Conversations for actions: effective coordination

Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

The problem

Generally, in order to improve the performance of their teams, companies spend a lot of money on better tools: last model laptops, bug tracking software… but they usually overlook the soft side of it. It doesn’t matter if a company uses Slack, Jira or Outlook if their employees don’t follow adequate communication flows that support proper coordination. Think about this scenario:

  • A colleague commits to fulfilling a task you depend on by tomorrow morning.
  • For an unknown reason, that person is not able to complete the task until late in the evening.
  • You’ve already left work so you change your initial plan to review the work as soon as you start the next morning.
  • You review the work, find problems that need to be addressed and write an email to that person…
  • … you receive an email back: “I’m on holiday. I’ll be back on 2 weeks.”
  • Ouch!

Conversations, conversations, conver… to solve it

One of my favourite chapters of the book focused on how “conversations for action” can help us have effective coordination when working in a team (at our workplace or any place where several people need to operate together to achieve a common goal). In my opinion, the book doesn’t offer big discoveries but reinforces the idea of how vital communication is and why we should never take anything for granted — specially, when we can easily check something with a colleague or our customer.

Preparation of Request

In this first step, roles will be defined: the requester as the customer and the producer:

  • The customer starts to define the initial conditions of satisfaction (what is expected so the request can be considered as accomplished).
  • The customer will provide a good insight into the context where the work is produced and why it is required: reasons for the request, priorities, time constraints, previous problems when approaching similar tasks, etc

Negotiation and Agreement

As a professional who provides a highly qualified technical service (sometimes as a consultant), I find this step very important.

Performance and Declaration of Completion

Commitments create new possibilities and close others. Once the plan of work is agreed upon, the future is changed for both parties. The customer trusts the task will be carried out so they can start focusing on other things. On the other hand, the performer will need to be careful with new requests that can cause some kind of disruption. For example, our manager could ask for new work but we need to be sensible and make sure we keep a manageable workload that allows us to accomplish our objectives.

Acceptance and Declaration of Satisfaction

Finishing the work doesn’t mean our communication cycle has finished. Now, the customer should carry out some kind of verification, ensuring that all the terms of the agreement have been met. If something is considered wrong or incomplete, the cycle may start again until the job is successfully ended.

Conclusion

Well-structured coordination like the previously described (or with some variations) is indispensable to organise high-performing teams.

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Jesus Larrubia

Jesus Larrubia

Senior Full Stack Engineer at @clevertech