Communication breakdowns—they drive us insane too!
Pt 1 of a two-part series
Effective communication remains at the very heart of team efficiency. Entire business models are based on improving team communications, look no further than SalesForce’s acquisition of Slack. Microsoft Teams, BaseCamp, Sharepoint, Zoom, Webex, instant messenger, and text are just a few of the frequently used communication tools in the workplace. Meeting facilitation is now a ‘service offering’ – take a moment and search LinkedIn… perhaps you’ll get more than the 7,700 results that I returned!
Yet here we are in this post-COVID, hybrid/remote work environment, and one of the most effective and proven communication channels has been cast aside. COVID brought most technology work into the home somewhat permanently, and the overscheduling of meetings proliferated, where thanks were provided to higher powers when a meeting was gracefully ended 50 mins after the hour, allowing a few minutes to check on the kids, feed the whining dog, or run to the bathroom—really anything other than staring at an array of faces staring back at their screens. What this also brought was the feeling that since schedules were so solidly stacked, the last thing that made sense was to just call someone. It felt intrusive and presumptuous.
While COVID remains in circulation, the work world is transitioning with some firms fully remote forever, others hybrid with overlap day mandates, and others fully back to pre-pandemic norms. At CC Pace, we remain convinced that flexibility is critical to our employee’s success, but we are also strong believers that face-to-face time is time well spent. I’m reminded of my first job in technology working for one of the Big 4 firms; at my first project, if I hadn’t had the opportunity to strategically place myself at a senior developer’s desk as his day started to ask a few questions and get a few answers, I’d have been sunk. The informal communication channel is critical—and I couldn’t imagine posting my question to him on Teams (even if it had existed back then), nor would he have answered! So how can that experience be replicated within the modern hybrid/remote work environment?
Virtual stand-ups remain useful. Pair programming has its place. Yet we see questions left overnight, where there is a desire not to bother a fellow developer. One of the most basic behaviors that our Agile coaches are pressing on is to push developers to ‘pick up the phone and call’. This deference has a huge cost on team productivity as “stuck developer time” ticks away to no effect.
This is Sachin, picking up with the perspective of a Sr. Scrum Master and Agile coach, I have seen a shift in mindset with team members content with completing their part in a user story. It’s more of a “throw it over the wall” kind of mindset. I usually relate it to a very popular British party game we used to play as kids, i.e., “Pass the parcel.” The parcel, which is the user story, is passed on from one person to another until the music stops, which is when the sprint ends. The result is an incomplete story that just moves on from one sprint to another. The concerning part is team members are not willing to take responsibility for a user story. A simple question, such as “can you finish the user story in a sprint?” goes unanswered. Take, for example, a backlog refinement session: this session is productive when team members communicate and ask questions. But when you consider them as a waste of time and just want to get done with them, assumptions are made without proper analysis, leading to improper sizing and stories remaining “not done”. To some extent, teams and programs have started to blame the very process for missing a deadline.
Effective interactions remain paramount for Agile teams. The efficiency of text, email, and other one-way transmissions is not always effective.
In Part II of this series, Mike Wittrup will talk about a framework that CC Pace uses to assess and improve team communication protocols in the co-working world that we all live in.
In the meantime, we remain at your service in providing tailored approaches to driving business agility. For over 20 years we’ve earned clients’ trust across all stages of the Agile journey. Give us a call!