Mastering Team Communication in an Agile World

    Authors

    Eileen Mandir
    Thorsten Heilig

    Date
    2016-07-06


    Our story is not a finished textbook but rather an ongoing movement.

    Let’s get all the buzzwords out first #digitalization #transformation #agile! Oh…and #disruption.
    Feels good to have all that off our chest… so now we can talk about what is really going on.

    We want to share with you why we think going agile is central to any company building digital products and why Slack has become a major part of our daily efforts.

    The 'agile way' has been around for two decades now, originating from the field of software development where the problem of mastering complexity first became tangible.

    As #disruptive business models powered by technology are entering almost every industry sector, the need to react to unforeseeable changes is becoming a hot topic in the executive front offices of established old-economy players. It is an easy take: uncertainty needs the ability to inspect and adapt. Quickly!

    Communication Starts in the Office

    check out some impressions of moovel's office

    Established corporations struggle to keep up to the speed of start-ups for two major reasons:

    • Corporations have established complicated rules and processes which allows them to optimize margins in an established business model but makes custom adaptations hard. For them this even feels like a step backwards, towards the age of manufacturing.
    • Start-ups in the early stages, when the team is still a small group in direct contact with the founders of the company, can put people over process and adapt on a daily basis.

    However, large corporations and start-ups are like yin and yang, two far-apart ends of the same stick. While small early start-up teams can be super effective, they struggle to maintain their high velocity as they scale up their businesses and grow their teams.

    Here comes another buzzword #agile-at-scale which has been around for a long time now. This is state that all start-ups want to achieve and that all corporations want to emulate. We will tell you the secret of how to get there, and stay there. And, as we can imagine you might want to stop reading right away - bear with us for a moment - we will also tell you why this works.

    Status reports become unnecessary. Status is available for everybody. Anytime.

    is communication.

    Oh… finally, someone tells us something new! Let’s be honest: there's not a single company that does not claim they fully understand how important - beware buzzword - #opencommunication is.

    Here’s the easy part. Being agile means to inspect, assess and adapt on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. As we mentioned before: adapting means taking important, sometimes even strategic decisions quickly. Agree?

    The only way to do this is: you need to empower your team at staff level to take decisions (meaning those decisions with real business impact) and act. The crucial nine steps to making this happen and not end up with chaos are:

    1. agree unanimously across the executive board that going agile is business critical
    2. embrace that leadership is a service role tailored to getting obstacles out of the way of your teams
    3. promote mindsets instead of policies
    4. find the right people and never compromise in hiring
    5. trust that right expertise + common values + shared vision + information on context = right decisions
    6. provide an environment for easy collaboration meaning team, space, tools
    7. communicate
    8. communicate
    9. communicate

    But how can communication be the solution to being more agile and therefore being faster, since you are already communicating so well in your company? Now comes the hard part.

    Communicating well is not the same thing as putting a lot of time and effort into providing information. The key thing is that the information is where it needs to be at the time when it is needed.

    How Slack helped us change the way we work.

    This is only one example of how we use Slack.

    This can only be done if information is public and people know - or can easily learn - where to find it. While this can pretty easily be assured by modern tech tools like instant messengers e. g. Slack, it implies a company culture where information is not used to control what is happening where, and simply handed-down along solid reporting lines. It requires the opposite: letting go and relying on trust.

    We aim for an #opencommunication culture, in which the teams utilize formal and informal communication streams where needed, following the agile principle: ‘people and interactions over processes and tools’.

    At moovel we have therefore turned our mode of operation from a push communication system (from the person holding the information to the person needing it), to a pull communication system - meaning all information and communication is open and publicly available throughout the entire company. With the result that the person needing the information (and holding a distinct responsibility) can access it at any given time when needed. For us, as a fast growing start-up performing agile at scale, this is the only way to go, as it is impossible to precisely know who needs what information right now.

    Using Slack instead of email really did the trick for us in opening up our communication. Emails, in the way they are designed, simply do not support pull communication, for the single reason that you need to know to whom an email may be of interest. Equally important is that the Slack team has somehow magically created a tool which is fun to use and supports interaction.

    The biggest bummer in growing start-ups, but also in large corporations in transformation, is that companies are a living organism with their own subcultures, and explicit as well as hidden structures, and these change over time.

    How to learn from yourself: #teamchatviz

    these are some screenshots of #teamchatviz

    This is important as each employee needs to learn how the organism functions and where the information needed can be found. No problem? Just think about how long it usually takes you to get a new colleague on board and up-to-speed.

    To enable our colleagues to easily find and connect to the right people in the organization, we have thought about a simple way of giving orientation in the visible and invisible structures of our organisation. No, we don’t use a classical org chart hierarchy tree. We came up with a work of beauty that gives deep insights into the blood vessels of our organisation.

    Have a look at our latest moovel lab project: it's a Slack data visualisation for some amazing insights. It works as a Slack message visualisation, gathering the real-life communications and interaction streams of our Slack team.

    And the best part, you can use it for your own team as well, just plug and play. Add the integration to your Slack team and get going.


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