Sharing Organizational Information Efficiently
We have many communication options these days – phone calls, faxes, emails, text messages, and so on. Sometimes it seems as though traditional, face-to-face meetings are disappearing.
Does the following scenario appear familiar?
Bob, a sales director, is away on a business trip. He texts a message to Susan, his assistant: We need to talk – something big has come up. Noon tomorrow OK?
Susan texts back: You're on for 12!
Susan promptly emails a few of her friends in the department this message: I just got a text from Bob. Something big is coming down the pipe. I bet we closed the deal with WhatzitWorld. I'll tell you more after I talk with him tomorrow afternoon.
Meanwhile, Bob has sent a text to Gerald, the HR manager: Gerry, we lost the whole WhatzitWorld account. Here's a heads up to get the pink slips ready. Need to talk about dept reorganization.
Gerald then sends an email to Susan: Susan, can you prepare an abbreviated employee performance data report? I know the official report comes out Wednesday but if you could put together total sales this year and break it down monthly per salesperson and then apply our ROI formula to the support staff as well that would be great. I also need to know if there have been any significant changes to job descriptions or pending staff changes that I should be aware of. I know you're busy, but please can you make this a priority.
Susan drops everything and sends an email to the entire department: Something big has happened at the sales meeting Bob is at. Gerald wants our up-to-date performance data and any changes to job descriptions or positions. Can you send me your latest information ASAP? The last time I gathered this type of information they were preparing those surprise bonus checks for us so make sure you send me anything and everything you think is relevant to your performance this period.
How do you think this situation turns out after Bob gets a chance to speak with Susan in person?
The ease of instant communication can result in a lot of misunderstanding and confusion, leading to false rumors, hurt feelings, and even mistrust. In a rush to share information and get the ball rolling, the need to gather people together and to communicate complex, important information can be overlooked.
To avoid the sort of mess created by disjointed communications like the ones above, regular meetings with your team can be useful. Called team briefings, they allow you to provide accurate updates on things such as policies, projects, priorities, and staffing issues to key people, all at the same time.
In a team briefing, people have an opportunity to ask questions, clarify their understanding, and provide immediate reactions and feedback.
Characteristics and Benefits of Team Briefings
The basic characteristics of a team briefing are as follows:
- It's conducted face-to-face with a small team – in other words, not an entire business unit.
- The team leader organizes the meeting and presents the information.
- The meetings are short – typically 30 minutes or less.
- Questions are encouraged.
Whether it's top-down, bottom-up, or side-to-side communication, your team needs to know what's happening to them – and around them. When information is shared regularly, there are many benefits:
- Team members know what the organization wants to achieve, so they're more likely to work to achieve it.
- The team knows what each team member is working on, so they can decide how best to prioritize and delegate work.
- Particularly with remote teams, team members get to know one another better, meaning that they work together more effectively.
- Team members understand the obstacles they're facing, so they have an opportunity to find solutions and prepare for change.
- The team leader maintains regular communication to ensure that what needs to be done is actually being done.
- The team leader reinforces his or her role – and creates trust, cooperation, and commitment as a result.
How to Conduct Team Briefings
Step 1: Commit to a Process
People must understand what to expect from team briefings. It's also important for the organization to support the process.
- Ensure that the briefers are briefed regularly themselves. In other words, make sure team leaders know what's happening at various levels, and with various teams, throughout the organization.
- Provide training on how to give team briefings.
- Recognize and reward supervisors and managers for conducting regular team briefings.
Step 2: Establish Ground Rules
Think about the environment you want to create in these meetings. The team is gathered for information sharing, and you want them to have an opportunity to ask questions and express their views. Establish these guidelines:
- Schedule a regular meeting time.
- Make sure no one is left out of the briefing. If certain people can't attend in person, find a way to include them in the process.
- Stress the importance of being open, honest, and polite.
- Discuss only the relevant topic, and don't allow the meeting to lose its focus.
Step 3: Determine Your Objectives
You have only a short time to communicate information, so you must be clear about what needs to be accomplished. Ask yourself these questions to help clarify the message and goal for the meeting:
- What is the key message you need to deliver and discuss?
- What does the team already know?
- What background information does the team need to know?
- What actions do you expect from the team, and individual team members, as a result?
- How much direction do you need to provide?
- When do these actions need to be done?
- How will team members know they were successful?
- What action items from the last meeting must be addressed?
- Do attendees need to prepare information before the meeting?
Step 4: Prepare Your Presentation
Briefings usually follow the same pattern: the leader delivers the information, attendees ask questions, and the leader summarizes the meeting, including information gathered through questioning and feedback. To make this process work smoothly, the leader should plan and prepare a briefing that meets the team's needs. Consider using the following framework to prepare your message:
- Address performance. Communicate the organization's progress and performance since the last briefing.
- Give updates on changes and amendments. Discuss policies and procedures that have been introduced or changed.
- Discuss personnel issues. Address issues related to staffing or people within the organization.
- Clarify action items. Describe the priorities for the next time period at a team and organizational level.
For each of these points, consider not only what information you need to present, but also what affects your team the most. This will help you prepare for questions during the briefing.
Step 5: Deliver Your Information
When you present your briefing, follow these tips to make sure the team understands the message and what they need to do as a result:
- Choose your presentation method. Think about how your team learns best, and prepare your briefing to take advantage of that.
- Keep it interesting. Use language and examples that people will relate to.
- Remain positive. No matter what type of message you deliver, emphasize the positive elements, while being truthful.
- Own the message. Don't try to distance yourself from the information you present.
- Encourage questions. Share information as openly as you can, and acknowledge concerns that people may have.
- Summarize the main points. Include the current status, any decisions that were made, and agreed-upon next steps.
For detailed tips on delivering more effective presentations, take the Mind Tools quiz How Good Are Your Presentation Skills? Your answers will lead you to more information on the specific areas where you can improve.
Step 6: Follow Up
Don't leave the follow-up to the next meeting. Use the briefings as a way to improve overall communication, trust, and commitment within the team.
- Reinforce the message. Think about ways to strengthen the message, perhaps through email, intranet, or company bulletins/newsletters.
- Review feedback. Consider the feedback you received in the briefing, and use it to improve your management and leadership style.
- Discuss relevant issues with your boss. Communicate to your boss information about what was asked, what your team was most concerned about, and any questions you were unable to answer.
- Distribute briefing material to absentees. Ensure that those who weren't able to attend the meeting receive important information.
- Monitor the effectiveness of the briefing. Use Management By Wandering Around to stay in touch with what's happening within the team.
Team briefings are a clear and concise way to communicate information. They provide a great opportunity for you to stay in touch with your team – and make sure your team knows what's happening elsewhere in the company. With regular meetings, you can update everyone quickly and efficiently.
When your team has accurate and relevant information, there's usually less misunderstanding and more trust and commitment. Use team briefings to improve communication and ensure that team members understand their role within the organization – and, ultimately, work more productively.