Solution Saturday: My Team Struggles with Communication and Follow-Through

Dear Dan,

My team has been struggling with communication. We have talked about it all, run through problems and nutted out imperfect solutions.

We have talked through positive ways to communicate, but I am still seeing two things.

  • Personal frustrations evident if someone is constructively criticized.
  • People jumping to conclusions and throwing others under the bus when they are criticized.

Do you have any tips I could use to start getting people to just understand what is going on and react positively?

Acceptance seems to be a huge issue. I do not want to be condescending at all and I fear that is the way I will go as I see the same behavioral patterns continue to emerge.

Thank you in advance for your help.


Dear Team Leader,

Thank you for your email and congratulations on working to improve communication with your team. I appreciate your collaborative approach.

Your interest in behavior patterns is important.

Replace negative patterns with positive behaviors to solve nagging problems.


It seems like there is a lack of accountability on the team. You talk about things but don’t follow-through. You might take ownership of this issue. “I notice that we talk about doing things, but don’t always follow-through. I’ve allowed this pattern to persist. I’m counting on you to help me improve our follow-through.”

Established patterns – good or bad – tie directly to leadership. I know that stings. We can’t blame others for persistent patterns that we tolerated.

Ask your team, “What would you like me to do or say when we don’t follow-through with our commitments?” Generate specific language and behaviors. Try something new for a couple of weeks. Discuss how it worked. Adapt. Adjust. Start again.

After a month or two, take it to the next level. You modeled the way. Call them to follow your lead. Ask, “How might we hold each other accountable?” 

Share what you learned about holding people accountable. If it feels uncomfortable, say so. At the same time, paint a picture of why it’s important. “I respect myself when I hold myself accountable. I honor the talent in others when I hold them accountable.”

The only true accountability is self imposed. Ask team members to make commitments for which they are willing to be held accountable. Then do it.

You might buddy up. “Who is your accountability partner on this project?” Two are better than one, if they encourage each other.

Learning vs. criticism:

Ask, “What are you learning?” when you feel like offering constructive criticism. Be specific. “What are you learning about making it safe to bring up awkward topics in our meeting?” Follow that with, “What might you/we do differently next time?”

You might, for example, ask, “What was the tipping point where things went wrong on this project? What will we do better at that point next time?”

Choose a small team:

Since talking with the team hasn’t worked well, you might identify two or three respected team members to work with. Who might begin exhibiting the behaviors you hope to see?

Call them together. Discuss how to make things better. Determine what you’re going to do. Focus on things within your control.


Approach people optimistically. When you notice negative patterns, you might say, “We’re better than this. Something isn’t working, but we can make it better. What three or four behaviors might break this pattern?” (New behaviors are the only solution to negative behavioral patterns.)

After listing behaviors that might break a pattern, choose one to practice. 

Practice seeking more than giving:

Build a culture where seeking feedback is normal.

Establish the practice of seeking specific feedback. For example, ask the team, “What’s one thing I’m doing when I lead our meetings that makes it easy for everyone to participate?”

If a project comes in late, have the project leader ask each team member, “What’s one way I could meet my deadline next time?”

Don’t ask for broad unfocused feedback. “How could I be a better leader?” is a tragedy waiting to happen.


  1. Praise in public. Offer constructive feedback in private.
  2. Use the term feedback instead of constructive criticism. It’s a small thing, but I think ‘criticism’ has more negative baggage than ‘feedback’.
  3. Affirm three times as much as you correct. Enter every room looking for good behaviors to notice. Say what you see.

Leading is learning. You tried something. It didn’t turn out like you hoped. What are you learning? What will you do differently?

The courage to keep growing is what separates success from failure.

Thanks for a great question. Your passion shines through in your words.

You have my best,


What suggestions do you have for this team leader?

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