If you read last week's article on preparing for communication emergencies, there was one glaring question left unanswered: "Okay, smart guy, if we're going to put a communication plan in place, what should it contain?" I'm glad you asked. And don't there's no need for that snarky tone.
If we start with the end in mind, it's pretty clear that at the very least a good plan should help the team know who they need to reach, how to reach them, and the expectations and conditions under which they should operate.
Who is on the team and what do they do? This sounds obvious, but too many communication plans are simply data and no context. You should have every team member (as well as critical stake-holders), their role (with responsibilities, not just job titles) and areas of expertise or critical information. For example, someone may not have a formal title, but might be the local team or functional lead. Or Rajesh might be the resident expert on the new code, so questions can be directed to him.
How do you get a hold of people and under what circumstances? Ideally, this information is posted in multiple places (how quickly can YOU find that Excel spreadsheet that you posted somewhere? Yeah, that's what I thought). It should contain the obvious (main phone number, mobile, etc) as well as secondary means (Facebook, Twitter, IM as people are willing to share it).
Equally important: under what circumstances should you use which tool? It might make sense to call someone's home number if you need an answer in a hurry, but if they're in Bangalore at 3 in the morning, you may be creating more problems than you solve. There are some technology issues here, too. What are the expectations around webcams and webinars?
What are the expectations and responsibilities of each person? This is a big one, because it speaks to holding each other accountable and developing trust. When do you email and when do you pick up the phone? How long should you wait for a response before making that panicky nudge call? Is it okay for meetings to consistently start 5-10 minutes late or do you expect people to be logged on and ready to go at start time? If they miss a call, how will they catch up?
Of course, these are broad strokes. There are significant details in which the Devil can hide. For one thing, these plans only work if everyone buys into them. Rather than dictate the plan, it is helpful if the team creates it amongst themselves. This way they can be held accountable and potential difficulties can be mitigated in advance.
Moreover, this also supposes that people understand and know how to use the different tools at their disposal. Many a good plan has been foiled because people know they should use the shared file site, but never quite got around to learning how to use it (or avoid it as much as possible because it's a pain in the - uhhhh - neck).
Ask yourself and your team if they're comfortable with the communication plans you have in place.