The larger an organization is, the more responsibilities are divided, and the more it tends to work in silos. Within organizations, a large chunk of time is spent in explaining processes and decisions to keep everybody updated.
There are broadly three ways to do this. Here they are in the ascending order of effectiveness, but descending order of how good they feel in the moment.
1. Meetings and calls – To get all concerned parties into the same room, or on the same telephone line for a particular window of time. One person speaks at a time, and at a rate at which the entire room can understand what is being said. Meetings are expensive, and are often a waste of time. And yet, they happen so often because they feel urgent, and we feel good the moment we call them.
2. Emails – To send structured information to all the parties concerned as memos that they can read and respond to at their own convenience. Email is less expensive, but harder to moderate – anybody marked on it can take the email thread wherever they wish to. Emails carry some urgency and their flip-side is their tendency to interrupt deep work or to go off on unrelated tangents.
3. Documentation – The most effective means to convey information is often a well written specification, well organized minutes, a neat flow-chart or a crisp design document. When they are stored centrally and are up to date, anybody can access them instantly without any collateral cost to other people in the firm. And yet, good documentation is rare because it feels terrible and thankless.
Documentation is the most effective means to align on processes and information. We talk about getting everybody on the same page – not in the same meeting room or the same email thread. But writing a document also feels the least gratifying. No wonder most of us suffer unproductive meetings and incomplete documentation.
To move water uphill, you need a pump – such as clear incentives that encourage clean documentation. From my experience as a management consultant, I have seen tremendous untapped potential within organizations here.
Credits: To Tim Urban for the Instant Gratification Monkey below.