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Leadership and Communication – Bridging the Gap

April 09 2018 - by Kiesha Farnum, Consultant, IDB

You have two weeks to meet a deadline. It requires input from all team members. You are not only organized but you know from experience it will take the team one week to pull the document together and you have given yourself (out of the abundance of caution) an entire week for review and changes to be made. You have a meeting with your highly competent team and agreements are met on the most effective and efficient way forward. Week one breezes past and due to unexpected sick leave and other competing priorities the team misses that week's deadline for submission of the draft document. At this point, you are not worried - you built in time for this! In the middle of week two, the first draft is submitted. The team has banded together and worked extra hours to ensure the document is completed. You take the document home, in order to provide feedback the next day, fully aware that you have two days to submit the document. As you read the document you realize that large chunks of it are not what is needed and not what was discussed and agreed upon at the meeting held two weeks ago! The document does not have to be amended it must be re-done! You mentally look back and you ask yourself – where did I go wrong?

This scenario may sound familiar - as one which we've experienced at some point. We thought we were prepared, we thought things were in place, but Murphy’s Law descended upon us. However, Murphy sometimes goes by another alias, known as “Poor Communication.” Many times the problem is not a planning issue or the competence of the team. Often times, it stems from poor communication. Drawing on the Agile Approach to project management, let us look at some tips for developing an effective and efficient communications plan/protocol for our teams which can help to stop Murphy right in his tracks.

Using an Agile approach, the leader is focused on scope flexibility, continuous improvement, team input, and delivering critical and quality outputs on time. When designing a communication plan for your team here are six (6) Agile tips to consider:

  1. Evaluate your current authorized communications channels. 
    • What channels do you use now for communications - telephone, email, chat, video conferencing, meetings…and more meetings?
    • List the approved channels (e.g. government communications protocol) and document their current usage and how you would like to use them.
  2. Rank or prioritize your channels:
    • Different tasks/activities may require different channels. Evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of each channel against known tasks/activities. For e.g. instead of sending a barrage of emails, could some issues be addressed with a phone call and then quickly documented in an email for posterity?  How about a shared calendar, or updating a cloud document?
  3. Create protocols for each channel: 
    • The first step is to get people talking to each other where possible, foster a collaborative environment with face-to-face informal conversations or use the telephone to actually talk! You would be surprised how complex issues could be resolved with a 5 to 10-minute phone call versus days or weeks of back and forth emails.
    • Always follow up a phone call (particularly if a decision was made) with a brief (bullet point) email for posterity. Include key information e.g. the decision, dependencies, deadline dates, critical stakeholders, key actions etc.
  4. Educate and equip your team:
    • Document it! Provide written guidelines for communications to enhance team productivity e.g. clearly articulate scenarios when different channels are most appropriate, when to follow up with an email or when something can wait for the weekly update meeting versus when it must be addressed immediately.
    • Make the appropriate communication tools available to the team and make sure everyone has access.
  5. Understand that the misuse or overuse of the various communication channels available to the modern workplace can be undermining productivity:
    • Meetings are a great tool but when they are ad hoc, protracted and too frequent, they become counterproductive.
    • Best practice agile meetings last 15 minutes but can be extended to 30 minutes. This requires that the meeting has a succinct agenda,and that all parties are prepared to contribute, side talk is avoided and the meeting is chaired by someone (not necessarily the leader) who can ensure everyone sticks to the agenda and allocated time.
  6. Create a communications hierarchy:
    • Clearly articulate the meaning of “emergency”, “urgent”, “priority”, and assign timelines for response/addressing any emails marked accordingly. How many times have you opened your inbox to over a dozen or more emails all marked “urgent”? It is impossible to focus or prioritize!
    • Create indicators for issues that are truly “urgent” and consign less prominent issues to auxiliary channels.

As a leader the main aim of your communications plan should be to cut through the chatter and address effectively and efficiently the tasks/requests that drive your project forward.

What is the status of your communication plan?

Which tips and strategies have worked well for you and your team?

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