Communication and Clarity are Cool
“What exactly do I do here? Can you tell me again because it seems to have changed?”
Coach K, the winningest coach in college basketball, retired this year. Mike Krzyzewski knew while bringing even the most egocentric teams together, that communication was paramount to the team working as a unit, “Effective teamwork begins and ends with communication.” In a time when effective, clear communication is everything, we must demand it in the workplace. Our organizational structures depend on communication to keep teams effective, trusting, and motivated.
One in-house came to us recently in need of a serious communication rehab. This IHA recognized that because they were so busy working on projects and content non-stop, they had become siloed and weren’t communicating across the broader team. Many IHAs find themselves in the daily grind of being so busy, meeting after meeting, that they have too much going on to communicate what’s going on. The doers on the team will communicate at a project level with the people they see day-to-day in their meetings. At the same time, well-intentioned leaders at the top may miscommunicate or fail to communicate the in-house priorities to the broader team, also a remnant of what happens when it gets too busy. And it’s always too busy. While this is a classic issue across most industries, not just IHAs, the rise in remote work is shining a spotlight on this challenge in new and unfortunate ways. Just how counterproductive is siloed communication to the bigger picture goals for brands and their creative teams?
What if Coach K only communicated the plays to half the team?
It should not be lost on most leaders that companies and teams do better when communication is better. The in-house agency is often one of the most fluid departments in the org- evolving, ebbing and flowing as business priorities shift. Many IHAs are small enough to help themselves do better, through more frequent, more purposeful and pointed communication. There can only be benefits for the leaders and the team:
6. Safety and confidence to be more creative and effective partners
But while the need for stronger communication may seem like a no-brainer, how often are leaders taking the time to communicate the teams’ roles and responsibilities?
What if Coach K communicated the positions to only a select few on the team, and the rest never got the information?
Coach K knew that each player has their role, and it’s the player’s responsibility to represent that role to the best of their abilities. In the last five to ten years, in-house teams have been taking on more roles and responsibilities. Leaders usually know the myriad of reasons for these changes- lack of head count, fiscal tightening of belts, and more- but the team members given the new responsibilities are often left in the dark. With lack of clarity on duties, lack of clarity on title, and fair compensation for said duties, how can they succeed? Blurred lines lead to confusion, leaving some asking themselves, “What exactly do I do here? Can you tell me again because it seems to have changed?”
As in-house fixers, we take communication rehabs very seriously. We know that structural breakdowns in communication can sometimes happen in unlikely places, and thus, it’s important to look in every nook and cranny of the in-house to uncover the underlying cause. After a careful assessment across this entire in-house team, a key insight began to emerge. In the midst of being so busy, this in-house had grown and evolved (as many do), with team members taking on new responsibilities over time out of sheer necessity to accomplish all of the work coming in-house. Everyone was essentially on a hamster wheel trying to get it all done, yet no one had taken the time to pause and assess the expanded roles and responsibilities resulting from the growth of the in-house.
Some roles had become an amalgamation of three and four roles combined with people stretched so thin across multiple projects they barely had time to think, leaving fellow colleagues hesitant about who to go to for certain things and when. The team had a “get it done” mindset, and get it done they did- with confusion, exhaustion, miscommunication and uncertainty about “who does what”. Everyone was hurtling white knuckled through the projects and the creative output and team morale began to suffer as a result.
Clear roles and responsibilities provide both purpose and confidence to your in-house team. But it’s not enough to assume that the team understands each other’s roles, especially in the fluid world of in-house creative agencies and content studios. If someone’s role and responsibilities have shifted, does that person know, and do their colleagues know as well? The roles and responsibilities should be communicated consistently and often to individuals one-on-one, as well as to the broader team at large. It’s critically important for personal/professional development, accountability to the team and to the business unit as a whole. When people know what they do, the in-house eco-system functions more seamlessly and harmoniously.
When in doubt, over-communicate. What would Coach K do?