For better or for worse, humans are social creatures, and no matter what their line of work is, they spend a significant amount of their time communicating with each other — be it to solve a problem, build rapport, or just to socialize. Quite naturally, communication plays an important role in work as well — a lot of time at the workplace is spent making and answering phone calls, writing emails and text messages, preparing and studying reports, participating in meetings, and so on. Developing a communications charter for your team or company allows you to regulate all these diverse methods of communication to ensure that they are used efficiently and effectively, no time is wasted, and all the participants can get their messages through clearly and consistently. However, before you sit down and write up such a communications charter, you have to understand what it should contain and how you can do it so that you don’t have to introduce corrections later on regularly.
1. Define a purpose
The purpose of a communications charter is to single out the preferred and accepted methods of communication within your teams and provide guidelines as to how team members are to communicate in specific situations. When done properly, it streamlines interactions between the employees, eliminates time wastage due to using multiple misaligned communication methods, and reduces the overall number of messages and helps people focus on their work. It may include but isn’t limited by the following points:
- When and how soon employees have to reply to emails.
- What issues can only be resolved face-to-face.
- What are the rules concerning WiFi usage for corporate communication.
- What situations allow the use of video/audio calls.
- How team meetings are organized.
2. Pay special attention to remote teams
Remote or virtual teams need a charter especially badly because they don’t have an option of face-to-face communication and are heavily dependent on how well their communication methods are regulated. There are many different means of remote communication, and you have to specify which are to be used for which situations, who and how should provide progress reports, how team members provide and receive feedback and so on.
3. Regulate public-facing communication
Mistakes and gaffes shouldn’t be present in internal communication, but they sometimes can be tolerated — after all, when everybody knows each other, matters can easily be resolved. However, when they happen in the full view of clients and other external entities, it really shows the company in the most unfavorable light. When writing up the charter, you should carefully delineate what can and cannot be mentioned in public channels and client-based interactions to make sure the team’s communication is always consistent and authoritative.
4. Alleviate cultural differences in communication
Teams that incorporate individuals coming from a variety of countries and cultural backgrounds often experience difficulties due to different communication styles accepted in different cultures and specific idiosyncrasies characteristic of specific cultures. For example, in cultures characterized by more authoritarian team structure, it is not customary for the employees to voice their concerns and complaints to the higher-ups. Even if they know that something is wrong, they still will be reluctant to do it. A communications charter for a team that includes members of different cultures should provide unequivocal directions for the situations in which employees should address their seniors.
5. Understand potential drawbacks
Although a charter can go a long way toward improving the quality of communication, especially in teams habitually suffering from problems in this area, it is just as likely to bring about issues of its own, especially if done without proper research. A poorly written charter can stifle creativity and out-of-the-box problem-solving, as people will feel that their communication is limited by outside forces. A charter that discourages social interactions outside of work topics will harm the establishment of rapport between team members, which can be detrimental for the long-term efficiency of teamwork. Finally, trying to introduce a cookie-cutter communication style of communication, especially when it comes to geographically scattered multicultural teams, can cause an effect that is opposite to what is intended — it will impair effective collaboration rather than improving it.
6. Decide what it will cover
Before starting to work on your communications charter, you have to decide what its end goal is and what aspects of communication it should cover. It doesn’t have to incorporate all the aspects of external and internal communication of your team. It can concentrate on specific aspects — for example, reduction of an overall number of emails used or unification of communication channels used for particular purposes. Or it can take a broader approach and make sure that all internal communication is carried out at a certain efficiency and appropriateness standard. Take time to clearly point out what exactly the document covers and what situations it applies to.
7. Decide on the format
Make sure the entire charter is written in the same manner and not as a mishmash of different approaches. For example, if you want it to list the best practices you want to be used by all team members, keep the entire document practice-based and avoid generalizations. If you want to assign broader standards and introduce overarching principles, don’t intersperse them with specific instructions — or at least separate them into different parts of the document.
8. Get feedback
Your team members are the ones who are going to communicate following the road map introduced in the charter, which means that the majority of them should be okay with what is offered to them. It doesn’t mean that you should follow their every whim, but listening to what they have to say can be instrumental in creating a charter that will not just standardize your internal communications, but also take into account the concerns and suggestions of the team members.
As you can see, creation of a communications charter is by no means a simple procedure. You cannot just take a document used by another team and apply it to your own one. It should take into account your industry, the specifics of the way you do business, what kinds of people you have in your team and many other factors.
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