Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tips on team briefing - go for a virtuous circle not the classic cascade

I've just responded to a question about Team Briefing on the Melcrum Communicators network...But instead of forwarding my response to the individual who first raised the point, I stupidly hit reply, so my top of head thoughts have hit the inboxes of the whole network of my communication could be embarrassing if I've dropped some real rubbish in there!

But on re-reading my post, I think it pretty much stands up. So here's the Leapfrog view of Team Briefing.

The key danger of team briefing is that it becomes simply a one-way, top down vehicle, and if that's the case, it'll quickly lose any value it might have. Therefore, the key to getting it right is to make it a 'virtuous circle' - a dialogue where communication can work up and down in equal measure, and it's seen to be acted on.

To create any virtuous communication circle, you need to state clear objectives for each crank of the wheel; provide metrics to ensure you know those objectives are met and to be able to take the learning each time you crank the process wheel so that you can tweak it where necessary for best effect.

Other than that pretty general stuff, my experience is:

1. Make sure the need is there - is there a demand for this kind of regular two way communication? (I hope so!)

2. Ensure this is the best tool for the job - will this be an addition to your communication toolbox or a replacement for something else? If you're replacing another mechanism, are you sure you're making an improvement?

3. Get senior leadership actively supportive and engaged in the process first - if they are lukewarm, line management will probably be stone cold.

4. What gets measured gets done - work with HR to ensure line management are measured on their briefing performance and that it becomes part of their performance contract.

5. What gets rewarded gets done well - equally, work with HR to build effective communication into everyone's performance contract.

6. Provide the skills first, and the process will follow. Rather than impose a process on your line management community, provide briefing skills training to them as a start point, and use such workshops to introduce a 'skeleton' process of how it could work to them - and let them help you refine it. It helps greatly with ownership for people to feel they've got some skin in the game in creating the tool.

7. Ensure people feel safe to contribute - briefing training shouldn't just be for managers - but managers can be your best trainers in working with their teams to ensure they are active contributors to the process - not passive receivers of information.

8. Keep your information simple and focused - it has to help people at all levels in the organisation to do their job - NOT simply be a soapbox for senior management.

9. Ensure the process is flexible - not every team has the chance to get together at the same time to share information. Focus more on getting information out regularly so that it's part of a process, not merely disconnected events. Then give line managers the freedom to share that information with their teams by a particular date, but in the way that works best for that team.

10. Give line managers the skill to interpret information so that it can be presented to their teams in a manner that's directly relevant for them - but ensure they don't go 'off message' or denigrate/dilute the key messages of the communication. The key is that one size doesn't fit all.

11. Make the feedback process easy and active - on line often works best.

12. Ensure feedback is not only acted on, but seen to be acted on - in the virtuous circle, it should become pat of the next (or next but one) crank of the wheel.

13. Remember that while most people want to hear most news from their direct managers and discuss it with their peers, there are times they want to hear direct from the top - or at least from a more senior person. So don't see this as the 'catch all' communication process - use it where it will be most effective, but make it part of the mix.

14. Celebrate successes and reward good behaviour - actively seek comment on key messages and make the process fun - recognise effective contribution and even reward good behaviours in the dialogue - this can help make it a circle rather than a one-way cascade.

15. Make it easy to comply - be flexible and ensure people see the benefits they're getting by being better informed quicker and more a part of the organisational community rather than this being another pointless business chore.

16. Keep the element of surprise in - get managers along to meetings further up or down the cascade: get ordinary staff members in with the CEO to talk through points directly - get senior people on the phone after a cascade to check people's understanding.

17. As IC, your role has to be to police the cascade - not just quantitatively in terms of how many briefings happened by when, but qualitatively in terms of what people are taking away from the meetings and how they're using the discussions in their jobs.

18. Don't overdo things - neither over-engineer the process nor use it more often than needs be.
And of course, none of this even begins to address some of the other issues that should come into the mix such as using team briefing for problems solving; having lateral conversations and the like. Actually, there's quite a lot to this old face to face process!

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