Better Team Communication: The Antidote for Agency ChaosOct 17, 2023
Agencies are typically juggling multiple clients, team members, deadlines, and campaigns every day. Sometimes, things can feel a bit chaotic. However, many don’t realize that the source of the chaos is often a breakdown in team communication.
Agency owners spend a lot of time thinking about communication with clients, consumers, stakeholders, and even their social media audience, but when it comes to internal team communication, the stakes are higher than ever. Everyone comes to the table with different experiences, context, and thought processes that create blind spots when communicating with others.
Clarity of Communication
There are two goals in any communication – to make a point heard and to gain clarity from others. In other words, communication is a two-way street. Agency professionals need to state their points clearly and check for clarity when listening to what others are sharing. In the absence of communication, chaos and confusion often occur, leading to inefficiency and frustration among team members. In fact, miscommunication is the top cause of failure in any initiative.
Communication can be broken down into two main types – written and verbal. Both are important and preferable in different situations.
Written communication in an agency may include emails, Slack messages, or any other platforms a team uses, but for most, email is where we see communication breakdowns occurs.
With every form of communication there are limitations, and it’s important to note that email is not always the right form of communication, although it is often the default for many teams. There are two instances where written communication may not be the best:
- If the conversation will require more than two or three emails, hop on a phone call first. This will cut down on inefficiencies and frustration that can occur over a long chain of emails.
- When trying to convey a message that requires an emotion like empathy or urgency, email may not be the best tool. Emotions are often conveyed through tone of voice which cannot be communicated via email. This is another situation where a phone call or a Zoom meeting is the better option. When used effectively, email can be a great tool for team communication.
Efficient written communication can be accomplished with a few simple tips:
- Send messages with a clear purpose or call to action for the recipient. If the email is requesting that someone on the team start a project, review a document, or simply file the information away for later, that should be explicitly stated in the email. If the call to action is left unsaid, it can cause confusion, which often results in the email not being tended to in the right way.
- Create an organized email with a cohesive line of thinking that clearly communicates the message. It’s easy to quickly fire off messages during a busy day, but it’s important to proofread for clarity and mistakes that change the meaning of the message. This will save the team costly mistakes down the road.
Verbal communication can be as simple as a one-on-one meeting with an employee or larger scale communication like a company-wide presentation. Regardless of the context, it’s important to remember that verbal communication skills are a constant work in progress.
Verbal communication can be improved significantly by keeping a few things in mind:
- Remove verbal tics. Take note of spaces being filled with words like “um” or “like,” or ending sentences with phrases like “you know what I mean”? Instead of replacing these words with other phrases, simply get comfortable with pauses and silence.
- Follow a cohesive train of thought. Unlike with written communication, verbal communication cannot be proofread for clarity prior to sharing. When possible, jot down a train of thought prior to speaking to ensure that a message is being communicated clearly and concisely.
- Pay attention to voice tone and inflection. Tone of voice is an impactful tool that can completely change the meaning of a sentence, especially at the end of a sentence. When tone inflects up at the end of a sentence, it subconsciously conveys a question and often comes across as the speaker not feeling confident in their statement. When tone inflects down at the end of a sentence, it conveys a confident ending to the statement.
- Non-verbal communication speaks volumes. Body language and facial expressions matter when communicating verbally. The recipient of verbal communication sees facial expressions before words are heard. If the speaker is saying they’re excited about something while keeping their head down and not smiling, the body language is not conveying that excitement.
- Silence is golden. Getting comfortable with silence is powerful. It allows people a moment to digest a statement, formulate a thought, or ask a question. It can also be used as a tool to drive home an important point when speaking.
Communication is key for every aspect of an agency to function effectively, but there are three main areas where we tend to see communication frequently breakdown.
Time is an agency's most valuable currency, and clear communication is the key to ensuring that everyone is on the same page when it comes to both deadlines and the estimated time a project will take to complete. Everything in an agency has a deadline. When deadlines are missed, it’s often assumed that it’s because someone doesn’t care, but that’s typically not the case.
Deadlines are either not clearly communicated or the urgency of the deadline is not understood. Context is helpful in this situation because it gives people an opportunity to understand the bigger picture. For example, asking someone to prepare a campaign case study might seem secondary to current client work, but when they understand that the team is preparing a campaign case study for an important presentation on Wednesday morning, the urgency of the deadline is now clear.
How long a task will take is another common miscommunication when it comes to time. Time estimates impact budgets, so it’s important for account managers to proactively estimate how long a project should take when assigning it and be open to feedback if a team member shares that something typically takes them longer than the estimate.
Responsibility and ownership
Agency teams typically have multiple people working on a project at any given time, and it’s important that one person is assigned full responsibility and ownership of each project. Full responsibility and ownership mean that it’s that team member's job to see it completely through to the end and remove any barriers to success. For example, if a client campaign is due Friday, and the team realizes on Wednesday that assets necessary to complete the project are missing from the client, it’s the responsibility of the team member with ownership of that project to reach out to the client and secure the assets in time for the deadline.
What done looks like
Not understanding what done looks like for a project has the same consequences as missing a deadline. A common mistake we see here is that someone on the team submitted a “completed” project for review on the deadline when the person reviewing assumed that everything would be reviewed and finalized by the deadline. The key here is to overcommunicate the details from the beginning, setting expectations for deliverables and review periods.
A great way to ensure clear communication is to run through a communication checklist.
- What: Does the communication explicitly state what is needed, and does the recipient of the messages have what they need to get the job done?
- When: How long is this expected to take, and what is the deadline?
- Why x2: Why does this need to be done, and why should the person doing it care?
- Check for understanding: Include a question that gives the recipient an opportunity to ask for clarity.
While this may seem like a lot to think about during the course of a busy day, mastering communication as an agency team will ultimately save time, prevent mistakes, and alleviate many headaches down the line.