Good communication is vital to your company’s success.
When your company is 5, 10, or even 20 people, in one room, maybe at one table, communication happens to you. Whether you want it to or not. Which is (mostly) a good thing. As you grow, you need a Communication System because communication doesn’t happen as easily by itself and it’s easier to have more wasteful and disruptive communication.
So, how do you ensure people share what they need to share and know what they need to know? In other words, how do you ensure people are giving the information they need to give and getting the information they need to get? What do people need to know? What do they want to know? What to they want to know they could know but don’t actually care enough to know? How do you make sure people have access to everything they need to know, want to know, and want to know they could know?
More practically, should you have days or times when you have no meetings? Should you have guidelines about how to use email, slack, text, and phone? How do people get a few hours of quiet work done? Should you have no meeting Wednesday morning? Should you batch meetings so that you can also batch work time to have blocks of time for uninterrupted work? Should people hang a do not disturb sign on their headphones? Should people hide in a quiet spot? Are people expected to have their notifications and phone on all the time? Should you have guidelines about how to run a meeting? Lots of questions to answer.
A communication system must efficiently ensure that everyone gets the information they need and gives the information others need. It should ensure that even information that people don’t need is still available if people want access to it. It should balance the need for communication with the need to know how and when to (and not to) communicate.
Your company has a Communication System whether or not you consciously build and nurture one. And a Communication System by default is highly unlikely to be a successful one.
9 Tips for Building a Communication System
1. Be systematic about it.
Your company needs a Communication System, so be systematic about it. Have guidelines about how and when to communicate that answer the questions listed above, including meeting guidelines.
2. Make it cultural.
The most important thing you can do is to make how you communicate part of the culture. By making it cultural, a lot of the work will take care of itself. Management won’t have to require communication, people will do it. If someone has something to share, they will. If someone needs to know something, they’ll ask. If someone has to get quiet work done, they’ll know how to. Make this part of your culture and values in your foundational materials.
In general, default towards making information available. Hold back information only if you have a good reason.
3. Start with a transparent goals system.
By having transparent goals with ongoing check-ins, the communication system will be better able to help run itself. People will know who is working on what. That allows people to know who needs their output and proactively push it with them. That allows people who need inputs to pull what they need from the right person. Having an up-to-date org chart can also help with this self-directed process.
4. Find balance.
Err on the side of over-communication, but be careful not to waste people’s time with unnecessary meetings and administration. Balance sharing information with being efficient about time usage.
5. Open meetings and share notes.
Have open meetings and open documents. Share notes from meetings. Minimize unavailable information. Not only will that obviously make more information available, it will actually also make people less likely to waste time feeling left out or seeking information they don’t really need.
6. Assign owners to push and pull.
Like any task, communication needs an owner.
Have someone own the meeting and meeting notes.
Assign a rep from your team to attend other team meetings to present an update on behalf of your team at those meetings and to bring updates back to your team from those meetings. Or centralize that task by having operations people who perform that job and share the information.
Create compilations of important information and share them, such as updates on the sales pipeline, product feedback from talking to users, interesting data you find, and so on.
7. Test your system.
Pick a few people and ask how they give and get the necessary information. How does that junior engineer give and get? How does that senior salesperson give and get? Do you have the triggers and processes for the communication you need?
8. Get feedback.
Ask for feedback on your communication system. Are you over- or under-sharing? Are people giving and getting? You don’t have to guess. Ask people as part of your company survey.
9. No perfect system.
Mistakes happen. And you’ll never please everyone. The same communication plan will cause one person to complain about too little communication and another person to complain about too much. Some people will love the all hands and others will skip it.
In the end, you want the person who thinks it’s too little communication to believe that it’s not because you’re hiding things, it’s just because you’re responsibly trying to balance uninterrupted work time with time for communication and administration. And you want the person who thinks it’s too much communication to be able to skip meetings as necessary and realize that when they are spending more time communicating than they want then at least it isn’t because you’re trying to micro-manage them or waste their time, it’s because you believe it’s in the company’s best interests and the majority of other people like it. The most important things are that your team believes you’re trying to build the right communication system and you’re being honest and open with them. They’ll forgive mistakes if you’re trying and they trust you. (This applies to a lot of leadership and management.)
Templates and Samples
Here are two Communication System templates and one actual sample that will help you get started. Apply them to your own culture, goals, and systems.