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Coming Up to Speed Part 4: Communication Strategies & Tactics


When I started at ITHAKA many years ago, I came from an organization with a different culture. I was used to giving and receiving friendly jibes. It took me a minute, but I soon realized I wasn’t receiving as many at my new company, nor did my coworkers seem to appreciate my cutting wit.


ITHAKA values kind-heartedness. Nobody told me this; it took far too long to figure it out. This story highlights the topic for today: communication strategies & tactics, the fourth installment in my eight-part series: Coming Up to Speed.


Since the Covid pandemic, many companies have allowed employees to work partially or entirely remotely. Most of us have needed to learn new communication techniques as a result. If you work on a software development team, you probably had a “collab space” before this change. The communication protocols are different there. Beyond that, organizations have other expectations around communications. Here are some:


  1. Frequency

  2. Reporting structures

  3. Tools

  4. Style


We’ll examine each.


Frequency

Does your organization expect daily check-ins? Hourly? Continuous collaboration? We get so comfortable with the cadence of our communications that it is easy to forget that new people may come with different expectations. It’s essential to think about your organization’s natural flow and convey that to new employees. The sooner they understand this expectation, the quicker they will adapt. Understanding frequency expectations can also avoid a source of stress, thereby easing the transition.


Reporting Structures

What you share and with whom is different at each organization. New employees will eventually figure this out. Spelling this out as part of the onboarding process relieves the stress of “doing it wrong” while figuring it out.


If you’ve ever had a new job, you probably experienced the joy of telling someone something they didn’t want or need to know. It’s frustrating and embarrassing. Reporting structures can be complicated and are rarely documented. There are relationships with teammates, direct superiors, and others throughout the organization. How and when you share information or seek counsel is vital in an agile organization.


Take time to document these relationships. Each role on the team likely has different requirements and expectations. The exercise will bring clarity not only to new employees but existing employees may also benefit from it.


Tools

Do you use Slack or Teams? I’ll bet you also have an email system and video conferencing capabilities. Most chat systems now offer some form of built-in real-time audio and video communications. So many tools! Which is the right one for each situation? Are there any rules? Do you notice any patterns?


Which tool to use in a given situation may seem obvious, but these are part of cultural norms. New employees need to develop an understanding of this. Proactively sharing this knowledge helps new employees navigate all the available channels.


Style

I saved the best for last. Style is tricky. It’s probably not feasible to sit down with a new employee and explain the communication style of their new organization. However, you can observe them and provide helpful coaching. Tell them you will do this as part of the onboarding process so they don’t think you’re picking on them.


Style is subtle. Some organizations expect you to bring facts and fully formed ideas, while others prefer initial thoughts. The level of casualness between team members and non-team members can vary. Any tips you share with a new employee will be appreciated.



Communication norms are subtle and difficult to explain in a nutshell. Nonetheless, be proactive about addressing as much as you can with new employees. Doing so will not only relieve some stress, it will also help them be more productive.


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