It’s our mantra here at StoryBrand:
“If you confuse, you’ll lose.”
Typically, when we say that, we mean that if you confuse your customers with unclear messages, you’ll lose business.
But it’s also true within our business, in how we communicate with each other. If you confuse your colleagues with poor internal communication, you’ll lose their engagement, productivity, and best contributions — which also cost your business money.
Whether you’re running a large organization or a small team, you need an intentional strategy to communicate effectively with them. Here are four tips that will help you collaborate with your team so you stay aligned and on track toward hitting your goals together.
Clearly state the main objective of any meeting in advance
We’ve all been trapped at a meeting that’s gone off the rails. It’s frustrating, because you know you could be back at your desk knocking out value-packed work that actually grows your company.
According to this infographic from TED, executives spend 23 hours a week in meetings. About 34% of that time is wasted, which adds up to two months a year.
Clearly we need better meetings. And to do that, we need to start with focused expectations and goals every time we get together.
Before you even call the meeting, make sure it’s necessary. Take five minutes and articulate the single problem you’re trying to solve in your time together. I like the advice of Christopher Frank, a VP at American Express, who suggests trying to state your problem in about the length of a tweet. Then, only invite the people whose perspectives you need to solve that problem. Make sure they can articulate the singular focus of the meeting, too.
Then, be (or designate) a moderator in your meeting. This person can keep the conversation focused on the problem at hand. How? First, they call out tangents in the conversation as they arise and direct the participants to table that discussion for another time. Second, they can ask questions to engage all participants, cutting down the chance that a single person dominates the meeting. And finally, they can summarize the conversations and move the group toward consensus and next steps.
Poorly conceived meetings don’t just waste time. They waste money.
Finally, remember that poorly conceived meetings don’t just waste time. They waste money. Knowing the cost of every meeting before you start it will help you keep it short and focused. Use the Harvard Business Review’s meeting cost calculator to make it easy.
You may have your own best practices for meetings. Whatever they are, outline them, and then make sure anyone in your company who calls meetings follows those guidelines.
Tighten up your emails
There’s a Mark Twain quote I love:
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
And he’s right. It takes a dedicated effort to make our words both concise and clear.
The average employee will spend a whopping 40% of their workweek on internal emails that don’t add value to their company.
We’ve all been the recipient of a long, rambling email from a colleague. We waste time wading through it trying to figure out the big idea. Then it generates another dozen time-wasting emails of back-and-forth as we try to get clarity. Multiply the time-wasting by however many people were copied on the email — which was probably too many. And after all this, we still have no idea what we need to do.
Ineffective email communication among your team is costly. A study by Atos Origin showed that the average employee will spend a whopping 40% of their workweek on internal emails that don’t add value to their company.
Ever felt like your team lacks the time you need to execute your ideas? Chances are, you’ve actually got the time. You’re just wasting it on email.
Any time the email you’re writing starts to get longer than five or six lines, stop and ask yourself:
- Do I really need to convey this information via email? Would it be better to pick up the phone and have a 5-minute conversation?
- What’s the single big idea behind this email, and how can I state it more concisely?
- What is the most important action my recipients can take? Have I stated that clearly?
Finally, consider training your team to use email well. A London-based company trained only its executives on how to write effective internal emails. The results (as reported by the Harvard Business Review were staggering:
Within three months the team’s total e-mail output dropped by 54%. The output of the 73 other London-based employees soon began decreasing too, even though those employees received no training or feedback. In fact, this drop was even greater—64%. The result was an annual gain of 10,400 man-hours, which translates to a 7% increase in productivity. The new practices soon became embedded in the top team’s behavior, and the reductions have been sustained for two years.
Set up usage guidelines around programs like Slack
Long, rambling internal emails may be a thing of the past for your team if you, like 5 million other organizations, have moved your internal communication to group collaboration software like Slack.
We use Slack here at StoryBrand, and we love how it keeps our communication organized, transparent, and searchable.
But Slack won’t instantly make your internal communication efficient. Like any tool, it’s all in how you use it.
Slack won’t instantly make your internal communication efficient. Like any tool, it’s all in how you use it.
Without some guidelines, you may find that your team is overwhelmed by the unrelenting quantity of messages they need to read. They end up too distracted to focus on high-value projects.
To make the most of software like Slack, set up some clear guidelines and boundaries with your team. For example:
- Slack comes with “channels” that cover specific topics. Employees join the channels that are relevant to them. So clearly state each channel’s purpose and call out conversations that don’t belong so they can move to the right channel.
- Cut down on information overload and clutter by encouraging employees to unfollow channels that aren’t relevant to them AND by using the “threads” feature to keep the nitty-gritty details of a conversation out of the channel’s stream of messages.
- Determine how you want employees to handle notifications. They’re helpful for knowing when you’re needed, but a constant interruption from notification “pings” and emails will hurt your productivity.
- Define your “operating hours” for Slack and then enforce them. It’s easy for employees to feel like they need to always be “available,” but without proper rest, they can’t work at the highest level. Slack offers a “do not disturb” setting that allows users to truly disconnect from work and be present at home with their friends and family.
Protect each other’s “deep work”
Sometimes, strong internal communication means not communicating at all.
No matter our roles, we make our best contributions when we’re able to think deeply about our work. That takes dedicated time and focus. And that kind of work is impossible if you’re interrupted by well-intentioned colleagues who are “just dropping by to ask a quick question.”
Protect what Cal Newport calls the “deep work” that your team does. Your ability to execute high-level, deep-focus projects is critical to the success of your business. This is your source of your company’s breakthrough ideas, creativity, and productivity.
How you do this may vary.
- Some companies institute a meeting-free day every week, allowing everyone company-wide to dig into their most meaningful projects without interruption.
- You may not be able to control how your overall company operates, but you can schedule your own “deep work” times and mark those sessions as “unavailable” on your calendar.
- Make the concept of “deep work” part of your company’s culture. That way, everyone knows to respect and prioritize those focus sessions, both for themselves and for their colleagues — because they know that’s where the high-value work comes from.
Like any effective communication, internal communication requires that you be clear and intentional. And the stakes are high: if you don’t do it well, your team (and therefore your company) won’t ever operate at its full potential, and you’ll leave money on the table in the form of lost productivity, time, and focus.
What strategies do you and your team use to communicate well together? Leave a comment and share so the rest of us can learn from you!