Communicating in a team is one of the key issues for a growing company.
It is quite a broad topic, so Bolek Drapella would like to share just a few ideas that may help make a rapid and radical improvement in your team communication.
Our focus today will be communicating in a team – one of the key issues for a growing company. It is quite a broad topic, so I’d like to share just a few ideas that may help make a rapid and radical improvement in your team communication.
To begin with, you may have heard about the synchronous and asynchronous modes of team communication.
In the first one, the message sender and recipient are linked at the same time and, broadly speaking, at the same physical or virtual location, using the same communication tool. A good example here is a phone or a video conference of two or more participants. It is all very fine, but all the participants must make time to connect simultaneously. In the latter, asynchronous mode, the message is posted, while its addressees choose to receive it at their convenience. An example here is the e-mail. It can be read anytime, not in the moment it is written. This also has its benefits and drawbacks.
Whatever the contact mode, they can all be ranked in something that I called a communication stairs.
I called it so because
the higher we are on it, the more efficient our communication becomes.
It doesn’t mean that we should use only the most advanced communication tools at all times. Different types of tools are just enough to meet different challenges. Simpler communication technologies may turn out to be very useful.
Let me tell you about some of these “steps” and try to analyse how communication becomes more effective as we move up to next technological levels in our stairs.
At the basic level there is the e-mail. It has been around for a while. Though much less popular or widespread nowadays, it is still adequate as the means to convey larger bulks of information as a comprehensive whole. Its most serious drawback is that we can never be sure whether our e-mails have been actually read. There is a variety of mail-tracking tools to help us here. I use mailtrack.io, for instance, but it does not give fully reliable feedback if all included links and attachments have been opened. Consequently, I can’t get on with work just assuming my messages have been read, processed and reacted to. Anyway,
e-mail is good enough for exchanging longer messages when we don’t need simultaneous participation.
If we expect faster exchanges of shorter contents, we can use chat tools. Chats are partly synchronous and partly not. There are quite a few tools here, such as Slack – very popular or Microsoft Teams (not my personal favorite though). There is also a Messenger, also in the form of the private Facebook version made available for teamwork, where users can join groups without having a Facebook account. Teams can set up their dedicated Facebook sub-domains. They can also stay connected through a special Workplace from Meta app, a type of Messenger. Such chat-line apps such as Skype, Slack, Messenger, WhatsApp and lots of others, are suitable for brief exchanges of ideas and comments, as long as we can afford slight time delays between messages and responses.
Be sure however not to use more tools than it’s absolutely necessary.
One in one company is best, two is a max.
But when does it turn out that chat apps fail to serve our needs? It happens so when the company staff grows in number. At the beginning of AirHelp, with less than a hundred or just a few hundred employees, we still used Skype, mainly for chatting, less for calls or video calls. At that stage, having one chat room for the Operational Department worked well at first, but then became gradually inefficient. Every time a new procedure was implemented, most of the 300 people used to confirm having read it, at least with an OK or an emoji. Those who were last in the queue, had a problem scrolling up to find the original message. Apart from that, even hundreds of emoji could never convey the emotional attitudes as well as a real conversation.
So, chat apps, similarly to e-mails, may sometimes fail to carry the emotions we have intended.
Also with chats, quite often various topics get mixed up and it’s easy to drop or miss that important task or commitment.
Another step up the communication stairs, which is often taken parallelly to the previous one, are workflow management systems – the so-called ticketing systems, such as JIRA, Trello, Asana, Monday or Streak. They provide a framework for task management, feedback and team communication. Ticketing software is useful, but then again, it cannot replace live discussion, especially when there are lots of issues to handle simultaneously. It can prove ineffective when there are several discussions on different issues scattered around on a few channels at the same time. It’s easy to miss a message or lose track when people have to follow what’s happening in a number of places. Nevertheless, if used according to their purpose, ticketing systems prove very helpful.
There is still another step up the stairs – audio teleconferencing via mobile phone systems, Messenger, Skype or Slack – which can be used as complementary to ticketing software. It is a huge improvement in efficiency as it is fully synchronous. It allows for quicker and more natural mental and emotional interaction – reception, interpreting and responding to what we hear.
Almost at the top of the staircase of communication efficiency, there is videoconferencing. Though just one click away on the camera button, it makes a huge difference, still underrated by many people. Why? Because of being able to see other participants and how they react while we are saying something. Before they respond, we see if they understand, agree or have doubts, which we can address as we go along. Also, we can see how much attention our listeners are giving, where we lost them or if they are doing some other work on the side.
I remember an experiment that illustrated this difference. It was run by Jason Gore, a Harvard professor, during our AirHelp workshops for management staff in New York.
It showed that the use of video not only enables to monitor other people’s attention. It actually enhances the attention.
After the workshop, we started to use the video during our weekly conferences of the AirHelp Management Board. We soon found out that the time of the meetings shrank, the efficiency rose, and the participants remembered and benefited a lot more. It wasn’t only because people, being watched, stopped responding to their mail or catching up on other work. Their attention, now not shared, could be used for more critical listening as well as for giving more relevant and conclusion-driven answers.
Naturally, meetings in person are at the very top of our staircase of communication forms. Face-to-face conversation opens a full spectrum of verbal and non-verbal communication. However, it is not always technically or financially viable. In AirHelp, the 8-person Board of Management comprised 5 different nationalities at 5 locations scattered around the world. At SaunaGrow we also help customers from various locations. Our personal meetings, rare as they are, became impossible during the pandemic. In time, however, we realized that was a blessing in disguise. Therefore, we had to get used to videoconferencing and we saw that it gave us more flexibility in joining various discussion groups working on a range of topics, while avoiding the hardships, delays and costs of travelling.
Let’s not miss this opportunity.
Although it may be an acquired taste, videoconferencing can improve your company communication.
Since meeting in reality is not always possible, necessary or justified, let’s meet via Internet platforms. Make sure you fully contribute and respect other participants by turning on your cameras.
Talk with your cameras on and you will see how more fruitful and satisfying your meetings can be. What may sound like a little change, may actually be a huge difference in your work life.
Give it a try and have a great day!