Building a Culture of Open Communication: The Key to Team Harmony.

A harmonious team is the cornerstone of any successful organization. One key factor contributing to a cohesive team is open and transparent communication. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of communication in team harmony, provide practical tips and exercises for improving communication within a team, and share real-world examples of teams that have successfully fostered a culture of open communication.

The Importance of Open Communication in Teams

Open communication is crucial in building trust, resolving conflicts, and enhancing collaboration within a team. When team members feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, ideas, and concerns, it leads to better decision-making, improved problem-solving, and a more positive work environment. 

A study conducted by Salesforce found that 86% of employees and executives cite a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures. This statistic highlights the significance of open communication in achieving team harmony.

Barriers to Open Communication

There are several common barriers that can hinder open communication within a team. These include:

Fear of Conflict or Retribution

Description: Team members may be hesitant to express their opinions or concerns for fear of conflict or retribution from others.

Why It Happens: Employees may have experienced negative consequences in the past for speaking up, or they may perceive that their opinions are not valued.

Lack of Trust

Description: If there’s a lack of trust among team members, it can prevent open and honest communication.

Why It Happens: Trust is often eroded when team members feel that their contributions are not acknowledged or valued. It can also be affected by a lack of transparency or inconsistent actions from leadership.

Poor Leadership

Description: Leaders play a crucial role in fostering open communication. Poor leadership can result in a lack of clear communication and a culture of silence.
Why It Happens: Leaders may not prioritize communication, or they may lack the skills to communicate effectively. In some cases, leaders may intentionally withhold information to maintain control.

Strategies for Improving Communication

Here are some strategies to improve communication within a team:

  • Foster a Safe Environment: Create a psychologically safe environment where team members feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and ideas without fear of retribution.
  • Encourage Active Listening: Active listening is crucial in effective communication. Encourage team members to listen attentively to one another and ask clarifying questions to ensure understanding.
  • Lead by Example: Leaders should model open and transparent communication. When leaders communicate effectively, it sets the tone for the rest of the team.
  • Regular Check-ins: Hold regular check-ins or meetings where team members can share updates, ask questions, and discuss any challenges they’re facing.

Practical Exercises for Building Open Communication

Here are some exercises that can help build open communication within a team:

The Talking Stick Exercise

Description: In this exercise, a “talking stick” is passed around, and the person holding the stick has the floor to speak while others listen attentively.

Detailed Instruction: Gather the team in a circle and introduce the talking stick. Set a specific topic or question for discussion. The person with the stick speaks their thoughts on the topic, while others listen without interrupting. After speaking, they pass the stick to the next person.

Example: A software development team used the talking stick exercise to discuss project roadblocks. One team member shared their struggle with a specific coding issue, leading another team member to offer their assistance and expertise in resolving the issue.

The Two-Minute Rule

Description: In meetings, give each team member two minutes to share their thoughts on a specific topic. This ensures that everyone has a chance to speak and be heard.

Detailed Instruction: At the beginning of the meeting, set the topic for discussion. Use a timer to give each team member two minutes to share their thoughts. No interruptions are allowed during each person’s two-minute share.

Example: A marketing team utilized the two-minute rule during a brainstorming session for a new advertising campaign. This exercise brought forth diverse ideas and ensured that even the more introverted team members had a chance to contribute.

Role Reversal

Description: Have team members switch roles and see things from each other’s perspectives. This can enhance empathy and understanding among team members. This encourages them to see the issue from a different perspective and develop empathy for alternative viewpoints.

Detailed Instruction: Choose a relevant workplace topic or issue that allows for multiple viewpoints and has the potential for meaningful discussion. Identify two team members with different roles or viewpoints. Ask them to switch sides and argue for the viewpoint they oppose. Afterwards, hold a reflective discussion. Ask team members to share their insights, what they learned, and how their understanding of the issue evolved. Discuss the importance of considering diverse perspectives in decision-making.

Example:  Imagine a team of managers in a medium-sized company are tasked with allocating performance bonuses to their respective teams. This is a common scenario that often leads to discussions and disagreements. The team decides to use the “Role Reversal” exercise to better understand different perspectives and make more fair decisions.

Looking for someone to help improve your teams dynamics? Try one of our workshops and let the experts lead you on the path to Team Harmony.

Real-World Examples of Teams with Open Communication

Let’s take a look at some real-world examples of teams that have successfully fostered a culture of open communication:

Google 🔎

“We strive to maintain the open culture often associated with startups, in which everyone is a hands-on contributor and feels comfortable sharing ideas and opinions.”

Source: Google – Our Culture

Google is renowned for its open culture, emphasizing open communication, collaboration, and innovation, where employees are actively encouraged to share their ideas and feedback. They utilize a myriad of tools and platforms designed to foster seamless communication and collaboration among team members.  

Here are some of the ways Google encourages employees to share ideas and feedback:

Google’s Weekly TGIF Meetings: As mentioned earlier, these all-hands meetings provide a platform for employees to ask questions directly to the company’s top leaders, including the CEO.

Project Aristotle: This was a research initiative by Google to understand what makes a team effective. One of the significant findings was the importance of psychological safety, which Google now actively fosters to encourage open communication.

G-Suite Tools: Google’s suite of tools, including Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, are designed to facilitate collaboration. These tools allow employees to work together in real-time, sharing ideas and feedback instantly.

20% Time: This famous Google policy allows employees to spend 20% of their work time on projects they are passionate about. This not only fosters innovation but also encourages employees to share their ideas and receive feedback from others.

Idea Platforms and Hackathons: Google has various platforms where employees can submit their ideas and innovations. Google’s hackathons are well-known for being a breeding ground for new ideas, where employees can collaborate and innovate together.

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Google has several ERGs that provide a space for employees with shared identities or interests to come together and share their experiences and ideas.

By implementing these practices, Google creates an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas and receiving feedback, ultimately driving innovation and success for the company.

Buffer 📅

“Transparency breeds trust, and trust is the foundation of great teamwork.”

Source: Buffer open Blog

Buffer, a social media management platform, has a transparent culture where everything from salaries to decision-making processes is shared openly with the team. This transparency fosters trust and open communication among team members.

Buffer’s transparent culture manifests in several ways:

Transparent Salaries: Buffer has a transparent salary formula that is publicly available. They share each team member’s salary, along with the formula they use to calculate these salaries. This transparency removes any secrecy or uncertainty around pay and helps to foster a sense of fairness and equality.

Open Financials: Buffer openly shares its financial information with the team and often with the public as well. This includes revenue, profits, and even losses. By being open about their financials, Buffer builds trust with its team and stakeholders.

Decision-making Process: Buffer practices a transparent decision-making process where decisions are shared openly with the team, along with the rationale behind them. This practice helps to build understanding and alignment among team members.

Buffer Values and Culture: The company’s values and culture are clearly defined and shared with the team. This includes a focus on transparency, trust, and open communication.

Regular Updates and Communication: Buffer utilizes various communication channels to provide regular updates to the team. This includes regular video calls, chat tools, and shared documents that help to keep everyone informed and aligned.

By incorporating these practices, Buffer creates a transparent and open culture where team members feel informed, valued, and empowered to contribute their ideas and feedback. This fosters a sense of trust and collaboration that is fundamental to Buffer’s success.

Bonus Example: Buffer’s transparency dashboard provides detailed information on various aspects of the company, from revenue to diversity statistics, promoting openness and accountability.

Patagonia 🏞️

“The more transparent we are, the more effective and efficient we can be as a company.”

Source: Patagonia – Our Values

Patagonia is renowned for its transparent and open communication culture. The company actively encourages employees to voice their opinions and engage in conversations that drive positive change.

Patagonia actively encourages open communication and transparency in several ways:

Employee Involvement in Decision Making: Patagonia involves its employees in its decision-making processes. This inclusive approach makes employees feel valued and encourages them to express their opinions and ideas.

One notable instance is the modification of its performance management system. Recognizing that the traditional performance review cycle was a draining experience for both employees and managers, the company restructured its approach.

Upon announcing the discontinuation of performance ratings, the entire company cheered, marking a shift towards a more regenerative approach to employee management. Instead of a rigid review structure, employees now have a tool they can opt into and utilize based on their and their managers’ needs, fostering a more supportive and flexible work environment. 

Moreover, Patagonia adjusted its work schedule to close every other Friday, providing corporate office employees with 26 three-day weekends annually. Initially aimed at accommodating snow enthusiasts, this change evolved into a broader effort to enhance work-life balance.​

Regular Company Meetings and Forums: The company holds regular meetings and forums where employees can voice their concerns, ask questions, and provide feedback directly to the leadership team.

Sustainability and Social Responsibility Initiatives: Patagonia is well-known for its commitment to environmental sustainability and social responsibility. The company actively encourages employees to participate in these initiatives, which often involve collaborative efforts and open communication.

Internal Communication Channels: Patagonia utilizes various internal communication tools and channels to facilitate transparent and open communication among its team members.

Whistleblower Protection: Patagonia has policies in place to protect whistleblowers, ensuring that employees can report unethical practices without fear of retaliation.

By fostering a culture of open communication and transparency, Patagonia not only strengthens its internal team but also upholds its values and mission as a company dedicated to positive environmental and social impact.

Bonus Example: Patagonia’s “Let My People Go Surfing” policy, which allows employees to take time off to enjoy outdoor activities, is an example of their open and trust-based culture.

Zappos 👠

“If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff, like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand, will happen naturally on its own.”

Source: Delivering Happiness Blog

Zappos, an online shoe retailer, encourages open communication and fosters a culture where employees can be themselves and share their ideas freely in several ways:

Core Values: Zappos has a set of core values that emphasize the importance of open communication, creativity, and individuality. These values are ingrained in the company culture and guide how employees interact with each other and make decisions.

Flat Organizational Structure: Zappos operates with a flat organizational structure, which reduces hierarchical barriers and promotes open communication among all levels of the organization.

Internal Communication Tools: The company utilizes various communication tools and platforms that allow employees to easily share ideas and collaborate on projects.

Employee Resource Groups and Clubs: Zappos has employee resource groups and clubs that provide a space for employees with shared interests to connect and collaborate, encouraging communication and idea-sharing.

Employee Engagement Initiatives: Zappos implements various employee engagement initiatives that focus on building a strong sense of community and promoting open communication, such as team-building activities, social events, and workshops.

Feedback and Recognition Programs: Zappos has a feedback and recognition program that encourages employees to give and receive feedback, promoting a culture of continuous improvement and open communication.

By implementing these practices, Zappos creates an environment where employees feel comfortable being themselves and sharing their ideas, ultimately driving innovation and success for the company.

Bonus Example: Zappos’ core value “Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit” emphasizes the importance of open communication in building a cohesive team.


Building a culture of open communication is essential for team harmony. It enhances collaboration, fosters trust, and leads to better decision-making. By implementing the strategies and exercises shared in this article, you can create an environment where open communication thrives, ultimately leading to a more cohesive and successful team.