Internal Communication in 3 Acts
3 min read

Internal Communication in 3 Acts

Act I: It just works

Team mood = 😇

  • “When I need something I ask the person I know has the answer”
  • “I use whatever tool and format feels intuitive”
  • "I take things right to the source"
  • “I don’t think about it too much”
  • “Nuance can get lost in games of telephone sometimes, but we don't really get punished for it”

But...then things start bursting at the seams.

Act II: More cooks in the kitchen

Team mood = 😰

  • "My work requires coordination across more people”
  • “It’s hard to find things all of the sudden”
  • “I’m not always sure who has the answer”
  • “My notifications are getting a little out of control”
  • “We’re starting to use Slack a lot more”
  • "I answer the same questions over and over again"

Trials and tribulations

  • Tool proliferation: Messages are flying in from all directions–email, Slack, docs, texts, etc. This works when the overall volume of messages is low. But, once there are more people and more workstreams to keep track of, communications stats to feel chaotic and unmanageable across all the channels.
  • Desire to preserve tool autonomy: Everyone has their favorite tool (and might be awfully noisy about it). But, it's okay to be more prescriptive than you think about what tools the company operates on for internal communication. For example, it's okay to say "we use email for external communication and Slack for internal communication."
  • Keeping everything in DM’s: In most contexts, we communicate with people directly to get the things we want or need. It’s very common to shoot someone a text or email or pick up the phone for a quick call. But, in the work setting, when many people can benefit from more context, sharing proactive updates and publishing information into the “pool of ideas” is equally important. Also, it’s scary to put things in public where we know others may be looking!
  • Communicating only to get things done: Our instinctual mental models of communication at work are primarily “call and response”– I make a request and someone responds (or vice versa). So, our communication system becomes all about advancing work, which puts is in a reactive mindset. However, we should also be thinking about internal comms in the proactive/FYI sense because that helps everyone establish shared context.
  • Read and write permissions are conflated: just because a piece of information is available to read, doesn’t mean you can or should contribute.
  • Fear of comms being too “noisy”: Slack and email get a pretty bad rap in the public conversation today. I hear a lot of people talk about Slack and email as source of chaos, stress, and distraction.  But, when it’s used right, it can be a magical driver of efficiency and hub of information for everyone.

Act III: Drawing the Map

  • Team mood: 😊
  • “Slack is a single, searchable, source of truth”
  • “A lot less telephone”
  • “I can find the information I need without asking”
  • “I can manage my notifications... and there are a lot less”

Evolved communication:

  • The Map is literally drawn: With a lot of information moving throughout your organization, more discipline is required in how/where you post. That includes getting prescriptive about communication, notification, and distribution norms.  (More details in last week's post, Good Stewardship in Slack).
  • Templates: Creating templates lowers the barrier/greases the wheels for producing internal communication and lowers the cognitive load for readers by making it easy to compare apples-to-apples.
  • Work in “public” internally: By moving conversations out of DM’s and into public channels, everything is more transparent by default.
  • Lots of highly-targeted Slack channels: By setting up highly-targeted communication channels, everyone creates a reliable system for posting and finding stuff. Plus, Slack natively time-stamps everything so it’s easy to tell what’s current.
  • Everyone gardens. Everyone acts as a good steward of the system in their own work and is empowered to help each other do the same. Things are always changing. It’s up to us to edit the map to make sure it works for us ongoing.

When it's working

  • More efficient: We don’t have to block on each other to get the work done. It’s easier to find things ourselves. Self-sufficiency is rewarded, and we’ll come together for the work that benefits most from collaboration.
  • Transparent by default: Transparency is like a well-enforced open-door policy–information is naturally open for others to benefit and learn from. Questions get answered before they come up and we bring each other along in our work more naturally. Trust flows more freely and easily.
  • Important stuff bubbles up: As more information starts moving through an organization, it can be easy to miss stuff. But, with a communication system in place we can all rely on, we don’t have to scan Slack/email all day just to stay on top of things.
  • Company-wide cohesion: As we grow, it’d be natural to start to feel  disconnected from each other. By constantly sharing in public, we’re all keeping each other in the loop. And, there are dedicated spaces to connect over the stuff we care about outside of the work.
  • Reading docs as a job perk: By poking around, you can learn a ton from your brilliant colleagues about the work they are doing right next door. You can feed your curiosity and level up, for “free,” by diving in deep on anything anyone at your company, around any corner, is working on.
  • It’s way more satisfying to get the work done!