A woman holding a cone and a magnifying glass, representing communications management.
How To Use Communications Management To Communicate Efficiently
A woman holding a cone and a magnifying glass, representing communications management.

How To Use Communications Management To Communicate Efficiently

Teams only perform as well as they communicate. If you have smooth and efficient communication, then tasks flow easily from person to person. However if communication is problematic, the process gets muddled, deadlines are missed and work quality is poor. These bad communication practices will hurt your team morale and culture if left to languish. That’s where communications management comes in.

Unfortunately, communication problems are hard to detect – especially if you’re part of the problem. You see the symptoms, but you won’t understand the root cause until you look through someone else’s eyes.

Here are some communications management best practices you can use to ensure everything’s going smoothly.

What is communications management?

The term communications management refers to all the practices and processes that ensure accurate communication both within an organization and between multiple organizations. This involves everything from planning how organizations will use specific communication channels, implementing standardized processes, and reviewing ongoing communications. All this work goes towards reducing the potential for misunderstandings or missteps that could potentially be very costly for a business.

Communications management also plays a role in marketing and other customer-facing communications, since getting your message right is especially important when talking to customers. Whether you’re at a small organization where your communications are reviewed by your manager or a massive corporation where multiple departments need to sign off on messaging.

Communications management in project management

Since it’s such a broad term, communications management can apply to all sorts of situations, but it’s especially important in project management. Project managers are responsible for just about every aspect of a project outside of closing specific tasks. They’re also expected to figure out a solution when things go wrong.

So when it comes to how the people involved in a project — and its various stakeholders — communicate, it’s the project manager’s job to make sure everything’s clear to everyone. That means they’re the ones figuring out:

  • What information goes in and out of a project.
  • Who needs to be informed of project progress, processes, and more.
  • When information will be shared.
  • How that information will be shared.
  • Who will be responsible for sharing information.

These questions apply to keeping stakeholders in the loop, but also determining how individual collaborators will communicate amongst themselves. Are they using chat apps? Email? Their project management tool?

Curious which communication skills project managers need to know? Here’s a full guide.

The 3-step communications management process

Whether you’re a project manager, a team lead, or a department head, communications management typically stays constant. The finer details may be different, but the overall process won’t change too much.

Step 1: Plan communications

You’ve decided that your team needs stronger communication practices or you’re about to embark on a new project. Great! Now is the time to start working on your communication plan. Make sure to clearly outline expectations, best practices, and processes for everyone involved. Turn this into a document that everyone can consult, that way you’ll avoid repetitive questions down the line.

Step 2: Manage communications

Once you’ve made your plan, you need to keep a close eye on the communication channels you’ve outlined for your project. Occasionally, you might need to offer a guiding hand, or nudge people in the right direction when they deviate from your plan.

You should also treat your communications plan as a living document, meaning that it will likely evolve as the project goes on. Individual collaborators and stakeholders alike might find more efficient communications methods you hadn’t even considered, which will be an overall benefit for your project.

Step 3: Control communications

Think of this stage of the communications management process as traffic control. When managing communications, you’re ensuring everyone sticks to your initial plan. But controlling communications is more about volume. It means making sure communications are directed to the right stakeholders, at the right cadence. It also means keeping stakeholders from constantly reaching out to individual collaborators.

You’re the traffic cop, and you need to make sure everything keeps going smoothly.

4 communications management tips

Identify inefficient communication

The first step to fixing communication problems is learning how to identify them. Here are some signs of communication inefficiency:

  • Live meetings for topics that aren’t a priority
  • Frequent interruptions to workflow
  • Undocumented deliverables and deadlines
  • Tasks are discussed, but don’t get done
  • Long, drawn-out online discussions that don’t solve the issue at hand

As you can see, problems can exist both online and offline. The weaknesses can be attributed to either an institutional or process problem, or they can lie with a single person or team.

Once you’ve identified communication issues, here’s how to fix them:

If it’s not urgent, no need to chat in real-time

Meetings are a waste of time, except when they’re not. The key to efficient communication is knowing what deserves a meeting and what doesn’t.

Is the topic something that demands everyone’s urgent attention? Do you require live feedback from everyone involved? Will everyone benefit from participating in the meeting?

If you answered no to any of these questions, it’s probably better for you to share the information in a channel that doesn’t require real-time participation. Consider email or tools with strong messaging features like Slack or Asana. When you use these channels, you don’t interrupt people’s workflow. They can view the message and respond when it’s convenient for them.

Using these tools also provides a  record of the conversation that you can refer to later on. This is especially important in projects that require a lot of changes or shifting responsibilities, as it lets you pinpoint and track where issues in communication arose Which leads me to our next point.

If it’s not written down, it won’t happen

Let’s play a game called “toss in the air.” This is how you play: Your team agrees that an item or issue needs to be addressed. But nobody actually steps up to take responsibility, nor does the job actually get done.

To avoid this, record task assignments using project management software like Wrike or Trello. Clarify who is responsible for completing the task, and provide clear guidelines and due dates.  

If it’s not written down, it’s likely that it won’t get done. Don’t let great ideas that result from brainstorming sessions disappear We suggest setting up an “idea bin” or organized backlog of projects to help ensure accountability. Services like Google Sheets and Airtable are perfect for this purpose.

Don’t rely solely on online communication

As efficient as online communication is, it doesn’t solve everything. Sometimes online debates go on for days – even weeks – as team members talk asynchronously. Discussions can bounce back and forth over the message board or email, but the problem doesn’t get solved.

In such cases, its best to have a live conversation instead, either over the phone or in person. Following that, post the decisions made  online for everyone to see. Small business phone solutions can help with this by giving you a dedicated business phone number that can be used to route calls to your team members’ personal phones. This way, you can have a live conversation and resolve the issue quickly.

Online messages can also come off more negative than they were intended to be, as they are stripped of body language or tonal context. So if the debate isn’t getting solved effectively online, encourage your team to discuss it face-to-face.

Final Thoughts

If you want a fast, effective way to improve your team’s efficiency, start by encouraging efficient communication. Just the act of reducing meeting length and frequency already gives your team more hours to get things done. And when you supplement this by shunting non-essential conversation online and documenting all important talking points, then you’ve streamlined your communication process to be as non-obtrusive as possible.

Now, when the team assembles in the meeting room, all the meeting chair has to do is provide the most important updates, ask for consensus on a couple of key decisions, and hand them off to the responsible parties. The meeting doesn’t drag on, and people leave with a spring in their step.

Everyone wins!