsible for providing. 

Organizations are social machines whose parts interact in a particular way. The quickest way to ruffle feathers is often to break the “chain of command.” Doing so can have ill effects ranging from embarrassment to sudden unemployment. Communicate clearly how communication channels work in your team and organization. Each team member should know who’s responsible for which aspects of operations, where to get information, and if necessary, who to contact with problems. Like so much in the working world, it’s largely a matter of respect.

Regular and transparent updates are a good way to avoid tempting people to jump outside appropriate channels. Keeping people informed creates a sense of involvement and connection with the team and its projects. Be honest, be on time, and be thorough. People will genuinely appreciate it.

Respectful and constructive feedback is how you improve any situation involving team communication. Part of being respectful is telling it like it is—don’t sugar-coat criticism, and ensure it’s constructive. Telling someone their work is below standard isn’t helpful without also giving them ideas on how to correct the problem. And don’t wait for a bad situation to correct itself; take care of it. 

Conversely, providing positive feedback for a job well done is absolutely essential. Human beings need validation, and sometimes the best way for a leader to positively influence a situation is to identify what right looks like, publicly, and urge others to follow suit.

Leader awareness 

Leaders can benefit from the mere realization that psychological needs exist and are relevant to themselves and the people around them.

This realization enables them to ask key questions such as, “Are my needs and the needs of my team being met?” When a manager senses that something isn’t quite right, they’ll have a framework in mind to use as a tool for detecting the problem. Why doesn’t someone feel connected or that their voice is heard? 

Once a challenge is identified, leaders and team members can go about finding a solution that validates each member and strengthens the team as a whole. When people feel that they and their work matter, they’ll be happier, more productive, and a lot more pleasant to spend hours with each day.

In our second post on team communication, we’ll discuss how to enhance team communication and provide tips for overcoming challenges and making team communication more effective.

Want to learn more about the psychological needs of teams? 

Listen to Dr. Koonz podcast episode about the psychological needs of teams here

Take a look at the FIRO Business and FIRO-B psychological needs assessments here

Discover how you can get certified to use the FIRO assessment for team development


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