How do we Communicate?

How do we communicate is a really important question to ask when the team is up to define its Team Agreements.

Valve, the game company published its Handbook for New Employees in 2012. The subtitle provides information on how their approach to communication will have to be different: A fearless adventure in knowing what to do when no one’s there telling you what to do.

How communication works when the organization values self-organization and self-management at that level. As you can see based on the illustration below coming from the handbook, the organization relies on individuals taking matters in their own hands.

The Basecamp Guide to Internal Communication is another example of clarifying not only how we communicate but also where, why, and when.

Reading the Basecamp Guide, it is obvious that Basecamp values the time of people, and values the time when they are not interrupted.

Those two examples show that the underlying values and principles of the organization condition the way communication happens, its purpose and who has the initiative to initiate or improve the communication.

The one thing I would like to leave you with is: It has to be defined!

As a team member, you cannot rely on the fact that other team members know how to do it if there is no formal agreement on how the team is doing it. The understanding of each team member is probably slightly different leading to bigger misunderstandings.


Team Agreements

In the book, Changing Your Team From The Inside, I touched several times the notion of Team Agreements.

Team Agreements are critical to the success of a team. By writing your team agreements, you define your standard. You set the baseline that you will improve in the future.

In the team agreements, you answer the question: How do we behave?

What aspects do you want to cover in your team agreements?

How do the team handle information?

  • What kind of information do we need to achieve your work?
  • How do we share the information inside and outside of the team?
  • How do we know what everybody is doing?

How do the team communicate.

  • What are the tools the team uses to communicate?
    • Phone or video conference: why do we prefer phone calls or video conference for some conversations?
    • Instant messaging: for what kind of message, what time of the day…
    • Email: do we use emails inside the team or do we communicate using the tool we use to track our work? Do we use bcc?
    • Do we always reply to all calendar invitations?
  • When do we want not to be interrupted? How do we signal that to others? How do we handle external interruptions? Do we nominate an interruption handler?

How do we collaborate.

  • How do we produce documents, code…
  • When do we use pair programming or mob programming?
  • Why do we have meetings? What are their purposes?
  • How do we behave in meetings? How do we handle devices? How strict are we on time? On attendance? On multitasking? On side conversations?

How do we provide or receive feedback.

  • Do we have a specific time, setup, tools… to provide or receive feedback?

How do we handle conflict?

How do we manage performance?

How do we hire new team members?

The list of questions could be infinite. The practice is beneficial when you start small and when you review your agreements regularly. This is a place for the team to experiment with various approaches and to improve.

For example, with a team in which half the people are collocated and the other half distributed all over the world, we change our way of handling meetings. The agreement is now that we behave as if everybody was remote and join the video-conference from our offices. Why are we doing that? Because we noticed that when the conversation become passionate in the meeting room, we were ignoring the “remotees” that were enabled to have a say in the discussion.

It is also very useful to define team agreements for meetings that will gather people from different teams or organizations. To do that, try the Social Contract, shared on the Open Practice Library.

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