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Communication Planning

Communication Planning is extremely important in the building of High Performance Teams. A number of constituent groups need to be informed about the work and progress of the team. An early step in the formation of a High Performance team should focus on identifying an individual or sub-team to handle communication both within the team and with the parties that may be interested in the work of the team.

The working, or core team, needs to develop its own conventions and procedures for sharing information between each other. As ideas, research data, political forces, and team operating norms develop, the team needs to define its process for communicating with one another. Given that many teams are made up of members who are scattered around the country or around the world, it may be very impractical for the team to physically meet and work together for the entire duration of charter time-frame. A High Performance Team learns to take advantage of all the resources available to it. Communication technology is advancing very rapidly: telephone, paging, conference calling, E-mail, Voice-Mail, Lotus Notes, Video-conferencing, the World Wide Web, and emerging personal communication devices expand the team's optional methods of communication.

At a minimum, teams need to expect that fellow team members will, on occasion, be absent from scheduled team meetings. This can lead to serious disconnection's between absent team members and the team's work stream. One High Performance Team solved this problem by having team members pair off into two person "Buddy-Teams". Each team member is responsible for arriving a half hour early to update a buddy who could not attend the last team working session.

Beyond the communication needs of the team, are the team's communication needs outside its ranks. Decisions need to be made about the best way and how often to keep the sponsoring management group informed. If the charter is well written, it can serve to break down most barriers and resistance that form. Occasionally, the sponsoring manager may need to intervene on the team's behalf or rein in its horns when the team exceeds its authority. The communication to the sponsoring management could take the form of written status reports or formal presentations on progress, issues, and new resource needs. If the managing sponsor has a history of making sharp and frequent changes in direction, the team should consider writing the charter to authorize it to proceed from inception through implementation, explaining to the sponsor that it will only report results at the end of the allotted time frame. Otherwise, the team runs the risk of experiencing significant changes in its charter, with the very real probability of losing momentum, enthusiasm, and successful project completion. Of course, some events are so powerful and overriding, that a team may have to stop, reevaluate its charter and change direction. Sale of the company or the end of governmental funding might constitute such an event.

The team needs to carefully plan its communication with its larger community of interest. How soon should the extended team that will have to implement the changes need to become involved in solution development and implementation planning in order to gain their full cooperation and participation? The same question applies to all customers who will experience changes wrought by the High Performance Team. The community of interest includes people who will be affected by the changes the team makes and those in a position of authority to approve or disapprove the changes.

Finally, other non-involved organizational members need to be told about the work and charter of the team. People imagine all sorts of things are going on when teams form. Usually the imagined possibilities are quite negative. Any secret team is going to be discovered and the rumors are going to start flying. Therefore, the official position of the team needs to be very open and honest about what it is doing and why it is doing it. Work in progress should be explained as just that. That is "Here are some of the options we are looking at implementing, but we haven't decided anything yet." Honesty and openness are the only real defenses against the rumor mill. Honesty and openness also help to build up a culture based on trust, respect and support.

The communication plan needs to consider the best vehicle for communicating and should choose the vehicle and level of detail to suit the needs and interests of the various audiences.

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