By Rebecca Bennett
We all think we can communicate well enough to get our point across, naturally. But can you successfully manage the communication on a project within your team and between teams internally and externally?
Let’s find out!
Q: If you have 6 stakeholders in your project, how many channels of communication (between people) must be communicated across?
There is a mathematical formula you can use to ensure that you are communicating across all parties.
n = number of stakeholders in the group.
N = number of channels of communication possible in a group.
n(n-1)/2 = N
Let’s say that you are running a marketing campaign project with 6 stakeholders, to keep it simple: You, your supervisor, your coordinator, your print vendor, the sales rep, and your finance guy. The number of communication channels of would be (d):
6(6-1)/2 = 15 channels
(The ‘minus one’ is you, since you don’t count talking to yourself as a channel.)
In a group of only 6 people, did you know there are 15 channels that need to be communicated across? So if you were only communicating to 5 people, read on. Maybe you forgot you have to listen to all 5 teammates since communication is a 2 way street. That may be obvious, but often times forgotten. Additionally don’t forget all the side conversations between team members or lack there of. The tools I introduce below will help create and manage those. If you answered higher than 15, then what you need to work on is consolidation. This is one of the challenges many managers face as well as and knowing who needs to know what when. You can define these in a Project Communication Plan, which I go into detail below. Now I will introduce tactics to improve your communication management skills.
You need to consolidate your communications channels so you don’t have to communicate out the same message 15 different times. This may seem easy enough. Most people will say, just send your email to the whole group. Granted, this may ensure you deliver your message to the appropriate people, however, if people are on correspondence they don’t need to be on, their eyes will naturally start to glaze and tune out the messages cluttering their inbox, creating more opportunity for them to actually miss the emails that you really want them to see. Additionally, you want your team to spend their time effectively, and not reading stuff that doesn’t apply to them. Divide up your stakeholders into the following groups.
– Your internal team
– Other Internal teams
– Individual External teams
Identify a main point of contact (POC) and backup (BU) POC for each group. Each of these POCs will be in charge to be on all correspondence relating to their team and be in charge to distribute correspondence as necessary to their team. The backup is there in the event that the main POC is out or temporarily unreachable.
– Your team POC + BU
– Sales team POC + BU
– Finance team POC + BU
– Vendor 1 POC + BU
– Vendor 2 POC + BU
The best practice is to obtain all contacts from the POC on their side that need to be included in project related correspondence. From there you can email individual members as you work through project tasks, but always CC the main POC and the BU.
As a general rule of thumb, if you are working on a task, you will want to include the channels directly upstream and downstream of you in your communication until the task is complete. The wider you cast that net, the more you reduce your risk for miscommunication, but that should be at your very minimum, your starting point for communicating.
Another method people use is to start wide, communicating out to all parties and then allowing people to request to be left off certain correspondence as you go. This is a good technique since it keeps the project storyline connected in plain sight for everyone to see. However, be wary, because once you drop communication with a channel, you risk leaving that person out of other things. If you use this method, the key here is to isolate the task, so once it’s complete you don’t continue to use the same narrowed distribution list, but expand back to the general list again.
You must be extremely mindful to remember to do this every time.
ALWAYS IN WRITING
It is best practice to document all correspondence. Since miscommunication is inevitable, the best way to mitigate it is documentation so you have something objective to refer back to. Phone calls should be follow-up with a summary email and return acknowledgement. In-person or virtual meetings should always have a minutes (or notes) document distributed to all members directly after to summarize main points and key details.
VERIFY THE MESSAGE
Since there are many different ways to say something, it is important to verify your understanding of what someone said. The average person will only verify their understanding if they received two conflicting messages. The advanced communicator will open their minds up to imagine all possible meanings of what is being said and then verify which one is meant. This can be very mentally taxing at first, but the more you practice taking apart each communicated concept and key detail, the better you will get at honing into intended meaning. This is especially critical when working with new people who you don’t know as well. Teams that have been working together for a while don’t have to do this as much, but is still necessary.
CREATE A COMMUNICATION PLAN
This is documenting Who needs to know What, When, or the 3 W’s.
Meet with all stakeholders and document their preferred way to receive communication. Ask them how often they would like to receive an update on the progress. Ask them what kinds of details are key for them to know.
Once you have obtained this information, create a plan where you detail out what form of communication you will use at what levels of urgency, importance, or detail. Below are some standard recommendations:
|Generally acceptable as the main form of communication. Expected response time generally is within a few hours during business hours.|
|Phone||Use for urgent issues and decisions where response is needed in less than a few hours. Use if it takes more than 3 emails to finalize points.|
|In Person||Use for important issues and decisions where many individuals need to come together to collaborate. Use if it takes more than 3 emails to finalize points.|
Updates can take several forms depending at what level you want to communicate out. Below are some standard recommendations:
|Daily Summary Email||A daily end of day email is a good way to wrap up details and tasks for the day. This is especially valuable when you have staggered shifts or are working in different time zones so that the work can continue on without you. Generally used within your own team.|
|Weekly Status Report||This is a good report to distribute internally and externally. Can sometimes have 2 different reports, but is generally 1. This report shows progress made in the last week, but more importantly the new priorities for the following week so everyone can roll into the new week running.|
|Monthly/ End of Sprint Milestone Progress Report||This is a good big picture view that is not only valuable to senior management, but also team members, so is best to include everyone.|
CALCULATE YOUR COMMUNICATION CHANNELS
And of course, always remember to calculate the number of communication channels needed using the formula above and map out and ensure coverage on all paths in your communication plan in order for communication across the project to be successful.
Having an effective communication model can be the glue to maintaining smooth flowing workflows. Leverage these communication management tips in Creating a 1st Class News Room for your content creation.