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Team Communication: The Cost of Triangulation


28 February 2023


The complexity of today's business environment requires an organization to have a network of high-performing teams that are exceptionally coordinated, competent, and reliable. Unfortunately, there are many activities and behaviors that occur within an organization that undermine team performance. Triangulation is one such activity.

Triangulation most often occurs when conflict, disagreement, and/or frustration (often the result of a breakdown in work processes or commitments) occurs with another individual, and rather than discuss my issue directly with that person I choose instead to have a conversation about them with a third party (or series of third parties). In triangulation, the purpose of this third-party conversation is to validate my own point of view and to make a case as to why I am "right" and the other is "wrong". The tone and content of the conversation is usually characterized by rigid beliefs and a sense of righteousness. When triangulation occurs, it indicates a lack of personal accountability for the issue and an absence of commitment to have the direct and often difficult conversations that are necessary to work toward an effective solution.

The Cost of Triangulation

When there is pervasive triangulation, it comes at a great cost to the organization. Triangulation is what creates the "silos" that inhibit open communication and erode trust. As individuals triangulate and begin to align themselves with those they think are "right", energies are subverted from the overall functioning and success of the business and instead are used to lobby for a given position or point of view and gather evidence as to why an alternative point of view is "wrong". Righteous indignation pervades, resulting in unproductive competition and polarization. The focus is on the past in the form of blame and faultfinding as opposed to the future in the form of problem-solving and innovation. Information, rather than being shared, is used as a tool for control, sowing the seeds of mistrust. Direct and open communication between polarized individuals or groups is drastically reduced and the very fabric of the team breaks down, ultimately affecting important work processes that impact the overall success of the business.

Transforming Triangulation

The solution seems simple - stop triangulating!

If it were that simple, then triangulation would be eliminated with one impassioned rallying cry. However, even the most inspirational (or threatening) rallying cry is, at best, only temporarily effective because there are deep and often unconscious patterns at work reinforcing this counterproductive behavior.

Effective and sustainable transformation can only occur through:

  1. Increased awareness of unconscious patterns
  2. Personal accountability and an ongoing commitment to maintaining trust and openness
  3. The skills to effectively manage breakdowns
  4. A safe learning environment where mistakes are embraced as part of the learning process.

Consider this:

  • Where does triangulation show up with your team?
  • Where does triangulation show up in your organization?
  • What actions can you personally take to end the cycle of triangulation?

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