Effective communication tools are critical to successfully competing businesses, regardless of team size. In large businesses, teams need to effectively communicate together and with other teams. In smaller businesses, with each employee fulfilling several roles, efficiently organizing and sharing ideas and tasks are, arguably, even more important because one misinformed person affects several areas of the business.
In the last several decades the business world has transitioned from a time when communication tools were limited to a phone on the desk. Then it moved to email. But today there are dozens, if not hundreds of standalone communications applications that dominate a professional environment. The challenge is to find a communications system that fits your processes and the skill level of your staff.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken Place.” — George Bernard Shaw
So, how effective are your internal communications?
Communication encompasses any interaction between two coworkers. Email, instant messages, verbal conversations, and even document sharing are forms of communication.
Effective communication drives efficiency and good teamwork. Simple errors, like saving a file with the wrong filename can delay a whole development team while they try to find what’s missing.
If you haven’t reviewed your team communication processes within the last six months, doing an inventory of your current tools and processes could prove very valuable.
You most certainly are using an email client like Outlook or Gmail. You might have an instant messenger tool, especially if you’re using Gmail since it’s built in. If you are a traditional business, you have phones in every department at a minimum, maybe at every desk. And each member of your team most likely has their personal mobile phone. Lastly, you might have a file saving system, but maybe not. Many smaller businesses think that it’s ok to save files on individual computers and just email out copies to everyone.
If you have a well-developed project management process, you might have tools that your whole team regularly uses. You also may have established best practices for the types of messages that are sent via email or instant messenger.
Do you need to update your team’s communications tools?
The pace of competition and technology increases all the time and people have a habit of testing and adopting commercial tools that make their jobs and lives easier. Ask yourself these three questions:
- When was the last time you polled your team about the tools they’re using or their collaboration challenges?
- Does your communication system include your team’s mobile devices and external solutions like Dropbox or Google Drive?
- Are your teams using solutions that don’t meet your security and privacy guidelines?
Telltale signs your communications solution has issues
Poor communication has some very telltale symptoms, such as…
- Deadlines are being missed
- There is confusion about project tasks and overall status
- External teams are struggling to stay in the loop
- There is frustration between team members
If one or more of these symptoms exist, your business can benefit from a communication system review. Often, the process of reviewing tools reveals nothing the first time it’s done, because teams haven’t thought about the subject before. After the first review, however, your employees will begin thinking about their processes and will have more meaningful input.
We recommend an initial review followed by a second poll after a month, and then a semi-annually or annual review cycle.
Team communication system evaluation checklist
Here’s a handy checklist of topics to discuss with your key employees when talking about communication tools:
Develop a detailed list of all of the solutions being used — formally approved or not.
- List every tool used to communicate: document sharing, document saving, internal team communication, team-to-team communication, employee-to-customer, etc.]
Create a list of any problems teams are having
- With the tools and
- With the processes.
Measure your current system’s performance.
- The number of errors caused by your tools
- The amount of time spent maintaining the tools
- The number of times an employee has complained about a tool or process
- Team member ratings of the existing tools and processes
- The difficulties that were experienced since the last evaluation
- Any privacy or security issues that surfaced
Discuss and Evaluate
- Research replacements for existing tools that have consistent difficulties
- Test 1–2 new tools with the staff that are experiencing issues
- As a team, discuss the tested tools and decide on implementation [be sure to include users and IT]
Celebrate and Communicate
- Have some sort of simple ceremony after deleting the old, troublesome tools and inaugurating the new tools.
- Tell the organization what you did and why. And be sure to have an easy, anonymous feedback channel.