A “Team Communication Map” is a visual tool that can be used to analyze the interactions of a team in meetings. It can be useful in determining if there are improvements that could be made to the communication flow.
To create the Communication Map, designate one person to map the team’s communication in a specific meeting or create several maps of multiple meetings.
The Mapper can put team members’ names on the participant icons or leave them blank. Either way, the patterns of communication will be visible.
In addition, the Mapper can either:
Draw arrows to show where communication is directed (Image 2 below)
Put tick marks by each participant (Image 3 below) to notate how many times they communicate in that directions.
Communication directed at the whole team may be indicated with an arrow going to the middle of the circle or out to the side toward a Group icon.
Diagram 2 – Arrows to Map Communication Flow
Diagram 3 – Tick Marks to Map Communication Flow
Sharing the Results of the Team Communication Map
During the last 10 minutes of the meeting, the Mapper can present the map for the team to analyze. The team should look for patterns in the map and if, possible, determine ways to improve the team’s communication flow.
Sometimes this tool opens up communication about issues the team members already perceive, but don’t know how to discuss. At other times, it can reveal communication patterns that the team is unaware of.
Analyzing the Team Communication Map
There many different patterns that may emerge on a Team Communication Map.
Here’s one example: if there are many arrows going back and forth between two (or three participants), this may indicate that the team could improve its communication balance. One way to improve would be to take some conversations offline that don’t need to involve all of the team members. Another option would be for the team to facilitate balanced participation by asking others for their input.
Other unhealthy communication patterns the map could uncover are a “tell-style” team leader, dominator(s), non-participation by some, cliques or alliances, underminers, or side conversationalists.
When these communication patterns are improved, they can result in a more productive, innovative, and aligned team. Creating awareness of these patterns may be enough to change the team dynamics, or specific interventions may need to be designed to create a healthy communication flow.
When reviewing the data, teams should analyze it from the context of what the team is currently working on, what type of team it is, and what extenuating circumstances there could be.
Furthermore, a balanced map of arrows may indicate balanced team member participation. This can be a confirmation that the team is operating optimally. But, if the communication is destructive and not supportive, the team will have to look past the arrows to analyze the tone of each interaction (which could be noted on the map as well).
Often, looking at and comparing several maps over time may yield a more complete picture of the team’s communication patterns.
After adjustments to the communication, flow have been made, doing a monthly or quarterly map going forward would be a good temperature check.
Team Goals for Improvement
A team’s goal could be to create more balanced communication or to have each member participate in each meeting.
After some adjustments (e.g., inviting each person into the conversation, feedback to a dominator, establishing Ground Rules for side conversations), a new map may be used to measure the team’s progress. If the new map(s) doesn’t indicate progress, the team can continue to make adjustments until it reaches its goal.
However, a map without equal participation from all members does not necessarily indicate there is a communication issue.
It could be that the topics of the meeting mapped warranted specific experts to communicate more than the other members of the team.
It may be helpful to the team for the communication Mapper include notes on types of positive communication that occur in the meeting (e.g., summarizing, gatekeeping, building on others’ ideas, effective conflict management).
There is a blank Team Communication Map on the next page.