Let’s communicate less

Management consultants and team building gurus all stress the importance of communication. A team is not just a group of individuals, but a network that works towards a common goal.

There isn’t an office out there that couldn’t benefit from better communication.

But what is great team communication? The word is so vague it could be anything and this vagueness creates chaos in the field. Most organisations are just bad at it.

More is more

Talking more is not communicating better. Yet that is what most teams do when they want to improve. More status meetings. Daily standups.

It’s not just meetings, however. There’s also an abundance of tools that each claim to improve the way your team works together. It’s not uncommon for a single team to communicate through Slack, Git, e-mail, JIRA, Sharepoint, Skype, Confluence and telephone. That’s crazy!

Islands of communication

Some people will not read their e-mails, while others won’t bother to start Slack. These people are not divided randomly but behave according to a variant of Conway’s Law.

The managers will fill up the Sharepoint drive with Excel files, while the developers will only look at Gitlab issues. Functional analysts will write down specs in a Word document and testers will fill up Quality Center. That’s not communication, that’s compartmentalisation.

Find these islands and discard them.

Limit the number of tools.

As a team, you should evaluate which tools you need and then discard all the rest. You don’t need e-mail AND Slack. Pick one. Have your team list all the tools they use and then dot-vote to keep a top 3. Drop the other 10.

Production gets to pick.

This is a painful one. Those that build the product, pick the tools. A manager’s job is to support her team, not force the tools she likes on them. If nobody uses Sharepoint except the PM, it should be abandoned. What works for a manager, doesn’t necessarily work for a creative team. Be ready to kill your darlings.

Have a communication plan.

Write down how your team communicates. Where will you keep the backlog? Where will you capture feedback? Spell it out.

When is it OK to interrupt a team member? Which tools can be used to interrupt? Do we expect team members to turn on Slack notifications? Do we have a list of telephone numbers in case of emergency? Write it out.

Drop one-size-fits-all-tools.

JIRA, Sharepoint and e-mail are useless tools. They can do everything and nothing at the same time and they overload the users. Most people have 100+ unread e-mails somewhere. Most JIRA notifications go directly to the spam folder. Don’t use these tools. They make team communication worse.

Less is more.

Team communication is a network with a direct line between each of the members. In a team of three, there are three lines. A team of 4, has 6 communication lines. The famous 7 people team has 21.

If some messages come through Slack and some end up in an inbox, these lines have to be multiplied by the number of tools we use!

If you feel your team has a difficult time communicating, try dropping a tool instead of adding yet another meeting. When it comes to communication, less really is more.

Thanks for reading! If you have any comments or feedback, I would love to hear them. Leave a message below or drop me a line at  @mikeveerman .

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