Developing a Communications Charter
Delivering Clear Messages
How much time do you spend communicating every day? Whether this is through social media, phone calls, IM, texts, email, written reports, face-to-face conversations, or meetings, many of us spend a large proportion of our day dealing with messages that demand our attention.
Developing a Communications Charter is an effective way to manage these interactions, so that people communicate efficiently and effectively. They outline preferred methods of communication, how to use different channels effectively, and what people want to achieve. For example, by improving communication you can limit meeting times, reduce the volume of emails, ensure that social media exchanges are professional, and free up time for high-value tasks.
In this article, we'll look at how to develop a Communications Charter for your team or organization, and we'll think about when it is and isn't worth drawing one up.
What Is a Communications Charter?
A Communications Charter is a formal document that outlines your team's preferred communication methods. It helps to reduce unnecessary messages, saves people time, and improves the focus and efficiency of both team and individual communication.
A Communications Charter could include the following:
- When people need to reply to emails, and when they don't.
- When people should "Reply All" to emails, and when they should avoid it.
- How to organize regular team meetings, who should attend, whether people will "dial in" remotely, what to include in the minutes, who will circulate them, and so on.
- How your organization communicates with its clients or the public.
- How team members interact on social media.
- When making a video or audio call is appropriate.
- How people engage with others face-to-face.
Developing a Communications Charter is particularly useful for virtual teams. It allows you to clarify people's preferred methods for remote communication, who should provide progress updates, and how you will give people feedback.
Why Use a Communications Charter?
The purpose of a Communications Charter is to improve the professionalism of communication, save team members time, reduce the number of messages that they send and receive, and make your preferred methods of communication clear. Clarifying the tone, style and frequency of messages – especially for public-facing or client-based conversations – ensures that your communication is consistent and authoritative, and it can help tighten up sloppy or naive messaging.
A Charter can also be useful for new, remote, cross-functional, or geographically dispersed teams, or for freelancers who are used to working independently. It sets out the ground rules, when you expect updates, and when and how team members should contact one another. This is particularly useful for groups that work across different time zones.
A Communications Charter can also help avoid cultural differences in communication. For example, people in some cultures may be reluctant to report problems or make complaints to someone more senior. This document can clarify the circumstances in which people should highlight or escalate issues.
It can also be a useful tool for improving communication in an organization that suffers from poor or unprofessional communication.
Limitations of a Communications Charter
Despite the benefits, implementing a Communications Charter has several potential drawbacks. First, you risk stifling social interactions and "watercooler conversations" by defining how and when people should communicate. This can lead virtual team members to feel isolated, and they might struggle to build rich working relationships.
Imposing a "one-size-fits-all" approach to communication, especially with remote or geographically dispersed teams, can be counterproductive. It may not take individual or team communication preferences into account, and can discourage effective teamwork.
Finally, developing a Communications Charter takes time and effort. There's a lot to do when you set up a new team, so creating a Charter may not be a high priority.
How to Develop a Communications Charter
Follow the six steps below to develop a Communications Charter.
1. Define the Purpose
Start by identifying why you want to create a Communications Charter. For example, do you want a "big picture" document that outlines how you will communicate within your team or organization, or guidelines for interacting with clients or the public? Do you want to focus on social media interactions? Will it apply to all communications, or to a specific project or tasks?
2. How Will You Create It?
Next, think about how you will create your Charter. Who will be responsible for drafting it? Will he or she need to work with other departments, such as HR or marketing? Will you use an employee satisfaction survey to gather ideas and feedback from your team members? Who will circulate the Charter once it's complete?
3. What Will It Cover?
Your document may have a specific purpose, such as reducing email use or making sure that social media posts are professional. Or, it may have a broader one, like ensuring that all internal communication is appropriate and efficient. So, clearly define what your document covers, and which channels are included.
4. Set out the Guidelines
Next, consider how you will structure your Communications Charter. You might list best practices for each channel that your team members use, such as "meetings should only last 30 minutes," "Twitter® exchanges should be professional and courteous," or “avoid using 'Reply All'." Or, you could outline overarching principles, like "reply to communications in good time" or "reduce the duplication of messages."
5. Incorporate Feedback
It's important to ask your team members for feedback, during the drafting stage and after you've implemented your Charter. How do they prefer to be contacted? Which channels do they use most often? What are their communication "pet hates," and how can people avoid them?
6. Implement Your Charter
Finally, consider how you will implement, communicate and disseminate your Communications Charter. Will you email it to people, or present it in a team or whole-organization meeting? Will it be a physical document that people can print out, or a set of guidelines published on the company intranet? Should you announce it and coordinate an internal PR campaign? And, how and when will you update it?
You may decide to make following the Charter part of team members' performance appraisals. So, think about how you can monitor and assess how people use it.
A Communications Charter defines the purpose and preferred methods of communication within your team or organization. Using one can save people time and reduce unnecessary communication.
However, make sure that it isn't too prescriptive, as you can risk stifling creativity and problem solving if it is.
The Charter should establish what you want to achieve, who will create it, what channels it will cover, and the rules and preferences for each of these. Also, it's important to think about how you will share it.
Encourage your team members to provide input and feedback on the Charter, and update it regularly.
Apply This to Your Life
- Think about how you communicate with your team and your boss. Do you automatically copy people into emails, angrily use capital letters, or send terse messages? How would a Communications Charter benefit you and your team members?
- Consider how you could run your meetings more effectively. How could you make decisions more quickly, and provide feedback more efficiently?
- Think about how you are communicating with remote teams. Is your communication as effective as it could be?
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