Does your organization have a clear strategy for internal communication, that all employees are aware of and adhere to? If so, your organization is truly unique and visionary. Congratulations!
If not, your organization is pretty much like all the rest. We recently carried out a research study, conducting 10 in-depth interviews with top-level management in both private and public sector. None of the organizations in the study had more than a hint of a strategy for internal communication. The communication within the studied organizations, it seems, had just evolved organically.
Communication within a team seems to just “happen”, forcing team members to multitask all kind of communication tools and constantly switch attention.
But wait a second, what’s wrong with ad hoc communication?
Isn’t natural evolution a good thing? Well, not necessarily. Researchers have been studying email behaviors in corporate settings for decades, and it’s not a pretty picture. If we take email as an example, studies show that an average office worker check their email 74-96 times per day. And after each check, it takes an average of 64 seconds to get going with the task they were focusing on before the email check. Altogether, this means that up to 17% of a working day is spent just switching between tasks after email checks. And this does not include task switching after other types of interruptions from text messages or social media apps.
And it’s not just a question of reducing unnecessary costs, it’s a question of improving productivity, efficiency and employee satisfaction.
A study by Aberdeen from November 2013, indicated that organizations that focus on collaboration and communication, improve operational efficiency, productivity as well as employee satisfaction, compared to organizations that don’t.
So, how do we go about to improve the effectiveness of the communication within my organization or team? I’m glad you asked! I propose a 6 step process as follows.
Create interest and educate
The fact that communication within a team may have plenty of room for improvement may not be obvious to everyone. Usually, communication, especially communication within a team or an organization is just something that happens. Hence, the team members must be made aware of the opportunities for improvement.
Someone, perhaps you, must take the initiative and bring up the topic. A suitable way to do that is to bring it up with the team leader, and propose to give a presentation for the team, just to get people starting to think and talk about it.
The following SlideShare-presentation can be used for such a presentation to the team:
Run a communication workshop
Probably the worst way to improve the communication within a team is to establish a strategy on the management level without involving the team members. New rules for communication that are just pushed down from management will not be accepted easily and may be frowned upon.
A much better way is to run a communication workshop in the team, where all team members participate. This way many ideas can be discussed openly, and the team itself, can come up with a solution that is suitable to their particular situation.
Important factors to discuss during this workshop are the following:
Content. How should content be formulated in the best way? Always a short summary in the beginning of the message? Indicate required actions with special formatting?
Tonality. The tone that is used in digital communication is important for how a message is received and interpreted. Irony and sarcasms are notoriously difficult to handle in written communication.
Medium. Selecting the right medium is crucial for effective communication. Chat and messaging is great for quick updates or for discussions in public chat rooms where transparency is important. The strength (and weakness) of email lies in its asynchronous nature. Sometimes the best way is simply to avoid digital communication and just talk to someone in person (but then there is no searchable record of the conversation).
Timing. When can messages be sent without causing stress or discomfort for the receiver? How soon must one answer a message? These are issues that are best discussed in the team.
Expectations. When expectations are unclear, communication suffers. Communication works best when all communicating parties are aware of the expectations on each other. This goes for example for response times for messages.
Confirmations. When are confirmations needed? Only to indicate that an anticipated message will not be possible within the normal response time requirements?
Reminders. In what situations are reminders suitable? How should these be formulated so that no one takes offence?
Status. How should status information be indicated and handled? Is it OK to send someone an email when that person is on vacation? In a meeting?
Create a communication strategy
Now that all team members have become involved in a discussion on how the team should (and should not) communicate, this must be documented as a communication strategy. A communication strategy in this context is defined as an established agreement on how to communicate within the team.
An important aspect of such a strategy is that it must be role-based. The concept of a role has many advantages over an individual-based solution. While individuals quit or change positions within the company, roles stay put unless the organization makes radical changes in direction.
Our communication strategy cards above give you great examples of how this can be done!
Get started with your business communication strategy
Anchor the strategy with top-level management
It is of great importance that an initiative for improving the communication within a team is anchored with the top-level management. Without such support, the team’s effort may be undermined by others in the organization that do not understand the initiative. Also, make sure to inform other relevant parts of the organization, with which the team interacts.
During such anchoring efforts, it can be helpful to present facts on the costs of inefficient communication, as well as the potential benefits (see above).
Implement support tools
A communication strategy that exists only as an email or a piece of paper with a set of guidelines or rules will never work very well. One company tried to implement a guideline for email subject headings, with special acronyms as prefix, depending on the purpose of the email (e.g. FYI, TODO). The intention was to help the employees in scanning emails, and staying on top of things to do. But it did not take long before this initiative fell through.
Support for adhering to the strategy must be built into the existing communication tools. An example of how this can be done is how it’s handled in Briteback (a communication platform integrating chat, email, and voice/video communication), where strategy guidelines can be defined by an administrator, and where the tool helps users adhere to the strategy as they communicate in Briteback.
Briteback is a communication strategy tool, allowing you to stay within the recommended maximum email length, double checking your email recipients, and much more! Try it now, register for a free account here: briteback.com/register
Establish a follow-up process
A communication strategy for effective team communication must be kept alive. A person must be assigned as strategy owner. The responsibilities that come with such a role are the following:
Establish a follow-up routine. Time must be allocated and scheduled for regular evaluation activities.
Evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy. During each evaluation phase, it is important to let everyone on the team in question have a say. How has it worked so far, and how can the strategy be improved? A good technique that can be used for this purpose can be borrowed from the retrospectives in agile software development. Working with post-its, where everyone on the team writes down 3 deltas and three pluses. Deltas indicate things that can be improved. Pluses things that work really well.
Fine-tune the strategy. Implement the most promising suggested improvements (deltas) from the evaluation phase. Make sure to not over reach. Try to limit the improvement work to the three most important deltas. Also make sure that the identified pluses are maintained.
Get started with your business communication strategy
Use Briteback’s default communication strategies or tailor the app to your own business structure. You may do this on your own or let us do the job. Learn more: briteback.com/business