Confessions of an Operations Guru Turned Legal Ops Novice, Part 2: Team Coordination & Communication: Getting Down to the Basics
The number of articles, books, methods available to teach team coordination can quickly become overwhelming. While there are a lot of VERY nuanced ways to coordinate teams (our Capacity Planning tool in ALOE is just one of them), if you’re just getting started or your system is seeming too elaborate, this post can help you take a step back and make sure your teams are getting the information they need to be successful.
Before we get started, there’s a difference between effective coordination/communication and the systems that are put in place to help those things thrive. Having clear roles/responsibilities, well documented processes, and collaboration tools can all empower good coordination and communication. If you don’t have those in place yet, don’t fret. What’s coming next doesn’t require them, it’s only made better by them.
Stick with me here. We’ve all heard these words a million times, but it’s not often we stop to make sure we’re actually living by them. I can’t tell you how many work hours (more like days, weeks, or months) I could have been spared in my career if my managers always coordinated by this little catch phrase.
When coordinating staff and assigning work, ensuring you’ve communicated along these six categories can save a lot of headache.
“Who” doesn’t just include the assignee, but encompasses anyone who the task impacts. While an assignee is needed, you should also consider the other elements of what could constitute the “who.” In my brand management position, my “who” often considered my audience and what we wanted them to understand about our brand. When I was a scheduler for a political candidate, the “who” included other speakers at the event I was scheduling, the make-up and size of the audience, and which campaign staffers needed to be included. As a project manager, my “who” included my entire team, but also included any of the stake holders who might be impacted by the project at hand. Identify who will be carrying out the task, and either require that assignee to determine the rest of the “who” before they move forward or help them identify the other stakeholders in your coordination.
Your “who” might also need to encompass who needs to know that your staff has been assigned this task. If they are working with leadership or people in other departments, clearing the path and ensuring they aren’t met with obstacles when they get there – or questions as to why they are working on something outside their department – only empowers your team members.
Everyone involved in a task should know what the end goal is. A high-level description of the end goal is enough, but there’s a difference between knowing one piece of the puzzle vs. knowing how it fits into the overall plan is critical. A friend of mine is a developer, and one person on their team developed the code for an entire process before understanding that it needed to be functional for both the back-end user and the customer. The code didn’t work with the customer-end system, only the back-end, and they had to rewrite the entire code before they could move on with the project. If the team member had a clear picture of what he was being asked to create and how it fit into the overall work of the team, he could have saved weeks of development work.
Not really, but thanks for indulging me. Not every task has a physical location, especially now that we’re largely home-bound for the foreseeable future. Even when there’s not naturally a “where” in your planning, make sure you’re asking this question. You might find that you can utilize this in other ways, like where to locate the information needed in your filing system, or by providing a conference call link to your meeting.
Whether your “when” is the due date, event date, meeting date, or other deadline, make sure that your communication of when is clear. Don’t bury it in a paragraph. Don’t forget to include it when you’re communicating to your team. Don’t expect them to create their own deadline for you. Make it clear.
One of my personal weak points in work and life is asking “why.” I dig into the “how” all day long, but if I’m assigned something or a task generally appears necessary, I trust that others have thought through the “why.” That’s why this question is critical to my planning. Not only does it prompt me to think through a piece of the puzzle that I generally take for granted, but it also helps me ensure I’m communicating well with the people around me (and I like to surround myself with people who ask why so there are always people making up for my weak points. Sometimes I find it annoying, but they always make me better).
This is, more importantly, a major question when it comes to prioritization of work. Knowing and communicating the “why” helps you as the team leader know your “when” and helps your team buy-in to the work they are doing because they see the impact of their work.
This is where your documented processes and staff training can come in very handy. It is also where workflows and systems can greatly improve the ease with which training and execution can occur. The “how” can be so complex that you as the manager might just need to leave that up to your staff, or it could be as simple as letting people know the gate code and where to park when they come to your house for dinner. “How” is a critical part of what customer-facing organizations analyze. The ease of purchasing a product has a direct impact on revenue. This is true for your internal employees as well. The ease, or lack thereof, with which they can accomplish a task based on the internal structures and systems you have in place has a direct impact on employee productivity and thus your bottom-line. When thinking long-term of your “how,” you’ll want to include the barriers that your employees encounter when accomplishing a task and how to remove them.
An example of success:
One of my (several) jobs in college was working in a small non-profit in downtown Nashville – they provided GED tutoring and job counseling to women in the area. My first day, I was told to tutor three women. There were no learning plans, no indications of what they needed to know, and no written log of when their next tests were schedule. None of the tutors understood what was needed, the women often weren’t sure what came next, and the director – who expertly kept a log of everything that needed to be done in her head – ran around the room trying to communicate with 60 people at once. Over the next several weeks, I worked with the director to create detailed learning plans for each woman with goals and accountability structures in place. Knowing the who, what, where, when, why, and how of teaching each one of these women helped us move the women through the process more quickly, empowered the tutors to take charge of the education, and, along with the structures and processes we put in place, greatly improved the work and personal life of the director.