Top tips for better team communication

As teams, we need to align ourselves to communicating better in order to make project work easier. Even the best of us trip up every once in a while, but these tips should help communications flow.

As a general rule, there's no such thing as over-communication in project work. You need to be very detailed and consistent when it comes to evolving project requirements and approaches. If a detail is miscommunicated, goals can be derailed and you'll lose time and cause frustration.

Share information

At the beginning of a project, sit down with your team to discuss your budget, scope, timeline and requirements. This will ensure that everyone on the team is aware of and accountable for the project's health. Also be sure to assign project roles and the responsibility of making sure that communications are flowing and are being documented.

As a team, make a commitment to sharing information, knowing that taking three to five minutes to share potentially critical info with your team could save everyone stress. Using a tool like Basecamp to hold all of that information will facilitate good communication and knowledge sharing. Knowing when and where communication should happen, and how it's documented is half the battle in the war against poor communications.

In general, a 15-minute team review of the day's tasks can work to your advantage. Simply go around the room and give everyone a chance to talk about what they're working on. It'll force everyone on the team to organise themselves and feel accountable for tasks.

If you're dealing with clients, it's a good practice to conduct a weekly status meeting to stay current on all project issues. Not only will it keep you and your clients on track, but it will keep you honest about your timeline, tasks, action items, budget and risks. From a client's perspective, there's nothing worse than finding out about a project issue that could have been avoided until it's too late.

Don't forget to have a bit of fun with your status meetings. Use the time to catch up. If you make time to get to know one another when you have time, it'll make it easier to overcome issues when needed.

Educate clients

As a designer or developer, you've got a process that works for you. Sharing the 'why' and the 'how' you get to your deliverable will help explain the timing, concepts and dependencies of your work. Taking the extra step to document and explain your work shows your team and your clients that you care about how the work is received, critiqued and used. Plus, educating clients on your project process helps them to better understand your work and allows them to be your champion. It's a win-win situation.

Want to have fun and generate more ideas? Schedule brainstorming sessions and get project team members invested in ideas before they become scope issues. Having a developer sit with a designer to talk through an idea can help you stick to your timeline and budget.

When discussing your project communication expectations, agree to a level of collaboration. Be sure to have a goal for working sessions and always record takeaways. Share to-do lists, track sub-tasks as a team and continually share progress and dependencies.

Build faster

If you're seeing that a team member is behind on a task, be proactive and ask about it. The point of an open to-do list is to make sure that you're all up to date on the status of work at all times. The list will foster real-time communication via in-person or online conversation. The idea is to work in the open and share progress to build team support. This activity helps people build products faster.

No matter what you do, you have to commit to communicating better. Make these better communications practices work for you in an atmosphere that's accepting of discussion, debate, task management and good old hard work.

Words: Brett Harned

Brett Harned is vice president of project management at Happy Cog. He also organises Digital PM Summit. This article originally appeared in net magazine issue 253.

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