Practical Steps for Creating a Team Communications Map that Everyone Embraces

“Why did we have to wait until our weekly team meeting to discover that three people couldn’t deliver on time? If we’d known earlier, maybe we could have done something about it. Now we’re looking at a two-week delay, minimum. We have to find a better way to communicate important stuff outside of our team meetings. This is not working!”

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Teams that rely on weekly meetings to hear project updates, surface issues or identify disconnects are far more likely to miss deadlines and delay projects than teams that know how to use asynchronous communications to move their work forward.

The contrast is even more stark when teams span multiple time zones. Even long-standing distributed teams struggle to find the right balance of asynchronous and synchronous communications to collaborate and communicate effectively.

Finding the right blending of communications isn’t easy, especially for teams that can’t seem to stop long enough to agree on principles and norms to guide their decision making. In this edition, written with Alexis Hultine, Principal of Digital by Design, a consulting company that builds workforce engagement solutions, we offer some practical steps for teams looking for more effective, efficient ways to collaborate across time and space.

Let’s take as our example a project team of 15 members spanning multiple time zones (think California, Boston, the UK, India and Australia) hustling to the finish line of a make-or-break project. They realize that the inconsistent use of communications methods and tools has meant costly delays, so they’ve come together to agree on a core set of communication tools they’ll use for each type of activity or interaction.

They start with a blank template using a template like this and brainstorm a list of team activities and interactions along the left-hand column, such as:

  • Information sharing
  • Project progress reporting
  • Decision-making
  • Brainstorming
  • Celebrations
  • Task management
  • Issue escalation
  • Project planning
  • Project retrospectives

In the next column, they indicate which primary communication method or tool will be used for each activity, and which tool might be secondary. Examples:

  • Weekly or daily team meetings
  • Email
  • MS Teams
  • Zoom
  • SharePoint
  • Team portal
  • Chat
  • Slack
  • Trello
  • Basecamp
  • Mural
  • Menti

Finally, they note in the last column which tools will be used mainly asynchronously vs. those that require same-time participation. To accelerate their time to project completion, team members know they need to lean more toward asynchronous communications, especially where problems are doing the most damage today, such as making sloppy handoffs and spending too much time chasing down the right data.

Creating this kind of communications map, or matrix, requires a same-time conversation with the whole team, if possible, so everyone can weigh in, discuss, debate and ultimately agree how, when and where they will collaborate and communicate.

Once they create this team communications map, they’ll post it in a place where all have easy access, especially new team members coming on board mid-stream. As part of future team check-ins, they’ll periodically validate and refine the matrix as the project moves through different phases.

Summary

Investing the time to create a team communications map that everyone can agree on can reap huge payoffs down the line, especially for teams that intentionally move towards asynchronous communications as their default. Start by identifying team activities and interactions where agreed-upon communications and collaboration tools can have an immediate impact, and then work your way down the list from there.

Links

Download this PDF template to jumpstart the creation of your team communications map

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