Building a communication system

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Having information or not can mean the difference between success or failure in any situation! It may seem like overkill to create a communication system for some people. For managers and project managers, it’s everything but a luxury. You serve as an information broker between the team, your management and your stakeholders. Identifying what information to gather and share with who, when, and how needs to become part of your DNA. A communication system is a great way to formalize that until that comes naturally.

What exactly is a communication system? Inc.com defines a communication system as “the various processes, both formal and informal, by which information is passed between the managers and employees within a business, or between the business itself and outsiders.” What I will describe is a simple structure that you can use as a framework to manage all the elements that go into effective communication.

 Who

Start by identifying who you need to communicate with. You’ll want to include your manager and your project team to start with. Now think about other stakeholders. These are the people who have an interest in your deliverables, results and projects. How broad and influential this group is will differ broadly based on the type of role you have. It includes internal and external stakeholders. If you are managing cross-organization projects, you will probably have a larger group of internal stakeholders from other departments. External stakeholders could include clients, but also partners, suppliers or vendors you work with on day to day projects. Your stakeholders may change on a regular basis, especially if you have shorter term projects.

What

WHAT you need to communicate is the specific information that you, your team, manager and stakeholders require. Be aware not only of the information it is your responsibility to share, but the sources of information for critical elements not in your direct responsibility.  The best communication provides not only information but context for that information. When you are communicating info, provide context for the people you are communicating with. How does this impact them directly? What are they expected to do with this information?

How

HOW you communicate is all about the context of the delivery method you choose. Will you share information in writing or verbally, or both? What communication tool will you use to deliver the information (email, collaboration forum, face to face meeting, etc.)? Are you sharing information with a group or in a 1:1 setting? Finally tone and attitude play a big role in HOW as well.

Did you know that We forget 67% of what we learn within 1 day1 ? Delivering critical information once, and verbally at that, is clearly not enough. If you deliver or receive important information verbally, take the time for a written follow-up, documenting key points. All resource commitments should be confirmed in writing.

The forum in which you deliver and receive information is equally important. If you send an email, but the team is used to using Slack to receive important information, your communication will not have the same impact. You need to understand how your contacts habitually look for and refer to important information and leverage those communication channels.

Some topics are not effective in a group setting. It’s not appropriate to provide personal feedback to an individual in a group setting. When conflict arises, there will be times you need to take topics off-line to a 1:1 setting. In addition, when you are building relationships, a 1:1 setting can give you an opportunity to develop trust and share more private information.

Finally, the tone and attitude and words you use when you communicate are also part of the HOW. Think for a moment about how many different meanings can be conveyed in one simple sentence, depending on which words you emphasize. You can even say one thing but convey a very different one based on the attitude with which you speak. Shrug your shoulders and you add an element of non-importance. Shaking your head while speaking can indicate your disagreement or disapproval of what you are saying.  Crossing your arms communicates defensiveness, pointing aggressivity. Be conscious of the impact of your body language and attitude.

When

WHEN you communicate has to do with the frequency of your communications. How often do your stakeholders need to be updated? For very active project groups, you may have a daily cadence. For influencers the cadence is probably much less frequent than that. Book regular recurring meetings in advance. And of course, because not everything can be planned, you’ll also need ad hoc communication. Determine which information can be delivered in regularly scheduled meetings versus situations where information is needed immediately.

Where

WHERE you communicate is all about how information is stored. Your organization will likely define the bulk of the tools and data retention policies. But it’s up to you to document where information can be found, whether that’s information you are directly providing, or information that you and your team need to get from elsewhere. Productivity takes a huge hit when people don’t know where to find key information.

Take the time to define your communication system. It will make a big difference to your effectiveness! Stay tuned for the next blog in this series on effective communication. Active or engaged listening is a crucial way to ensure that you are not only effectively delivering information, but that you are having a productive conversation!

1 https://www.psychestudy.com/cognitive/memory/ebbinghaus-forgetting-curve