Communication is an essential pillar of a company’s success. Having clarity in communication is a core requirement of effective communication. The amount of misunderstanding and loss of clarity that improper communication can create is staggering. Remember the game where you pass a message on to the next person in a chain and eventually end up with something very different but usually funny? It’s not too dissimilar at work. I have a call with a client, understand what they need, synthesise that into a brief and then share that with one or a group of people. This means that my interpretation, synthesis, and communication may broaden the scope or get interpreted and synthesised differently.
IM tools like Slack, Mattermost and Teams are GREAT for sharing quick messages and files but TERRIBLE if you need to be 100% sure of a task’s understanding and ultimate deliverable. Typically, I like to live to a rule where, if a message can’t be conveyed with clarity in a sentence or less and given a clear response in a sentence or less; it should probably be a meeting… Or at least an email with richer depth.
How many times have you briefed a task or asked a question on an IM platform and it ended up being a long and protracted back and forth, or the output was off base and needed more time to get it right? – be honest!
So, when should a message be something more?
This seems obvious when it’s written down, but you can’t effectively delegate outside of BAU work without actually speaking to someone and expecting full accountability.
“Hey Dave, can you please get me the TPS reports for X-Corp by Monday?” ???? Boring BAU = OK
“Hey, Dave, can you please put together a strategy to improve X-Corp’s revenue in the 123 sector, so the TPS reports look better?” ???? Needs detail, clarity of understanding and a followed delegation framework to get accountability and the desired output.
In much the same way as delegation, when you brief a group of people, they will comprehend the message slightly differently. If a brief is in writing it assumes that A) the writer fully understood the needs and B) the reader absorbed any nuance in the writer’s text. Both lead to a lack of clarity. A brief should undoubtedly be in writing for many good reasons, but it should almost always be followed up with more depth and scrutiny from the person acting on it.
When Feeding Back
A big part of delegation and briefing is the feedback stage. It’s how you can refine work to keep it on track and improve future work’s potential value. Sure, it’s wonderful to give praise directly or publicly as a message but to spend time F2F or on a call means you can add depth to the feedback. This is as essential mid-task as it is at the end.
You should never try and teach someone something over chat, no matter how much faster you think it may be. Trust me, 99 times out of 100 it will take longer in one way or another. The person will either comprehend your lessons differently to how you intended or will need more and more detail from you to get the message across. Teaching can be hard enough face-to-face, why make it harder or potentially less impactful for the sake of a few moments on Slack or Teams?
Of course, there needs to be the right balance. You can’t have 15 meetings a day and still expect work to be done. Equally, you cannot and should not run your business through a chat app. I used to weigh things up as they were needed. If I had a task or project to delegate, It would be planned to be appropriately delegated. That meant face-to-face time and in-writing followup. If something came up reactively, then I would need to decide if the person I needed to convey information to would understand my written brief enough not to cost us all time or money. I often got it wrong, meaning people had F2F when they didn’t need it or struggled through a task that could have been briefed F2F rather than as a paragraph block of text in a chat window.
Balance is critical, and clarity is a requirement. Don’t live on Slack and Teams and wonder why things don’t get done right.