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ATD Blog

Are Communication and Teamwork Always Experiments? Yes!

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

What makes a team work? Communication. And what makes communication work? The team.

Nod your head if you have experienced any of these in your teams:

  • Lack of truly understanding priorities and commitments
  • Too many projects and responsibilities (because everything’s important)
  • Delegation isn’t done right by the right people or to the right people
  • Meetings (and too many of them) have no purpose or agenda
  • There is mistrust between people or siloed departments
  • People are disconnected from the importance of their work
  • People complaining, moaning, and whining
  • Everyone CCs everyone else on every email every day

If so, you have a communication problem.

Whether you’re rebuilding your recruitment, onboarding, or people development processes or if you’re focused on engagement, retention, and succession planning, it’s time to solve some communication challenges tactically day-to-day and strategically as part of the big picture so that the organization can benefit from consistently beautiful teamwork.

There are four steps to beautiful teamwork:

  • Communication. Discovering the parts we play and how we play our parts in the relationship.
  • Cooperation. You do your part then hand it off to me. I’ll do my part and hand it back to you. Repeat.
  • Collaboration. We do our parts together at the same time and in the same space with the same outcome.
  • Synergy. An empowered, productive, high-performing team where the sum is greater than the parts.

Let’s break it down.


The Latin root of communication is communicare, which means “to share.” In the days of the internet and smartphones and artificial intelligence, that’s not clear enough. It’s also more than just the conveying or exchanging of information, ideas, or feelings through words, sounds, signs, or behaviors. Communication is one-to-one, connecting with the individuals for the benefit of the team.

For an effective communication path, we must start with rapport, earn trust, and establish credibility that will allow us to drill down to find the truth and evaluate root causes of communication breakdowns and breakthroughs to create consensus and readiness to move forward.

Action: Where do you need to renew or reinforce rapport, trust, or credibility with your higher-ups, lower-downs, and all-arounds?



To cooperate means to work with other people to achieve your own goal as part of a common goal. You don’t even have to be on the same team. If I’m a criminal (which I’m not, I promise) and you are a police officer, we can cooperate so that you get what you want (the even worse criminal) and I get what I want (immunity, reduced sentence, and so on).

Another example is Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia maintained by a community of loosely coordinated volunteer contributors. Most of them don’t even know each other.

For an effective cooperation path, package and communicate what is Really Most Important™ with any plan, project, or event where people fully understand and connect to their roles, responsibilities, and rituals. Then, build and agree on common language, develop a team culture or identity, and set ground rules for how everyone cooperates. (Click here to download a communications code template.)

Action: What systems or structure are missing in your team, department, or organization right now and what is the filling the void?


To collaborate means to work together to achieve a single, shared goal. A musician can create music with a single instrument, but it takes a full orchestra to create a large-scale musical composition for an unforgettable performance. Yet, if any of the orchestra members are out of sync with the music, the performance becomes unforgettable for other reasons.


While cooperation is about each of us doing our parts, collaboration is where we do our parts together at the same time in the same space with the same outcome. We get better together, and our results are multiplied.

For an effective collaboration path, forge shared values, define a collective vision, and develop a collaborative strategy that fosters buy-in and alignment within your organization and departments as well as accountability with each person.

Action: Where do you need to add clarity, alignment, or execution for the wants, needs, and values of the individual while honoring the intention of the relationship and creating a powerful foundation for teamwork?


Synergy is an explosion of magic. Few teams ever really experience this consistently. Synergy happens when we are communicating effectively and positively, we cooperate with each other to get our individual jobs done, and we collaborate to bring the pieces together.

Think of the Harlem Globe Trotters or US Navy SEALS or incredible improv comedy groups. They have gotten to a point where they know what each other is thinking or feeling based on a quick glance or a single gesture. When you do it right, it seems like an unexplainable phenomenon, but it really took months and years of experimentation to make it look like magic.

For an effective synergy path, mobilize people to develop plans, make decisions, and take action to achieve organizational results and personal milestones that are on target, on time, and below budget. Start by putting together a team of talented and passionate people, designating appropriate resources (time, energy, attention, money), and setting up accountability management so that everyone can do their best work.

Action: You want awesome magic in your teams, right? Then let’s start working towards it. Is everyone empowered to express their Real GPA™ for their Genius, Passion, and Achievements? If yes, how can you optimize it? If no, what needs to change? Then, be patient and continue working on the team until it becomes a well-oiled machine!

About the Author

Joe Urbanski is the COO of the Total Solutions Group (TSG), a strategic consulting, training, and coaching firm committed to driving a transformative impact to what’s really most important to an organization’s value proposition and results. TSG’s core focus areas are organizational and culture transformation, strategic planning and business growth, leadership development programs, and train-the-trainer certifications. When it comes to empowering people and organizations, Joe is committed to helping you co-create your own learning experience. For more than a decade, he has honed his electrifying facilitation style, performing for as many as 2,400 participants during full-day training sessions, three-day retreats, and multiyear programs. He has delivered more than 525 on-site and online workshops for more than 400,000 participants, including executive leaders, corporate trainers, and everyone in between. Joe is honored to be ranked among the top 10 percent of speakers in the Society for Human Resource Management and ATD.

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