How Effective Communication Strategies Help Engineering Leaders Align Teams?

Ravi Bhim
Ravi Bhim
September 27, 2019

How Effective Communication Strategies Help Engineering Leaders Align Teams?

One thing distinguishes the productive engineering team from the team that falls short. It's not technical expertise, big ideas, or even experience. The biggest key to team success is alignment.

Alignment is easy to define yet difficult to achieve. It requires a whole team—whether that's a project group or an entire company—to use the same strategies in pursuit of the same goals.

Aligning Teams with Effective Communication

Effective communication and team alignment are two sides of a single coin. To be on the same page, each team should be sharing information both among its members and with all other related teams. As the leader. you are the hub of that network.

To function well as that central point and do right by your team members, you need to achieve certain goals.

Vertical and Horizontal Alignment

Vertical alignment happens when each team's operational strategies and prioritization directly relate to a company's goals and objectives. As an engineering leader, you have to understand the nature of those relationships and be able to communicate them clearly to project teams.

You also need to achieve horizontal alignment, meaning that all active strategies align with each other. A lack of horizontal alignment means that teams could be competing for resources or working toward contrary goals. Either of these conflicts will interrupt any existing vertical alignment.

For example, if you have one team working toward a goal of reducing expenses and another prioritizing an increase in production, the two teams are working at cross-purposes and will not produce at their best. Your task is to figure out if the two goals can be pursued simultaneously.

If it's possible to achieve these goals together, you need to communicate how it should be done. If not, you need to help your teams adjust their goals so that they align with one another.

Communication That Drives Goals

To achieve horizontal and vertical alignment simultaneously, you need to have teams that understand both their own priorities and the priorities of the organization as a whole.

Your organization has a finite set of resources. As an engineering leader, you are responsible for making sure that each team has the tools they need to work at their best. Effective leaders can accomplish this end without causing teams to feel like competitors.

If you can do this, your team will achieve operational alignment: knowing who is responsible for what and who has which resources at their disposal.

Mastery of Communication Channels

Communication within an organization happens across multiple platforms. Some are more appropriate for a one-way transfer of information, while others better support one-on-one or group conversations. When you're looking to align multiple teams, your choice of channel matters.

Face-to-face communication is the best choice for complex or in-depth conversation. It lets each party read the other's body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Effective leaders choose this method when they need to have an emotionally challenging conversation or clarify the nuances of a difficult concept.

Mobile communications happen over the phone. You might choose this channel if you anticipate questions or if you expect your tone of voice to be particularly important. For instance, if you have to change a team's approach, a phone call could help you present your point as helpful rather than critical.

Electronic communications happen over email, Slack, text message, and social media messengers. You might use one of these methods when you need to get a less personal message across in a more efficient manner. Group threads can be ideal for ongoing conversations between teams. Members can contribute to the discussion at their convenience while effortlessly leaving a "paper" trail.

Written communications let you distribute one-way information without clogging interactive channels. This information might include policy changes, project briefs, and inter-departmental memos. Recipients can still follow up one-on-one if they have questions, so it's not a closed-off channel.

Community-Building Across Teams

As an engineering leader, you need to facilitate alignment between teams as well as between levels. You have the power—in the words you use and the conversations you start—to determine whether your teams feel like part of a disparate entity or a unified community. Only the latter is compatible with organizational alignment.

To start, establish a culture of visibility. Create physical boards or online forums where teams can share their progress. Consider having a stand-up meeting daily where team representatives offer information that could help other teams make decisions for the day. Make sure these exchanges are focused on moving forward as a large group.

Facilitation of Seamless Project Transitions

The quality of an organization's alignment becomes most evident when projects change hands from one person or team to the next. Teams often hand a project off to the next group without sharing more than the basic facts about the account. Institutional knowledge—those little insights that people develop while working on a project—gets left behind.

As an engineering leader, you can encourage teams to keep more detailed records and be mindful of those who will work on projects in the future. Written items like pricing sheets, proposals, and templates can make a project feel more like an ongoing team effort.

Also, consider standardizing project onboarding and handoff strategies. Commonly understood and followed procedures are hallmarks of a well-aligned organization, particularly when these processes guide inter-team activity.

A Final Word

To be as effective as possible, teams have to be aligned with a common vision, a single end goal, and unified objectives. By drawing on high-level communication skills and encouraging collaboration, the effective engineering leader shows them how to get there.

To effectively lead the way, you must coordinate all vectors in play and ensure that, as different as individuals' task lists may be, everyone is working toward the same endpoint. You need to convey those points directly to help your team members keep one another as in the loop as possible.

All of the technical expertise in the world won't save a team if it isn't aligned. Only an engineering leader with strong communication skills can get it there.

Read this on Medium