Look at successful teams throughout history and you’ll find a shared trait. Great communication. Look at the worst time in your professional life and you’ll find the opposite. Poor communication. So as we embark on this next version of nGen Works we will start with a foundation of effective communication.
This won’t be easy because we’re human. We show up to each conversation with a pre-programmed response to what’s being said, a preconceived notion of why it’s being said and a focus on its effect on us as individuals. Delivering a message comes with its own set of mistakes where we either try to be nice or make the information palatable. Often “management” spins a message down a one-way chute and expects it to be absorbed and followed blindly.
So how can we approach communication from a different angle to allow everyone the chance to both speak and hear with a clean signal? It may seem like common sense, but it’s sure as hell not common practice.
Patience and Empathy
Since we’re all human and we’re all practicing the “no asshole” rule, we know we all want to succeed. So let’s acknowledge we’re going to make mistakes in how we communicate and be ok with learning from our missteps. Beyond that let’s get to know the people we are working with on a deeper level. Understand their passions and their culture. Share who you are with them. The better we can understand each other the better we can communicate.
Clarity and Repetition
Winston Churchill said it best, “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.”
Too often we cram too much information in one message or only say it once. A team is a living and evolving organism. To be successful we have to have one clear point at a time and repeat it incessantly. This is especially true with a growing team because there is constantly someone new who didn’t hear what was said the week before.
Consistency in Action and Channels
Be who you are. If you’re passionate because you care then be passionate. If you need time to think then take time to think. If it’s easier for you to sketch something then sketch something. Teams are made of introverts and extroverts. Stables and volatiles. Liberals and Conservatives. There is a role for everyone, otherwise we wouldn’t be a team we’d be clones. The worst thing we can do is try to be someone we aren’t.
Let everyone else be themselves. Any successful creative team is a bag of mixed nuts. Appreciate the differences between you and your teammates.
In the age of 1,000 tools being consistent involves not only what we say and how we say it but also where we say it. It’s important that we establish standards for where different types of messages are kept. Real time in Slack, conversations with longevity in Basecamp and tough conversations in person.
Communication isn’t something that happens in a single instant. Everyone on the team must keep an eye on the different channels, within reason. Important messages need to come with emphasis dictated by the channel. If something is critical pick up the phone!
If someone is on the team, then they’re on the team. They need to be included from the beginning. We all know this, but it still doesn’t happen because someone is on deadline or we’re worried about a budget. Well guess what, a developer not being there from the beginning costs more than you’ll save. Count on it. Every time.
This also extends to clients. Include them in every conversation where a decision is being made. Yes, we need staging areas and places to poke holes in ideas. But if we can lessen those and get clients in earlier we diffuse the pain and stress of the big reveal. Building products isn’t a magic show, we don’t want OOHS and AAHS. We want to move forward with the client on board.
There it is. The big word that so many companies say but have no clue what it means. There are ugly truths in any company. Difficult decisions in any worthy task. You assembled a smart team. They know when you’re lying or sugar coating the truth. Be honest and an amazing thing will happen. People will start to trust the team and have confidence in what’s happening. Even when it’s not great news.
If you are trying to accomplish something with other people there will be disagreements. There will be disappointments. This is how our world works. Approach every conversation, especially the difficult ones, with respect and grace. It’s the fastest way to getting everything back in sync. And the best way to improve team morale.
Everybody on the team must make and keep good commitments. They have to be responsible for their own actions and hold themselves accountable before the team ever has a concern. When you know each of your teammates is taking care of their responsibilities it allows you to focus completely with no worries.
Every conversation must set expectations of what’s coming next and who’s responsible for what and when. Grey areas lead to assumptions which lead to missed deadlines or tension. End every meeting addressing take aways and next steps. Put them in writing to make sure there is no confusion.
As a company, a team and individuals we’ll ask how we’re doing. Sometimes this will be formal and sometimes a side conversation. Asking is the best way to find minor issues before they get to be major problems.
This list will evolve as we get to know each other better. New team members and an ongoing influx of new clients will keep us on our toes as we become great communicators.