The Collaboration Hierarchy: Conscious Communication Channels

The fourth installment of a 5-part series

Last week, we talked about Promoting Collective Ownership. If you have the right mentallity, the next phase is to evaluate how your communication tooling is supporting your success.

The channels that we use to communicate have an immense impact on what is conveyed, how quickly, and with what intent. Communicating in person is the most effective mode, with face-to-face video serving as a suitable substitute for remote teams. In these modes, you have all the available communication expressions, with conversations supplemented by body language.

So much of our work nowadays relies on digital text communication. Before going into these channels further, it is important to understand that with text communication comes an inherent negativity bias.

The Negativity Bias

Ellis Friedman, in her article 3 Ways Your Brain’s Negativity Bias Affects How You Communicate”, discusses how our brains are built to react more strongly to negative perceptions.

This is especially true with written communication.  Here are a few examples:

  • “That’s not what we discussed. Let’s talk”
  • “Jim, I don’t understand this code you’ve written.”
  • “When are you going to be home?”

Researchers have studied marriages for years. There has to be a balance of Negative and Positive interactions in any relationship. One of the studies that they did looked at happy couples and how much they fight (negative) vs. having positive interactions.

The research found that there is a ratio that is required between Negative and Positive, 1 to 5, to sustain a relationship long-term.

We are hardwired for negative things to have a significant impact on us. The good news is that we can be aware of it and realize that the majority of the time, people are not out to get us. 

Remember what we said about trust. Give trust freely and assume that you are not under attack.

Now as we discuss tools, keep in mind how the negativity bias can affect each one and remember that these tools are all about communication and the foundation should be trust. Keep in mind that the tools that you are using can help or hinder building trust across your team.

Choosing the Right Tools

There are any number of tools that can be used in a collaborative culture. When your team is looking at communication tools, make sure to consider the role that those tools with play in your work cadence.

Email, for example, is probably the most common communication tool and with it come expectations. Unless specified, a response is expected within a few hours, but is often extended to a day or two later. The expectation is that most people are getting many emails and the topic might require some consideration before responding.

Messaging tools, by contrast, have a faster response expectation. Most messages are not going to require a carefully-deliberated response, but are moreso geared towards quick questions and updates.

Web conferencing tools set the expectation that everyone will be present on a call at a set time.

Knowledge sharing tools, like an internal wiki, have no time expectation associated with them but are expected to become an internal authority that displays process and team expectations for different project types.

Review tools set the expectation that there will be iterations on an item. If feedback is a key part of your development lifecycle, then the adoption of a dedicated tool can indicate that priority to your team.

When you are thinking about what tools matter most to your team, think about how your team is unique and what values your team prioritizes. Getting the right tools in place is not a silver bullet, but using the wrong tools can certainly handicap your development.

Creating a Digital Thread Across Your Tools

At SmartBear, we use a few extensively. We have a global team so we hold daily standups on Zoom, which enables face-to-face video conferencing. Many of our team members have never actually met face-to-face, but we can still establish relationships and trust by being able to see one another, recognize facial expressions, and hear the tone of voice. 

We also use Collaborator for peer reviewing code and documents. Collaborator helps our team build trust because we can see the work that others are doing.  It also gives us an opportunity to learn from other people and for other people to learn from us. 

For quick messaging, we use Slack and have a channel dedicated to our product. This enables our Support, Sales, Sales Engineers, Development, QA, Product, and Marketing to all communicate openly. It breaks down the functional silos and fosters collaboration.

Choosing the right tools can break down both communication and information silos. One of the biggest trends taking place in manufacturing right now is the idea of the “Digital Thread”. The concept is for there to be a complete record of communication throughout the manufacturing process. This allows the business to share information with the customer, as well as look internally for process improvement areas and establish benchmarks and KPIs.

Take a step back and look at your tools and workflows from a 30,000-foot view. There may be places where you can see significant productivity or cultural gains by adopting the right tool.

The best way to overcome objections to adopting a new tool is to actively listen to their concerns and use quality questions to uncover the real issue that they are opposed to it.  Once you understand their concerns, you will be able to build a case that addresses those concerns.  Plus, if you take the time to listen and build trust, they are more likely to trust you.


Next week, we will be capping off this series by talking about "Accelerating Feedback Loops". Stay tuned!

If you want to read the full ebook on "Building a Development Culture of Collaboration", you can download it here:


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