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In our Lead Coffee Talk episode: Common Communication Challenges in Tech Teams, featuring Jethro and Rustam. They discussed the common challenges faced by tech teams, using hypothetical scenarios as a backdrop for discussions.

We have distilled the conversation into actionable items for your teams to implement today!

Engineering Culture: Navigating Communication Challenges in Tech Teams

The first pillar to any high functioning team with a good engineering culture is communication. Teams need to be able to discuss new features, production issues, implementation strategies, and communicate externally with vendors and clients. Communication is much more than just discussing the content at hand. Emotions, biases, and many other psychological factors come into play. A simple conversations can easily become heated and the original thought lost in the myriad of others. How then, does one navigate the tricky labyrinth that is communication?

  • Understanding Roles and Responsibilities: Establishing clear roles and responsibilities within a tech team is a great starting point. Often teams have a vague idea of what each person is responsible for. By initiating a session, like a roles and responsibility template, where team members collaboratively define their roles, expectations, and contributions and leveraging a visual aid, such as a whiteboard, the team can collectively outline their individual responsibilities, fostering a shared understanding. This provides clear expectations for each member and uncovers potential grey areas in the team. Transparency is the key factor here.
  • Collaborative Moments: Once the team has a clear understanding of their role in the team, creating moments to share and discuss topics is the next point of interest. Collaborative moments are purposeful and purposely created times that the team will meet, preferably in person. When a new feature request comes in for example, get the team together to discuss how and what should be implemented. This will create a shared understanding of the problem and the solution. It also gives the team time to bond and learn more about each other. During lockdowns, a great example I observed was how often teammates bonded over having a cat. In a pair programming session, someone's cat walks across the screen to which the other person responds in delight because they too have a cat. These moments, where the team comes together to work on a project, stimulate open communication and highlight the significance of creating a space where team members can freely express their thoughts and ideas, laying the groundwork for effective collaboration.
  • Navigating Different Communication Styles: When discussing communication, one must acknowledge the potential for communication challenges when team members have varying levels of experience and emotional connections to their work. There are varying levels of communication and in order to address content one must first make sure everyone is at the content level. A classic example here is a senior engineer who has been working at the company for many years, has a strong emotional attachment to the software because they were the initial creators, and the software has a proven track record. A new feature request comes in and the team is split between building something new vs using the old solution. The senior engineer might be biased because of his emotional attachment, or an even stronger emotion could be fear. Fear that moving away from their solution could mean they are replaced. To solve this one would need to acknowledge the emotional aspect and ensuring that team members feel heard and understood. Only then can you transition from the emotional to the content-driven discussions which allows the team to explore diverse perspectives and make informed decisions.
  • Decision Records for Clarity: Over time the team will make many decisions some good and some not, to learn and grow from these decisions you need to acknowledge them and own them as a team. Creating a record, using an ADR for example, allows the team to not only reflect on decisions but also remember why they made them. When a new person joins the team, they may feel the need to challenge certain ideas. Challenging ideas is a great indicator that the person is passionate about the work they are doing, so we want to encourage this behaviour. However, in order to make a judgement one needs all the facts about why a decision was made and who were the people involved. Decision records serve as a repository for decisions made by the team, including the rationale, consequences, and potential drawbacks. By documenting decisions, the team can maintain transparency and learn from past experiences, fostering a culture of continuous improvement.
  • Creating a Culture of Inclusivity: When a new member joins the team it is important that your team has a culture of inclusivity. This allows for your team to transition faster through Tuckman's Stages of Group Development. Every person brings a special flavour and personality to the team dynamic and embracing this idea, leads to better team cohesion and diversity. A great example is when a new team member joins a hybrid team, and initial meetings reveal that many team members have their cameras turned off. As the team lead it is your responsibility to lead by example, turn your camera on, and create a call to action asking other members to do the same. Personal connections are the foundation of team cohesion.
  • Addressing Entitlement and Fostering Leadership: When you become the leader of a team either by promotion or employment, a long-standing team member may feel displaced or potentially overlooked. A leadership style that focuses on support rather than replacement is key to success here. Being a leader doesn't mean you're the only one who performs leadership tasks, but rather you are the one who's responsible for ensuring the team is lead correctly. By encouraging team-members to step up and take on those tasks you become a be multiplier, elevating each team member's strengths and fostering an environment where everyone can contribute meaningfully.


Overcoming communication challenges within tech teams is never easy, having a diverse team, hybrid work arrangements, and a multitude of ideas provides complex challenges. Using a situational leadership style allows you to adapt to the changing needs of the team and focus on being the support system they need. By emphasising clear roles, collaborative moments, and inclusive communication practices, you can build strong and resilient tech teams.

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