This month I caught up with my team at Chicago and we stepped back to re-chart our goals and focus areas for the year and beyond. To me it meant unlearning and looking at our stakeholders from a different lens altogether.
Personally this meeting taught me a few pointers on structuring a team’s strategy for the maximum result. This post will give you directions on how you can chart your team’s plans rather than them staying as a bunch of great slides.
To give you context I lead the India internal communications practice and this interaction allowed me to meet with my colleagues from other geographies for the first time in almost two years! Leaders and businesses expected a lot more from this team considering our track record of demonstrating value and results. This year the organization changed its positioning and business units to take on trends that will shape the future. We needed to also get our hands around social media to equip our employees in making the most of this exciting trend. Lastly, as we scaled we needed to get the entire team behind us to meet and exceed internal demands.
Internal communication team’s charter
As a virtual team we engage mostly on IM, calls and e-mail. Meeting face-to-face (we had a Skype meeting planned as a back-up in case the travel plans changed) gave me a totally new picture of working in a different time zone, with counterparts who are unable to get the ‘on the ground’ reality, brainstorming ideas and sharing opinions often tougher to do on calls and e-mail.
Over three days we spent time understanding our position in terms of the organization, our plans, goals, priorities, partners, stakeholders and the technologies at our disposal. We did spend quality time knowing each other as well! I took time out to indulge in photography – see image from Chicago’s Cloud Gate in this post and many more on my Picasa page.
With that as a backdrop we asked ourselves pertinent questions on our team’s charter and where we wanted to be as a group in the firm. That included – were we most effective and productive in the position we were in? Did it warrant us revisiting how we reported into the organization to get the maximum mileage?
While these may sound wishful thinking to many internal communication teams we realized that unless we took a stand now – our core competencies, skills and strengths may not be fully utilized. We attempted articulating our team’s vision three years from now – a brave objective and a great start. We asked ourselves what ‘good’ and ‘great’ meant in terms of internal communication while brainstorming measures that will give us pointers when we got there. I found the exercise direct, purposely and honest. All this required research and each member did a bit of groundwork to make the meeting the most impactful.
Mapping the work and priorities
Then we faced off on the work and ensured we knew who and what our stakeholders were tasked to accomplish as part of their goals. We listed out all the feedback we gathered from engagement surveys and our own bi-annual communication pulse checks on the table. With the continually shifting landscape we had to align ourselves more to our clients’ needs.
The next piece of the exercise got us poring over all the various initiatives, campaigns and milestones the company continued working on. We used the ‘lights-on’ metaphor (one among the many Americanisms I learnt during the course of my visit!) to talk of all the projects that needed our constant vigil to run ‘business as usual’. These included Portal management, recognition administration, review of communication messages and keeping a constant pulse of employees. We prioritized these based on the importance, needs and wants. At the end of the exercise we gave each other knowing glances on what it took to keep the wheels oiled and moving!
The second part had us look closely at vital programs we owned and what the organization expected us to roll-out successful to all employees. At our organization we believe in a planned approach to communication – clear briefing, leadership commitment, developing key messages, getting buy-in of all stakeholders, reviewing and crafting suitable communication content, identifying the appropriate channels of communication, cascading communication transparently through champions and supervisors and finally evaluating impact of messages. This year we needed to up the ante with technologies that suited the growing business needs and the social media phenomenon that is sweeping the world. We looked at best practices from around the world and the role of internal communicators in making social media adoption a success.
Equipping the team to go that extra mile
We piloted a social media tool we planned to integrate within the organization and got a first hand feel of what users might experience. At this point we discussed cultural nuances across different geographies and what it meant to get everyone across the company on board with social media.
Equipping the team with the right technologies got us thinking on various new video and audio capabilities. We zeroed down to a couple of infrastructure needs that had the most impact and allowed all team members to learn and experiment. As an aside – the internal communication team manages the entire range of services from video to design and campaign rollouts to leadership messaging in-house. It is expected that all members pick up relevant skills that are needed for making effective internal communication.
The recognition element is an integral piece of our internal communication story and we envisioned the future. This led to a host of cool ideas to get us started this year. Interestingly, we looked at not just the program format but also areas to improve tool’s usability and social media pieces which fit into the plan. Our organization encourages experimenting and taking risks and I saw that taking form with this venture.
Growing the internal communication team
The last two aspects of our dialogue were extremely engaging, relevant and useful to any internal communications team that is keen to be successful.
We relooked at how we worked together as a team and if it required realignment. Some of the questions we asked were
Did we connect often enough?
Did we spend time on ideation and sharing best practices?
Did we recognize each others’ strengths and capabilities?
How are we growing the team?
How can we make everyone in the team the most effective and successful?
Finally we reviewed how to engage better through meetings with leaders and stakeholders. Were they getting the right support, did they know whom to turn to for help, did they know the full range of offerings we provided, were they seeing how we enhanced the organization’s engagement and commitment?
An effective agenda for your internal communication strategy meeting
To summarize if your internal communication team is ever gathering to discuss plans together and make a difference here are some relevant questions that can help guide your agenda.
- Where is the organization heading?
- What are the current and future focus areas and priorities?
- Is the team aligned right to meet the organization’s goals?
- How does the organization and stakeholders measure your team?
- As a team what do you need to be successful?
- Where does the team want to go? In a year? In three years?
- What is ‘good’ or ‘great’ work in internal communications? From your perspective and from your stakeholders’ viewpoint?
- How do we know you a are getting there?
- What did we want others to perceive us to be?
- What is the future of internal communications?
- How are you growing your team? Capabilities, strengths, attributes? New technologies?
- Is everyone embracing new/social media?
- Are you aware of best practices in internal communications? In your geography? Around the globe?
I am keen to know if these recommendations were useful to you. If you have other suggestions do share them here.