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Harmonize Synchronous and Asynchronous Communications

This article was based on episode 197 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get the full episode guide when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join. Purchase any full episode guide at themodernmanager.com/shop.

How we work is rapidly shifting. Prior to the pandemic, many teams primarily worked in a single location, with collaboration practices designed for in-person collaboration. Then, many quickly transitioned to fully remote teaming and adopted new practices to meet the restraints of virtual work. Now, we’re entering a new phase where managers and organizations need to adopt ways of working that meet the needs of hybrid teams.

One fundamental aspect of collaboration is communication which can be synchronous or asynchronous. Put simply, synchronous is when we are physically present at the same time together (i.e. in a meeting) and asynchronous is when we are communicating independently of others’ timing. Here, I break down my take on the three most important principles teams should embrace when designing their synchronous and asynchronous communications.

3 PRINCIPLES FOR DESIGNING EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATIONS


1. Fewer {Tools, Apps, Modalities} is Better

When new apps with new capabilities come out, it can be tempting to jump on the high-tech bandwagon. The goal, however, is to simplify your communications. This means minimizing saying the same thing in multiple places so that it’s easier to know how (and where) to communicate what type of information. Figure out what communication methods work best for the team and try to accomplish these while using the fewest tools. For example, instead of sending tasks as a chat message, create a task in your shared to-do list so that people always know that task assignments will be in the task app. You can also try integrating tools directly or using a program like Zapier to connect different apps. This can help automate sending information to multiple places if that’s how your team prefers to work.


2. Use Structures and Templates

The human brain loves patterns and familiarity. We can tap into this by creating structures and templates that get used repeatedly. Meetings are an ideal place to take advantage of templates. By using a template that prompts you to fill in the desired outcomes, instructions for meeting participants to prepare, and meeting activities, you are prompted automatically to include this useful information, and you make it easier for participants to quickly prepare for the meeting.

You can create meeting templates for different kinds of meetings as well, such as check-ins, brainstorming meetings, or one-on-ones. These standing structures help everyone optimize the time you spend together because each session follows the same flow. You can also create a system for how information is shared in emails so that emails become easier and faster to read. For example, consider creating protocol for email subject lines to indicate to your team when it’s about an action needed, a FYI, or an urgent matter.


3. Think Asynchronous First

Meetings used to be a primary method of collaboration. But meetings are costly and, when not prepared for well, take a serious toll on productivity and energy. While meetings aren’t disappearing, try taking the approach that meetings are a last resort. Maintain a mindset of using asynchronous methods first until you need to switch to a meeting. For example, start with an email. If the chain gets too confusing or there are too many questions to provide a straightforward response, call a meeting.

Along the same lines, consider how your team can use asynchronous approaches prior to a meeting in order to allow for the meeting time to be spent building relationships and in dialogue. For example, ask people to brainstorm in a Google Doc or record a video of yourself presenting slides for people to watch prior to the meeting.

Asynchronous work can also be more inclusive for those who are better expressing themselves through writing or who need a little extra time to process information. It may also have the added benefit of giving people space to share controversial or unconventional ideas anonymously they might not feel comfortable sharing in real time.

Just remember that meetings are an essential form of collaboration. The goal is not to eliminate them but to optimize them. Always think ‘meetings first’ for building relationships or talking through sensitive topics.

CREATE A COMMUNICATIONS GUIDE

Change is hard for all of us. When we’re using new tools and processes at work, it’s going to take a while for your team to transition. Here are my tips for helping that transition go as smoothly as possible.


1. Clarify Current Communication Challenges and Goals

Have a discussion with your team about what you hope to accomplish by creating a Communications Guide. Discuss the benefits of such a system so that everyone feels on board with changing, or at least documenting, the team’s communication norms.


2. Explore What’s Working and What’s Not

You don’t need to redesign all aspects of communication. Ask the team to help identify the points of friction that could be improved. Where do things often break down? What feels burdensome? Discuss with your team what practices and tools are working great and what is in need of fixing.


3. Make Preliminary Decisions For Tools and Practices

Decide what tools or practices you’ll let go of as well as any new tools and practices you want to take on. Whether it’s an existing or new addition, specify what the purpose is, and document this decision. For example, you may decide to only use email with external clients and house all internal communications through Microsoft Teams. Or, perhaps you are restructuring your Slack channels so that each includes a channel description of what types of information belongs and what doesn’t.


4. Check In and Adjust

Shifting communication approaches is an experiment. The most important part of the experimental phase is to follow the agreements. Don’t let things slide. If you notice a tool being used incorrectly or a norm being broken, remind the person of the agreement and ask them to communicate according to the guide. It takes time to build new habits, but the surest way to sabotage success is by not following through on the commitment.

Lastly, remember that nothing is set in stone. Check in every week with your team to see how it’s going and decide if adjustments need to be made. You can stop checking in about new communication processes after a few weeks of things working well. Then, formalize the guide and make it available to all team members for future reference.

Every team needs a system of communication. Unfortunately, these systems often develop organically which can lead them to be messy and inefficient. How we communicate is how we collaborate. Learning how to harmonize asynchronous and synchronous communications is a contemporary challenge and opportunity that can really take our teams to the next level of effective collaboration.

Get the full episode guide when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.com/join. Or, purchase an individual episode guide at themodernmanager.com/shop to help you implement the learnings and continue to enhance your rockstar manager skills.

This article was based onepisode 197 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify,iHeart Radio,Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

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