Recently when talking with a friend, we got on the topic of COVID. Was there any good that came from COVID? Fortunately we didn’t rehash some of the utterly sad stories due to COVID. We did spend most of the time discussing what teams faced. Here are some of my observations and takeaways from coaching I did with his firm.
When remote first happened, my friend’s team, like most in the world, jumped to zoom. They upped the amount of email, started using chats and blocked out hours of their day for zoom meetings. Initially, they had some luck. Once the team all had a stable bandwidth. They faced some etiquette setbacks: attire expectations, meeting structure, and making sure everyone still had a voice. And the biggest challenge: how can we be sympathetic to the teams’ needs in their personal life. We were, after all, all locked at home. Work and home life were blurred.
Their team had to learn to be flexible and open to new platforms to interact. A team HATES hearing that their company is installing a new SAAS to improve workflow or communications. I have some personal PTSD around installing a new Enterprise system. The reality is though, working remotely just shined the light on all of the crack legacy systems. Ones that operated because employees patched the holes with personal communication. Hallway meetings, last-minute lunches. When those were gone, the systems and structures had to improve.
So we jumped to zoom and written communication. Not all channels are created the same and best used for the same reasons. Calling a zoom meeting for a 5-minute conversation that only 2 of the 5 participated. Not good. Some conversations started on one platform and finished on another.
Sometimes people are left off platform changes (accidentally and on purpose).
With my friend’s team, I helped him get clear on a minimum set of communication standards that would give the team autonomy and accountability at the same time. We had to address what a reasonable ‘reply’ time was for written communication…since you couldn’t just walk down to Tom’s office and give him a hard time. We had to retrain some people on the art of being thorough in their communication. I followed one thread that spanned 18 messages over 2 days. It all stemmed from a less than useful reply to a question. It took the other person 43 hours to get what they needed. We created training for his team around asking questions. Bad answers usually follow poor questions.
In the begining to the team, it felt like wasteful over communication. Having a Thread Starting framework or a question answering framework seemed like overkill to the team. In half the cases, it was. Those weren’t the ones my friend was concerned over. It was the other ones where someone read a few lines, jumped to a conclusion and answered quickly to pass it off their plate. Being 100% remote reminds you that the largest assest you have, is time. Spend 2 days on something that should take 20 minutes…well that can kill a team.
“Like a 5 year old” was something I told my friend over and over. Get your team to communicate like they are talking to a 5 year old. In written communication, I found that roughly 75% of what was being written was unnecessary. Fluff. Because either the author needed to sound like an expert. Using large words. Or because they were unprepared to respond. They were talking themselves out of the ‘unprepared hole.’ At least they thought.
When you talk to a 5 year old, you’re going to get a few follow up questions. WHY. Assume your teammate is going to do that a few times as well. That forces you to think about the points you are making. What are the why’s 2 layers deep. It forced the team to know their material well and articulate it even better.
Technology is changing fast. Software for teams is really changing. Twists on existing software and several startups looking to solve just One problem have emerged. Having a live zoom call is still very much important, infact vital, to companies all over the world. Written communication serves best a quick fact or question. Text messaging or Slack…even email to some degree.
But there is a gap. A large gap in my opinion, between zoom meetings and the written communication. A video call gives you more information that an email. You get to see the body launguage of who you are talking to. The body language of the team. The voice inflections. All the things that written communication lacks. How many of you have gotten in trouble because you interpreted a text the wrong way.
The written communication is better than a zoom call in that the person can receive, review, process and respond. In live conversation we can’t take 5 seconds of silence as someone is processing something. Making sure you respond appropriately (see earlier) is possible with written communication.
There is a new style of communication that is catching on more these days. It takes the benefits of both the live zoom call and the written response. It’s called an Asynchronous meeting. A video call happens Synchronously. We are on it together. You ask a question and then I respond on the spot. With Async, you record a video. I am notified that you sent me a message. I watch the message and any written communication you may have sent. I now can process and then respond when I am ready. My response will also be a video back to you and may have attached written com as well.
Why am I excited about this type of communication?
First, I get to see and hear you. The next best thing to being in the office with you. I can listen again to a part if I was confused. I can pause and look something up if I didn’t understand. Then I can craft my response. Thoughtful and complete.
My friend has noticed the number of back and forths is lower. I’d venture to say a team would see a reduction of 30% or more in ‘noise’. Wasted communication by using Async.
This post isn’t about tech platforms. I will mention that I have been very happy with Tape for Async discussions. Very easy to use, easy on the computer resources, and allows you to follow multiple Async discussions across your team.
Teams need to be flexible because the only constant is change. As the leader of a team/organization, you should be keenly aware of team communication. How good is it? How much of it? Where is it? What do the team-members need to get better at it? You should not be afraid to pilot types of communication on various software platforms on several devices. Good communication is about speed and accuracy.
If you'd like to talk to Brad about coaching, reach out here.
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