Communication is oxygen, they say…

…And I could not agree more.

So what is the role of us leads?
Can we help our team with communication?
Spoiler: of course we do, and it is one of our responsibilities.
So how do we do it? Here are some ideas.

Build and Share Your Manifesto

Leads should be the first to communicate clearly and loud:

  • Their expectations in terms of performance and communications
  • How their teams should work
  • What their style is
  • How success is defined

I personally do this as part of each onboarding session; leaving anything to chance has proven to be very dangerous, because everyone comes from different experiences.

Taking our personal manifesto as starting point, we can work together with our teams to design the team’s manifesto.

My team and I did it as an exercise, which resulted in our Manifesto of who we are and how we work.

Lead by Example

We cannot expect our team to communicate effectively both internally and with stakeholders if leads shy away from initiating conversations.

Assumptions are good and are part of our homework. However, even after the most thorough of investigations we will miss some details that can help us in better framing the solutions we are working toward. So we go around and ask for more informations whenever necessary.

As leads, we should be first in opening – and nurturing – these channels; in doing so, we set a tone for the rest of the team by showing them the way.

Sometimes, though, our team members could be not very active in seeking out informations and that can come from various reasons, including behavioural diversities.
We need to respect our team and, whenever possible, encourage them in reaching out to other people, using whatever media (text/video/call) they prefer, without pushing them too far out of their comfort area.
We will be there to discuss the outcome of the conversation and let our team members know where they made a good job, gradually building trust and self-confidence.

Be the Cornerstone, not the Bottleneck

In a well-built team where level of trust is high, there is no need for all the conversations to go through the lead.

However, there are times where a conversation is stagnating. Sometimes ICs are missing context and it is our duty as leads to provide them with a higher-level perspective that can be decisive in keeping the project moving forward.

It is a matter of perspective when specialists fail to agree on a viable solution, too.
A team can be formed by people with different experiences and specific knowledge areas; these differences make the team stronger and more capable of successfully approach and solve problems.
In some cases, though, these differences make it harder for “specialists” to fully understand each other. As leads we should have a broader experience which should help us understand both worlds and find the common ground.
This is even more important when communications happen cross-teams.
You can think of it as a corollary to my parallel between team leads and bass guitar players: guitarists and drummers all know music but they may not view things from the same perspective.

Synchronous Helps

Our team is lucky enough to be decently timezone-compatible, so we have decided to have daily stand-ups via Zoom.
During a quick ten-fifteen minutes call, we assess our progress from the previous day, make sure there are no roadblocks, agree on the next steps.

Sure, we could do it async. We tried and it wasn’t that bad.
But one of the most important things that is missing from working remotely is not, contrarily to what some people may think, control.
It is humanity.
When working in a physical office I knew what was going on just by looking at the faces of my colleagues, just like they knew when I had bad or good days.
Working remotely can be dehumanising instead, especially when navigating through dark waters in our lives; for example, during a pandemic.

My team loves this ritual, because it gives us a chance to meet every day, talk briefly about what we are doing, making sure everyone is up-to-date on what’s going on, etc.
On their turn, everyone starts with declaring how they feel (green/yellow/red) as an icebreaker. Through time, everyone feels safe enough to share private details and team members feel closer as empathy kicks in.

We keep it flexible, though: some days there are conflicts, or there aren’t specific things to discuss, and we keep async by leaving notes on a Google Doc, which in turn gets published by the last person who add their notes.
Finally, there are days where stand-ups are longer; perhaps there are more important things to discuss. Or maybe a casual chat starts spontaneously and we find ourselves talking a few minutes about the best mechanical keyboard.
Think of it like our coffee break. 😊

Keeping it short for today, see you on the next chapter!

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