It’s pivotal to have a deliberate and thought through system for communication when you’re into cross functional collaboration. Such as between product and analytics teams. To have a shared chat platform for everyone in an organization should go without saying these days. Like Slack, Discord, Teams or something else.
Still, I know there are workplaces where people lack an appropriate chat tool for one reason or another. Or, where the chat is used for limited conversations, or only inside one’s team.
In order to highlight the importance of chat I share:
The matter of choosing an appropriate chat tool
How to build a healthy communication culture in the chat
How to use structure to encourage and simplify conversations
The matter of having fun in the chat too..
A suitable chat tool
When I was at the newly inhoused and growing development department at SL (Stockholm public transport authority) there were a lot of changes, and a lot of development and migrations going on. It was critical that stakeholders could talk with the new product teams and vice versa. Not to mention that the product teams could talk to each other.
The tech teams started to use Slack, since the official chat tool (which was rather a meeting tool) at that time lacked essential features such as keeping offline conversations. Eventually, with support from tech managers, and urgency due to Covid, Slack became an official tool as well.
Choosing an appropriate chat tool is nowadays essential to enable collaboration between people from different parts of an organization. Covid forced some not so fit tools (read Lync/Skype for Business) to finally disappear. Since people outside tech now also needed a working chat. It’s easy to forget how little time has passed since teams had to struggle to be allowed to use Slack or similar suitable tools.
When you’re responsible for selecting a chat tool:
make sure it’s suitable for the ones using it - from different parts of an organization. For more than the purchasing or IT service department.
have an open mind if it turns out something else is needed after some time
have patience before you see it working
have patience before you outrule a tool that at first glance seems to lack security, seems too expensive or something else. If it’s a tool many seem to like, these problems are often possible to solve.
when it comes to cost.. calculate the cost of not having a suitable chat tool where people can talk and share easily.
When you’re outside the purchasing decisions:
offer to pilot a chat tool of your choice with a few people from different parts of the organization. To gain ambassadors.
write a log of issues you have without the chat tool available
don’t give up :-) remind everyone of the alternatives. Sometimes, yes.. you might have to put down the fight. But not too soon.
One of my tasks at SL was to involve the BI and traffic analytics team in the development process. It was more to it than to “simply” co-locate the people, for several reasons: space, other engagements, current ways of working, and of course the covid pandemic.
For this to work, a chat tool was essential. And not only access to the chat, but establishing a chat culture. How people talked to each other, and helped newly invited users to navigate and learn how to use the tool.
It just took a few days before the previously outsourced BI/Analytics team, and other users were comfortable in the development chat. I’d say it had a lot to do with the chat culture.
I’ve heard stories where the chat is mostly used by managers to send out info messages such as “time to fill in your time report”, “add vacation plans before Friday”, etc., or where it’s only used by devs for code conversations. At SL, the chat became a natural way to reach out to, and help anyone from any team or department, with any type of question.
If you’re not in such an organization, if the chat is formal, silent or just tech, I recommend you take a look at the culture. How are new users welcomed? What happens when someone outside the inner circle joins? When someone not so known yet posts a question? Is there any response, no response?
And what happens when someone posts something a bit off topic, awkward or “stupid”? Are the responses helpful or blaming/shaming? Do product people talk with the analytics people? If not, why?
Both managers and team members have a great impact on the chat culture. I always reflect upon what I can do myself to encourage cross-functional conversations. How I can help the people I want to collaborate with, to be engaged and involved in the chat.
I’d say these are some primary signs of a good chat culture:
Anyone is welcome to join
Anyone is welcome to create their own channels and invite people who they want to chat with, no questions asked.
When posting something “wrong” in the chat, the responses from others are friendly and supportive, no criticism.
Managers are involved, not only as informers, but as role models for helpful conversations.
Team members are as welcome to respond to any question as a manager is. Even when it might turn out a bit “wrong”. See 3rd point.
There are jokes! Even if it can be a bit tricky in chat sometimes.
When the organization is bigger than maybe 20 people, I’ve learned some structure is needed to get chat conversations to flow.
The following helped us get conversations going between groups at SL:
It was always easy and fast to get admin support when needed. I knew exactly to whom I should reach out. And my issues were solved promptly, within an hour or so.
There were naming conventions for new channels. It helped newcomers to find and understand other channels. There was freedom, but there was also structure when it served a purpose.
There were some lightweight guidelines and “chat rules” available, that were easy to forward to newcomers.
The chat was pretty clean from complicated integrations with other tools. When the chat gets difficult to use, conversations stop.
Some channels were more moderated, such as #releases channel and #demo channel, while others were more open for any kind of conversations.
How to engage people in your chat
In an organization with many people, it can be difficult to get the people you want onboard in the chat. They probably have other things on their mind, they have their own groups and tools, or have no experience using the chat tool you use.
These are ways I find helpful to involve new users in the chat:
Move conversations from email to chat. When I get an email from someone I want to work with, I respond in the chat, and make sure that whoever sent the question knows how to use the chat and have everything installed and working.
Help the users to solve any issue that arises when trying to get into the chat to read the message.
Point to channels in the chat, such as #releases or #demo when they ask a question. “You can find the answer here..”
I help newcomers to turn off unnecessary notifications. Push notifications are often on by default, and can soon be distracting, which makes newcomers to shut off the application instead of the notifications.
Have some fun
People and groups of course need to have some fun together in order to collaborate. The chat platform is one more place where this can be supported.
At places where I’ve enjoyed good conversations between groups, there has always been ongoing jokes in the chat, and informal channels such as #lunch #afterwork #cutevideos
I believe this follows when there is an open and friendly attitude in the rest of the chat. And one or a few driving spirits in the team who make it happen.
To laugh together is an ice breaker and enabler. Would you send a cute cat video (or something else lovely or corny.. ) in your chat? If not… why?
Photo by Kedar Gadge on Unsplash
Read also my other post about collaboration between analyst & product teams:
1: Demo your data
2: Go see!