Sometimes the most obvious things are the hardest or at least the easiest to let slip. We believe this is the case with communication, especially on small teams.
Someone recently pointed out how much my brother and I communicate and actually asked, “do you ever wonder if you’re overcommunicating?” It got us thinking about how often we talk and how we structure our weekly meetings, which could seem like overkill given we’ve known each other our whole lives and basically know what the other is thinking. We don’t think it’s overkill and in fact we think better communication leads to better outcomes 100% of the time. Here’s two tips on how to improve communication on your teams.
It’s not always intuitive but we find communicating more at the beginning of a project inevitably saves time. Making sure the desired outcome is clear to all parties, no matter the size of the project, leads to less wasted time later. One great exercise here is to have everyone write down a one sentence description of ‘what success looks like’ to make sure everyone is on the same page out the gate.
Another key part of frontloading falls on managers – making sure any direct reports know what your desired outcome is and have what they need to accomplish it (or know where to find what they need). There’s a tendency, especially in our busy lives to delegate as much as possible to our team, sometimes at the expense of clear direction. One thing we constantly remind ourselves is that respecting our teams’ time is as important as respecting our own time, and quite literally because if they’re wasting their time, they’re wasting the company’s time. To manage this, we always try to make sure to communicate more upfront when delegating – it saves everyone time down the line.
Agreements > Expectations
The most important result of good communication is an agreement. In business as in many parts of our lives, people often have expectations. We expect when and with what quality something will be delivered. We expect that people will treat us a certain way. We expect people to come ‘prepared’ to meetings. Expectations often lead to disappointment and frustration, usually because people weren’t on the same page. Does everyone at your company have the same definition of ‘prepared’? Agreements on the other hand are mutually beneficial and lead to better outcomes. In order to make an agreement, both parties have to communicate and acknowledge the desires and realities of the other person. That does not always happen and is powerful when it does. Expecting something completed by Monday and making an agreement that something will be completed by Monday are very different. One requires one party and the other requires both. In your organization, is there a culture of setting expectations or making agreements?
Communicate in Order of Priority
Our attention spans are short and getting shorter. For this among other reasons, prioritizing within conversations and meetings is key. We all get interrupted and many of us have experienced losing steam within a meeting. For these reasons and especially because urgent interruptions seem to be occurring more and more frequently, my brother and I always set the agenda in order of priority – and we really try to stick to it! This ensures communication time is allocated proactively instead of reactively. We’ve all been in hour long meetings that start 5 minutes late and then have the first 15 minutes spent on a top-of-mind, but not important item. Avoid this trap by having a tight agenda, organized by priority, and then sticking to it.
Frontloading, making agreements, and prioritizing are all key habits that help us communicate better at M13. We also have seen this play out within our portfolio companies. Communicating well does not guarantee your success but we have certainly seen poor communication lead to failure. In a world where time and attention are our scarcest resources, good communication can buy us a little more of both.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.