In working with dozens of companies around the world, I’ve heard a lot of talk lately about the need for a “team communication charter” or a “communication agreement”, or something else that’s equally impressive-sounding. But whatever you call it, the fact is that every team needs is a set of guidelines to help them work together more effectively.
So what does one of these agreements look like? Here’s a very short list of things to ponder.
It’s the little things that will drive you crazy. How much time do you spend sending “instant” messages, and not getting instant replies? Often it’s because the person you’re pinging isn’t even there to read your message. One of the most important rules a team can implement (and managers should coach to/enforce) is the use of status notifications. The 30 seconds it takes to post “back in the office in an hour” is worth the time and aggravation it will save.
Help people know how the others work. In a workplace consisting of multiple time zones it’s tough to recall exactly what time it is where. Lunch time in Dallas is the kids’ bed time in Prague. What exactly are people doing when you need them most?
Set guidelines (not hard and fast rules) for response time. How long should it take to answer an email? If you read something, do you need to send an acknowledgement? When do you cc the boss or other teammates?
These might seem trivial, but if you don’t think these things can impact morale and trust, read those questions again and see how many you can answer truthfully and ask yourself: would my teammates give the same answer?
These can’t be imposed from the top. Rules about technology use and policy that come from the “top down” are often viewed as draconian. The exact same guidelines, when they emerge from group discussions, get much less resistance. People buy into systems they help design, and resist being told what to do.
If you haven’t had a team discussion to set up a charter, it’s high time you did. If you haven’t had one in a while, it might be time to examine how it’s going. Ask your folks what’s working. What problems should you solve? What tools should you use and how will you use them?
Explicitly stating what we all think we know will reveal disagreements, bad assumptions and some of the little things that stress your team out and erode trust.
Go. Quit reading and make it happen.