Try These Techniques to Improve Team Communication

Looking for ways to improve team performance or tips to improve team communication? Sometimes, you need new tools in your toolkit.

Christine Montgomery, Nancy Henjum, and Michael Campbell — 3 of CCL’s experts on teams and facilitators of the Leading Teams for Impact program — share a few of their favorite team tools.

For Better Team Conversations, Zoom Out

When your team is stuck in an unproductive conversation, facilitate a perspective shift.

Team members should stop conversation and move away from the immediate topic. “Zoom out” to a broader context and individually reflect on the following questions:

  • How am I feeling right now? What’s the mood of the group?
  • What’s going right, right now?
  • What’s the elephant in the room that is not being acknowledged?
  • What needs to happen differently to move forward?

After a bit of time, invite team members to talk about their reflections. The discussion will bring out new ways to move ahead constructively.

“This is simple, practical, and useful,” says Campbell. “It helps solve the problem of the dreaded team meeting that goes nowhere.”

Give Feedback Using the SBI Model

CCL has developed a feedback technique called Situation-Behavior-Impact. SBI is simple and direct: You capture and clarify the situation, describe the specific behaviors, and explain the impact that the person’s behavior had on you.

Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) model for feedbackFor example, “Erika, during your presentation this morning, you spoke clearly and shared important information. I felt informed, and the team was able to develop a plan based on the information.”

SBI is a way to give positive and negative feedback, both of which are needed for teams to function well.

“Leaders talk about how important feedback is to aligning and motivating their teams,” notes Montgomery. “I like the SBI tool because it is specific about observable behavior.”  Your team can even use the SBI model to inquire about intent to make it more of a two-way conversation.

Try “Fist to 5” for Group Decision-Making

This is a voting tool, a visual check-in, often used for decision-making. It allows everybody to weigh in, voice smaller objections, and reach consensus.

“Fist to 5 is quick and a very effective way to check in for understanding, evaluate effectiveness, and gauge the climate as well as for decision-making,” says Henjum. “It’s good any time you need to get quick feedback or to help you keep moving.”

Here’s how it works for decision-making:

The person with a proposal clarifies the decision the group needs to make and asks everyone to show their level of support. For example: Do we agree on the idea of hiring a consultant to help us with this problem?

Give everyone a half minute to reflect; then ask them to vote using their fingers on a scale of 0-5, on a count of 3.

  • Fist: A no vote — a way to block consensus. Suggests I need to talk more on the proposal and require changes for it to pass.
  • 1 Finger: I still need to discuss certain issues and suggest changes that should be made.
  • 2 Fingers: I am more comfortable with the proposal but would like to discuss some minor issues.
  • 3 Fingers: I’m not in total agreement but feel comfortable to let this decision or a proposal pass without further discussion.
  • 4 Fingers: I think it’s a good idea/decision and will work for it.
  • 5 Fingers: It’s a great idea and I will be one of the leaders in implementing it.

Everyone can take a turn to express their thinking. If anyone holds up fewer than 3 fingers, they are asked to state their objections or misgivings, and the team should address their concerns. Teams continue the Fist-to-5 process until they achieve consensus (a minimum of 3 fingers or higher) or determine they will come back to the issue.


Gain insights and tools to become a better team through CCL’s Leading Teams for Impact program.

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