Is this the solution to clear communication between teams?

5 May 2021

Clear communication between teams at work is challenging, especially when teams speak different languages. I’m not talking about English vs French, although that can be a problem. I’m talking about the different job-specific words, phrases and jargon we use every day.

We spend all day working with terms, tools, and technologies specific to our job. All that shapes the language we use at work. and when you speak one language it is difficult to communicate using anything else.

The problem is, when speaking to people outside our team, they often don’t understand what we mean. More importantly, while they know what the individual words mean, the overall meaning of the message gets lost.

Without a doubt, the biggest difference in language is between business and IT teams. But this issue exists between other teams too. Accounting uses a different language from customer service. The security team uses a different language than sales.

Given this, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a universal language for clear communication between teams? A language that makes sense no matter what your job or industry. Luckily, there is such a language, and it is based on the common themes of time, cost and quality.

The goal is to have clear communication between teams

People most often communicate outside their teams about problems, or ideas and proposals. They also give status updates, but those probably relate to a problem or proposal.

When talking about a problem we want to convey the importance, the urgency, the need for a fix.

Similarly, when talking about an idea we want to convince people of the merit and benefits of our idea. How it improves things, or how it stops issues or reduces risks.

In both cases, we want to get the information from our own heads into the head of our audience. We want them to understand the topic the same way we do.

The problem is most teams speak different languages

As mentioned earlier, different teams speak different languages. We describe problems using words that make sense to people in our own team. We describe ideas and benefits using the idea of the value we have from our own jobs.

In contrast, when speaking to another team, they will be listening for the words that make sense to them. They will assess ideas using the things that are valuable to their team. And as you might have guessed, those values don’t always match your own.

Perhaps the biggest issue is that other people don’t have the same information we have in our heads. When we describe a problem the knowledge in our heads make the implications obvious to us. Does the other team have that same information? No, they don’t. The implications of a problem or the benefits of an idea are not obvious to them. The impacts and outcomes need to be stated in terms the audience understands.

The solution is to speak about impacts and outcomes

There is one language that is common to all teams. A language that describes goals in words every team can relate to. A language that focuses on the core topics everyone finds valuable. It is a language that also reduces the amount of information needed to make a point clear.

This is the business language of time, cost and quality.

I’ve previously written about the communication lesson I learned from a car mechanic. Mechanics talk to people outside their own team every day. They have to convey technical information to people who may know nothing about cars. And they have to do this quickly and clearly.

How do they do this? Mechanics that are good communicators focus on the impacts and the outcomes. They talk to the customer about what the situation means to them. Good mechanics don’t talk in detail about specific components that are broken. And they definitely don’t talk about the detailed steps and tools they will use to fix an issue. They talk about the impacts of a problem.

  • ‘The radiator is broken. If you drive it without fixing the hole the engine will overheat and you’ll lose the whole car.’
  • ‘The noise I coming from a small hole in the exhaust. You can still drive the car, but if it isn’t fixed soon, you’ll have to replace the whole thing.’

Not only that, but they frame everything in terms of the time, cost and quality. Mechanics know their customers care about how long will it take to fix whatever is broken. They care about what it will cost to fix. And they care whether the fix means they won’t have to come back to the garage again (the quality of the solution).

  • ‘We can fix the radiator today. It’ll cost about $300 plus parts and should be done by 4pm.’
  • ‘I can patch the exhaust. It’ll take a couple of hours and cost about $150. We can fit you in later this week. If you don’t fix it, a new exhaust will cost $600 to $1000 to replace.’

These are the types of phrase the customer wants to hear. They may not like hearing them but the information is what they care most about. Customers at a garage care about time, cost, and quality.

In the same way, customers for your business care about time, cost, and quality. Everybody understands and can interpret the meaning of time, cost, and quality.

When you talk to people in different teams, think of them as your customer. Deliver your message, whether it is a problem or an idea, using impacts and outcomes they care about and understand.

If you have an idea, talk about the outcomes. How it earns money or reduces cost. How it saves time or improves experience and outcomes.

If you have an issue or a problem, talk about the impacts. Does it prevent earning, or cost money? Will it slow down a process or deliverable? And will it make an outcome worse?

These impacts may occur immediately, or at some point in the future. While you might know the timeframe, don’t assume your audience knows it. State the timeframe of the impacts and outcomes so it is clear to everyone.


When communicating with another team, use a language they understand. Talk about the impacts and outcomes for time, cost and quality. This makes it easier to avoid technical and job-specific language. It automatically puts topics into terms the other people understand and can relate to. Communicating in this way will ensure the meaning of your message isn’t lost in the words that you use.

Learn more with my online course

Get your message across

‘Get your message across’ course with Chris Fenning

In this course you’ll learn how to:

  • Communicate effectively with people in different teams
  • Discover how to create relevant messages your audience can relate to and understand
  • Simplify complex ideas and communicate in a way that is jargon-free


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