How to improve team communication: A step-by-step guide for small businesses

The more your small business grows, the more important communication becomes. And yet, knowing how to improve workplace communication can be extremely challenging.

It’s easy for bad habits to form accidentally, especially if staff aren’t sure what’s expected of them. Or if no one has taken the time to lay out the company’s mission, values, or processes. In the ‘busyness’ of running a business, taking the time to listen to your employees and set up good communication channels can easily get missed.

But poor communication can have serious consequences. It can decrease productivity, lower morale, cause confusion and frustration, and eventually lead to big mistakes and high — and expensive — staff churn.

In contrast, great communication is rocket fuel for small businesses. It means everyone pulls together as a team and feels seen, heard, and appreciated. Everyone works more productively and happily, and stays around for longer.

That’s why in this piece, we cover:

  • Why good team communication is so important for small businesses
  • Seven ways that poor communication can develop (so you know what to look out for)
  • Nine ways to improve communication (so you can get better results, fast)
  • Why centralizing workplace communication is key

Why good team communication is important for small businesses

Good team communication is important because of the serious advantages it brings small businesses. These include:

  • Better productivity and organization, which improves output.
  • Improved morale and staff happiness, which improves results and staff retention.
  • Less risk of mistakes, like clashing shifts, which improves effectiveness and work quality.
  • Lower staff turnover and churn, which saves money on hiring and training.

Good communication also means that team members are always kept in the loop. No one is left out of company updates and everyone feels included, no matter their position.

Ultimately, high-quality communication works both ways — if management communicates well and encourages staff to do the same back, everyone will feel listened to and respected within a cooperative, open ethos.

6 factors that lead to poor team communication

Poor team communication is rarely intentional, but it can happen easily. Some major things to watch out for include:

1. Lack of specificity or expectations

As a manager, you can’t expect staff to communicate in a certain way if you don’t let them know your expectations in the first place.

Staff may not know how you want them to talk to each other or what’s acceptable in your workplace. You may feel the need to chase them or become angry with them if they’re not interacting how you want them to. And yet, if you don’t state expectations upfront, it’s unreasonable to expect people to read your mind — even if it seems obvious.

A lack of specificity, processes, or clear expectations can lead to frustration, confusion, missed messages, resentment, and costly mistakes.

Without clear expectations or a ‘master document’ that explains how to do something, it’s difficult to be sure everyone knows how to complete their tasks successfully and consistently.

A lack of processes leads to frustration as people ask the same questions over and over or get things wrong. And new hires stay in the dark about certain tasks and don’t receive proper training.

2. Assumptions

Making assumptions about what people do and don’t know — and not thinking to check — is at the root of many communication problems.

If you never investigate assumptions or knowledge levels, you could create an environment where people are too afraid, confused, or proud to ask questions. This could cause staff to feel overwhelmed, alone, or ‘stupid,’ and may lead to them making bigger mistakes down the line.

3. Lack of respect

Good communication is about respecting all your team members, even if they’re saying something difficult or not behaving as you’d expect them to.

Without a clear ‘respect’ value in your company culture, staff may unintentionally bring their own prejudices and biases to the table. You’d hope that this wouldn’t happen, but during times of low morale, frustration, and stress, it can be easy to say the wrong thing.

Poor boundaries and a lack of processes make this more likely, and people who feel unheard themselves are often more inclined to be disrespectful to others.

4. Not accepting criticism or feedback

A common symptom of poor communication is when staff don’t deal with criticism or feedback well.

Never asking for feedback, not having feedback channels in place, or not accepting feedback when it’s offered — and even worse, reacting negatively to those who speak up — leads to much poorer communication.

Staff will feel as though they can’t offer opinions and that their views don’t matter. It’ll create an ‘us and them’ environment where some people feel valued and others don’t.

When staff don’t feel comfortable sharing feedback, it can also cause people to feel isolated and like they can’t speak up when problems arise. This will cause unhappiness, a lack of productivity, and a higher turnover rate.

5. Not offering dedicated communication time

You can’t expect staff to be open and happy to talk to management if they’re not invited to do it or aren’t in the habit of doing so.

Failing to schedule regular meetings or opportunities for no-pressure chats means team members won’t feel like there’s an open line of communication between employees and managers.

And if staff are only invited to meet with management in negative situations, they’re unlikely to speak openly and offer feedback, positive comments, or helpful suggestions. Any invitations to talk may feel forced and uncomfortable as a result.

This is more likely to foster a closed-off, secretive environment that will negatively impact morale, productivity, commitment, community, and innovation.

6. Poor communication tools

Even with the best intentions, sometimes poor communication comes down to poor tools.

Trying to coordinate a team with bits of paper, random emails, and inconsistent, manually-sent texts is a recipe for disorganization, missing things, and haphazard results. It’s all too easy for updates to get missed and your day-to-day operations to become inefficient.

Plus, without a centralized place to interact with each other, like a chat app, staff have nowhere to interact or build a community, which makes professional communication even more difficult.

8 ways to improve team communication

Now that we’ve talked about how poor communication can happen, here are our top tips for building excellent communication practices in your workplace:

1. Get specific

Setting specific expectations and boundaries upfront is key to good communication. It means that everyone knows what’s expected of them and understands how they can make their voices heard, too.

Be clear about what each person should — and shouldn’t — be doing and where certain roles end and others begin.

One way to get 100% specific is to create processes.

Processes mean that you have clear, written guidelines that explain what everyone should be doing and how. They reduce the risk of misunderstandings, frustration, confusion, and missed tasks. Processes also ensure consistency throughout your business and reduce needless questions and frustration.

Communication processes don’t need to be set in stone and should be open to regular re-evaluation and staff feedback where needed — but they should be followed as much as possible.

And always state your specific communication policies upfront during the onboarding process. Some example expectations might include:

  • Requiring a chat message if a staff member is sick one day and at least one hour’s notice before their shift is due to start.
  • Making it clear that staff should acknowledge all of your chat communications with a reply, emoji, or thumbs-up.
  • Requesting that staff check their email or messages at the start and towards the end of their shifts at the very least so that no important messages get missed.
  • Asking staff to give at least two weeks’ notice for vacation requests.

2. Check, and check again

Never make assumptions, whether about people’s work, tasks, roles, abilities, or needs.

When you’re running a small business, it’s always better to double-check — especially if a staff member is new or handling something complicated— than assume they’re OK and have them suffer, feel overwhelmed, get something crucial wrong, or end up quitting suddenly.

Making double-checking, compassionate responses, and ‘overcommunicating’ part of your work culture — while still trusting your team’s competency and ability to learn and work hard — is a much better policy than just assuming everything is already clear to everyone.

3. Be respectful

Make respectful communication one of your workplace values. That means believing each of your team members is capable of learning and good work and that everyone deserves to be treated with compassion.

Respectful communication includes:

  • Being intentional and specific with your words and expectations
  • Giving fair, objective feedback
  • Working hard to avoid offense — even if you’re joking or teasing

And it should go without saying that good communication (especially critical feedback) should focus on solid facts rather than subjective anecdotes or the employee’s personality traits.

Respect is also about seeing everyone in your team equally and treating people how you’d like to be treated. That means prioritizing compassion and positive feedback, even when problems come up.

4. Schedule regular feedback meetings

Offer regular slots or times when staff can talk to managers without expectations or risks associated with their work, position, or pay.

Depending on how you run your business, this may mean:

  • Putting office hours in your calendar where team members can come in to chat
  • Scheduling regular one-on-one or team meetings
  • Setting up larger meetings where staff are encouraged to offer their ideas and feedback

Remember — staff on the ground are likely to have better insights into your customers than you, so be sure to listen to them.

And when criticism is offered constructively and politely, a company with great communication practices should have processes in place for making a note of those comments, taking action, and/or reporting back. This helps teams feel more collaborative and reduces the risk that staff will feel punished for voicing suggestions.

5. Define each meeting’s agenda ahead of time

Respecting your staff members’ time is a key way to improve your internal communication and results. And a major way to do so is by setting specific agendas for all your meetings.

This enables people to:

  • Estimate how long the meeting will take
  • Prepare for the call or session
  • Plan the rest of their workday accordingly

As a result, your meetings will generate better results as staff will be more prepared for the agenda points. Employees will also be more likely to show up and be alert during the session as they’ll trust it won’t go on too long or conflict with the rest of their schedule.

In addition, assign agenda points to relevant staff members when it makes sense. And stick to your meeting plan and give staff their time back or a chance to bring up other important issues if you finish early. Be sure to apologize and move agenda points to the next meeting if you run out of time.

6. Provide regular team-wide updates

Providing team-wide updates as well as having regular one-to-one meetings offers several benefits. It can:

  • Give staff confidence that you’re in control and the business is well-organized
  • Keep workers feeling ‘in the loop’ and ensure them they’ll be first to know about any changes or updates
  • Foster a sense of community and unite your staff around your wider company mission
  • Provide the opportunity to restate company values and shout out staff wins

Using a communication app like Homebase lets you easily send updates and messages in a ‘chat’ style. This lets you take the temperature of your team, build community, strengthen your mission, and take proactive action when issues come up.

7. Centralize communication

With email, texting, messaging apps, social media, and more, the number of ways you can get in touch with someone is nearly limitless. But so many options can make it even more difficult to keep up.

If staff can WhatsApp, voice note, DM, email, text, call you — or even leave Post-Its on your desk! — even the most organized manager would struggle to keep records updated and not miss any important messages.

It makes much more sense to keep everything on a single digital platform. All staff members can check the app easily, chat, send updates and requests, and follow processes. Nothing gets missed.

For instance, handling team communication on the Homebase platform makes it simple to:

  • Send, receive, and view updates
  • Message individuals, custom groups of employees, or everyone at once
  • Get shifts covered and approve swap or vacation requests

8. Learn about your employees’ specific communication patterns

Different people may have different communication styles. For example, some individuals respond better to direct forms of communication without any ‘sugar coating,’ while others find blunt communication confrontational and prefer a softer approach.

A big part of establishing good communication practices is being alert to different communication skills, body language, facial expressions, and personality types between team members.

In practice, this means adjusting your approach to management and communication depending on who you’re talking to. This could include:

  • Giving someone space to talk before you do
  • Telling someone what the meeting is about before giving them a chance to speak
  • Giving someone positive feedback before and after talking about areas for improvement
  • Getting straight to the point when delivering feedback
  • Having a chat with someone over coffee rather than in a formal office setting
  • Going for a walk with someone rather than sitting down across from each other at a table
  • Making clear suggestions rather than asking questions
  • Asking questions rather than making suggestions

Of course, many of these points contradict each other. So, the ‘best’ course of action depends on the manager and the team member in question.

However, no matter the type of communication, it’s always best to prioritize respect, allow the employee to feel heard, and avoid needless criticism. And if in doubt, you can also ask your team members themselves what they need or prefer in terms of communication.

How Homebase can help improve team communication

Centralizing communication with an app like Homebase makes effective communication easy.

That’s because Homebase lets you:

  • Keep all your professional communications within one platform
  • Reduce the risk of any communications or important updates getting lost, missed, or overlooked
  • Gather data — such as performance, pay, hours worked, and shifts — to offer more fact-based feedback if needed
  • Create new hire packets to welcome new team members
  • Keep track of staff information, paperwork, and certifications

All of the above will also help your team members feel more informed, empowered, and part of a wider community, which boosts morale and job satisfaction.

Forget random texts and lost Post-It notes — with Homebase, communication is straightforward and easy.

Great team communication is vital for your small business

The nine tips laid out above may feel like a lot, but they can be summarized as:

  1. Set expectations
  2. Be respectful
  3. Keep communication channels open

It’s true. Failing to set communication expectations that explain what you want to see and what’s acceptable in your workplace is a recipe for an unhealthy, unproductive work environment.

Instead, laying out clear guidelines and processes avoids confusion and mistakes. And being open to feedback makes for a collaborative, successful, and supportive workplace. Ultimately, everyone wants to feel heard, included, and respected.

Harnessing the power of technology, like with Homebase’s specially-designed communication app, makes this easier than ever.

How to improve team communication: Frequently asked questions

homebase customer photo homebase customer photo

What are the benefits of improved team communication?

The benefits of improved team communication include better employee engagement, higher productivity, and clearer processes. Empowering staff with effective team communication will make them more focused and happier. They’ll make fewer mistakes and stay working with you longer. They’ll also treat customers and each other more compassionately and feel part of a dynamic, high-performing team with a common goal.

And keeping team communication centralized with an app like Homebase makes getting there easy.

What are the best team communication strategies?

While there are many different excellent team communication strategies, here are our top eight suggestions:

  • Get specific with your communication guidelines, expectations, and processes
  • Avoid making assumptions and make double-checking knowledge a habit
  • Make respectful communication one of your core business values
  • Schedule regular opportunities to talk to employees and prompt them to provide feedback
  • Define meeting agendas ahead of time
  • Provide regular team-wide updates and communications 
  • Centralize your communications with a team communication app like Homebase
  • Understand your team members’ different communication styles and interact with them accordingly

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