Creating an Annual Communication Plan


Unless you are in a senior role in the communications group or department you comm plan graphicprobably never had to make an annual communication plan before. Recently I  was asked to help two people (working in mid-sized or small companies) who never had to make an annual communication plan before but were expected to create one now. Perhaps you are also tasked with making one? Or maybe you are asked to comment on one?

The basic idea behind an annual communication plan is to ensure that someone is planning to address targeted communications activities to various groups of people across all the available platforms that are used by the group or organization. The plan should typically include specific mention of dates, details of the intended contents of messages or specific focus areas, and be specific about who is responsible for each of the actions. That way everyone involved in executing activities from the communication plan is aware of his or her role and when deliverables would be due. Planning to communicate is not the hard part of the assignment as most people are quite creative during brainstorming sessions related to what we can do and how to do it. The hard part is to write it all down so that we all know what will actually happen after we leave the meeting or brainstorming session.  And the next hard part is to apply self-discipline to execute according to the plan and update and review the plan on a regular basis.

The Annual Communication Plan template that I am sharing (click on the blue link to open the template), shows various aspects to consider when you look ahead to a year of planned communications. Of course, we know that plans are subject to changes happening around us on the project or changes in the company or in client needs. This means the plan is not static and you should review the plan on a regular basis to add or change items as needed. Remember to share updates you made with other team members who have activities assigned to them.

comms plan first columnThe first column in the template contains a few communication channels to consider as you look at the messages you want to share and the intended target groups that your messages should reach. Ensure that you are using the right communication channels that you know to be in broad use by your intended target group of readers. And each of the headings could have multiple options for example meetings could be global meetings, regional meetings and local meetings where you would like the same message or a different version of the main message to be shared.

coms plan headers left side

The columns across the top of the template are mainly there to document who is doing what by when and when you are ready to publish and have published or delivered the message. This helps you measure progress on planned activities and shows where you may need to apply special focus to avoid delays.

The published date is important, not only to ensure that your intended actions were completed but also to measure the success of your communication activities after the activity has been completed. comms plan measures.JPG

In this simple template, the only measure shown is based on the number of people reached. There are many more ways to measure the outcomes and success of your communication actions including:

  • How many people took a further action after reading or watching (if video) or listening to (if podcast) your message (i.e. liked it, clicked on the button for “more information etc),
  • How many people used it as a reference or highlighted it by linking to it, sharing it or tagging it,
  • How many people visited your website right after you have published or shared a new message?

Add additional columns to your plan (as needed) in order to capture any other important measures that you wish to track per message, date and communication channel.

General tips which may help you as you use this template to create your annual communication plan:

  1. Plan to share the same message in many different ways to optimize the number of times and ways that your intended audiences receive the message during a relatively short timespan.
  2. Not every communication message can be forecasted and planned over a 12-month period but without at least a guideline of topics that you would like to share over a 12-month period, the chances of missing opportunities to impact your intended audiences are bigger. Remember, you can always update and make changes when unplanned events occur while you progress through your plan.
  3. Experiment with a mix of ways to communicate – create messages to be shared face-to-face with credible speakers and follow up with something online and perhaps also a film on your website.
  4. Do use metrics to track results against your goals. It is the best way to know what works and what needs to be improved. Having proven successes also adds credibility to your communication plan and activities.

 

When tasked with creating an Annual Communication Plan, you may never need to become an expert at creating this kind of plan, yet it is still in your best interests to capture your thoughts about planned communication activities, responsibilities, deadlines, and metrics in a concise way. This template is only one way to achieve this. Once you have created the plan in a structured way people can review it, comment on it and manage to it and it ensures alignment within the team as you make progress with your communication objectives.

 

Advertisements

Tips for new Facilitators


picture2Working with a group of people to accomplish structured outcomes previously agreed with a manager can be a daunting task. This is especially true when there are strong opposing views or a lack of communication (and listening!) in the group. I used to facilitate many sessions for a large global company and worked with a few colleagues who did similar work in other regions. The resource I am sharing contain tips received from my colleagues when I got started as a facilitator years ago. In turn, I have made it available to other new facilitators that I have encountered over the years. Now you can also benefit from this. (see inserts below)

Some assumptions made for these to be relevant:

  • As facilitator your workshop/session is part of a process. The session includes exercises designed to produce outcomes that would benefit the team. There is at least one (could be more) manager who have a vested interest in a successful outcome and who will also attend your session. These same managers are aware of the team and session process and have provided input to you in terms of their vision and needs from the process. Note: there may be more than one manager if you are facilitating a group process involving members of a client organization too and which may also be attended by the manager from the client organization.
  • Your role is to facilitate the agreed process and to re-agree next steps should the process somehow not be able to continue as planned or new information/changes trigger you to recognize that a change in timing/agenda should be considered.

TIPS for Facilitators:

tips-facilitator-1

tips-facilitator-2

tips-facilitator-3

How to stimulate participation by session participants?

  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Do a poll – where by raising hands people have to vote for one idea vs one or more other ideas
  • Count to 10 or more before you speak, let them bridge the silence with participation
  • When there is a question to you or a comment, defer it to the group – how does the group feel about this topic/question/statement?
  • Ask direct questions to specific participants whom you know (be sure) have experience in an area or on specific subject matters.
  • Summarize the points raised and ask the group to respond – agree or disagree? Correct or ..?
  • Divide them into pairs for a short discussion on a topic that pertains to what you just covered. (Gets them active after a period of perhaps monologue or exclusive dialogue.)
  • When the group seems lethargic consider an unscheduled short break
  • Do an impromptu energizing exercise (always have two or three of these in your back-pocket to employ when you see the need.
  • Expect some sluggishness in the period right after lunch for about an hour or so. Ensure your session design contains activities for this period – small groups etc.
  • Call it – sometimes a group is unresponsive, because everyone is thinking about an elephant in the room – some topic which should be discussed or settled which may not be on the agenda., but it is occupying the minds of everyone. If you know what it is, ask “Is ….. something we should discuss at this time?” if you do not know ask “Is there another issue that we should be covering at this time which may not be a scheduled topic?” [You would need to check in with the manager to ensure he wants to do it right away or later -schedule a specific date and time when he will deal with it. So call a short break if they tell you that something needs to be settled. To determine the”how” with the manager involved.)

These examples are not exhaustive, but they did help me out during those early years of facilitating sessions with groups and teams. I do trust they will do the same for you!

Starting right – new manager/leader and team


new team leader

A new leader or manager has to quickly connect with the team and understand the objectives and issues around the team and their tasks if he or she wants to be effective in the shortest time possible. At times the team may know the person promoted to be the new leader or manager. The new leader or manager may also be a hire from outside the company or someone who joined the team from a remote part of the organization where there had previously been very little to no interaction with team members. In all cases the team members may have concerns and wonder how the new leader or manager will help the team and them as individuals succeed going forward.

The resource I am sharing is a series of slides which can be used to facilitate a group session with the new leader/manager and the existing team. The focus of the session is to help them accelerate the connection and learning that needs to take place for the team to maintain momentum and reach their goals under new leadership. The session helps the team get to know the new leader/manager and voice their concerns. The new manager/leader also gets to know quickly what the team issues are and how the team feels about progress and possible team obstacles to success, which enables him/her to more accurately set the team’s priorities and focus areas for the next few months.

Starting Right for new leaders/managers link here

The purpose of the group session is :

  • Clarify expectations of manager and expectations of the team
  • Clarify team vision and objectives
  • Identify highest priorities for action and assign owners to resolve and report back

The resource includes some instructions for setting up the activities and also some timing estimates. The slides contain a basic ice breaker/check-in exercise at the start of the session. Consider whether to change this activity for something that better fits with the group/team that you are working with.

Depending on how many issues the team has, the size of the team and how much they already know about the new leader/manager the entire session can take anything from 2 to 4 hours. If you are the facilitator you need to watch the time. Sometimes the first group discussion can take much longer than expected – when they share their answers. This means you need to plan up front : If they go over the planned timing for that portion of the agenda, will you let the discussion continue and defer the rest of the activities to a later date? Or what will you change to ensure you stay within the contracted time with the group while reaching the goals and objectives for the group session?

If time allows I strongly suggest that you include a team meal at the end of the session. This would allow for some informal social interaction between the new leader/manager and the team members, which further solidifies interpersonal relationships within the team and helps the new leader/manager have a good start with the team.

 

 

Checklist for Team Leader on International Project


table final

Leading and managing a group of people at a single location is not an easy task and managers often tell me it is the people-side that wears them down. When your team is very diverse and located at different remote locations instead of at one location, the challenges and risks of the team not reaching goals multiply. The resource I am sharing today is a checklist for team leaders or managers/supervisors of remote teams and it focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on the the people-side.

Checklist for Team Leaders link

The resource lists a number of items to consider when you are leading a dispersed team. This may be a useful check for team leads or project managers to ensure they are taking into account the additional challenges that remote teams bring and are taking the appropriate actions and precautions to manage the interpersonal and communications aspects on such a project.

The checklist items are grouped by the following main topics:

  1. Critical Skills for Supervising International Project teams
  2. Setting Goals and Expectations
  3. Giving Feedback and Coaching
  4. The team
  5. Communication
  6. Establishing a Good Start

Working with international team members can be very interesting and it can be fun to learn about other cultures and other perspectives. However, those same interesting differences can make teamwork frustrating and difficult. The checklist shared here can go a long way towards helping you, as the team leader, take advantage of leading a diverse team while successfully managing the harder part of leading teams.

 

Team building – Define individual roles and responsibilities


blocks final

When your team comes together for the first time there are several items you need to discuss with them including the main commercial terms of the contract, the agreed project scope of work for the team, the agreed and approved budget, the schedule etc. The next step, which flows from these basic project aspects is to establish who will be responsible for managing or accomplishing each of the key project outcomes.

The resource I am sharing here describes a process you can follow as part of an early team-building activity to clarify and agree team roles and responsibilities down to individual levels.

Team-building Activity – defining individual roles link

Additional thoughts:

  • You can use this activity after first running a sub-group responsibility definition activity which defines project interfaces or relative responsibilities for decisions and processes by functional or other sub-groups on the team. (see Defining team interfaces) Using this sequence means you drive home how the overall project outcomes are managed by sub-groups on the team and then right down to individual roles in those same processes.
  • This exercise can also be used when there is a change in phase or focus on the project or the composition of the team changes greatly. At those times it is important to keep the team’s momentum going by ensuring that roles and responsibilities remain clear throughout the changes.
  • Clarifying individual role and responsibilities also supports the performance management process. When individuals receive feedback regarding their performance it is important that they already understand what performance and role expectations are.
  • Having individual roles documented can also support bringing new team members up to speed fast. It helps explaining expected team functioning and who they should talk to while making their contributions to successful team outcomes.

Project teams simply function better when everyone understands how he or she is expected to contribute to the team’s goals. This activity does help greatly in clarifying expected individual contributions. I do suggest you distribute the final agreed pages with the team for reference purposes.

Team Activity – Defining Project Interfaces


Most projects are made up of several sub-groups of people. These sub-groups of people have interfaces with each other whereby they exchange and share information, documents and outcomes. They also provide and request support from other groups to start,complete and execute a project process. Most of the time project inefficiencies occur across the interfaces with other sub-groups on a project.

The best way to ensure efficiency and effectiveness across project interfaces is to increase transparency around assumptions that people within the various project sub-groups may be operating under and to test whether they are accurate and understood by others on the project.

Note that project interfaces can also refer to processes that involve others within the home office environment or the company structure. These “external” groups to the project may be setting high level processes and goals, which creates the environment that the project team needs to operate in. The diagram below shows how interfaces can be seen from a project perspective. The overlaps shown in the circles below indicate areas or processes where two or more project sub-groups have to participate in order to successfully complete the process.

team interfaces diagram

The Team-building activity that I am sharing helps various interfacing groups understand differences that may exist between how they think they should be interfacing with other groups and what the actual expectations from other groups are.

The Team-building activity to define project interfaces resource link.

This activity can be used in many different ways:

  • Clearing up interface issues among geographically dispersed groups working on the same processes or projects;
  • Clarifying how different functions should interface with other one another on a project, a work process or any other initiative/objective they are working towards;
  • Clarifying any differences in perspective among cultural groups or different shifts of people in the same function working on the same tasks as that function interfaces with other functions to complete specific work processes; (in this case it is a function checking itself for consistent execution of the same work processes performed at different locations or during different shifts.)
  • Getting clarity on how projects should interface with each other and/or the corporate groups they work with in order to successfully execute processes with multiple interfaces.

The reason that interfaces with other groups tend to be where delays and frustrations occur is because it is common for people to analyze and optimize processes only for the portion that they are responsible for. This perspective means they often overlook how their efforts impact others or how the efforts of others impact them and they fail to take the bigger picture into account. This activity will support efforts to improve the outcomes of inter-group processes as you work towards greater successes on your projects and initiatives.

Team-building Activity for non-homogeneous project teams


 

colored circles

Your project team is very diverse and you are concerned that this may impact how your project will be executed – will you be able to achieve your overall project goals or will there be a lot of internal strife, misunderstandings and disagreements? Will they work against each other and have the wrong assumptions about each other and the project goals and metrics? If so, this team-building activity may help.

The resource I am sharing is a team activity you can use to help project team members understand that different groups of people can have different views on the various aspects of running a project and also the relative importance of key project processes. This activity makes those possible disconnects transparent which helps you lead clarification discussions with the team/group. While the activity itself is quite simple, the discussion that comes after the initial assignment is where the value lies and that will take up most of your time.

The resource link for team-building activity, non-homogeneous teams.

Further tips and ideas:

  • You can segregate meeting participants in various ways related to the most important diversity aspects you wish to highlight within the team. As a variation you may choose to run the first part of the exercise more than once and each time segregating the group of participants in a different way. Options include: cultures, locations where they are from or live, level of life experience, function etc.
  • There are several topics listed for discussion towards the end and it would be wise to prioritize them for your own convenience, as a facilitator. If you are running out of time towards the end you can then ensure you are covering the most important topics during the time you have available after the initial portion of the exercise.
  • Be sure to stress that diversity is a plus for team creativity and finding new solutions. The objective of this activity is to help work out some of the downsides of diversity without marginalizing any one or group or impose judgement.

Non-homogeneous teams may be tougher to manage than homogeneous teams, but the pay-off in creating new and innovative team solutions coupled with individuals learning new skills and perspectives from other team members can be very rewarding. As a team leader or facilitator you just need to make sure you have the right tools, such as this activity, available to help non-homogeneous teams succeed.

Ice Breaker for international teams


all hands2

In our globalized world it is very common for employees to have regular contact with people from other cultures and at other international locations. When you are executing projects on a global scale it increases the importance of ensuring that communication and collaboration go as smoothly as possible in order to meet your project objectives. You may be surprised to learn that even seemingly basic project concepts could have different interpretations across cultures and sub-cultures. This exercise that I am sharing with you focuses on intercultural aspects of international teams and can help by clarifying assumptions and expectations at an early stage of your project.

The ice breaker for international teams resource link.

The ice breaker  can be a good item to include in a project kick-off meeting or when you are adding a few more people from a different office/location. This exercise also works well when you have team members who are from the same country, but participating from a different office. (It is not uncommon for offices/locations to have slightly different approaches). When I think of cultures I also include sub-cultures such as between different regions in the same country or different functional groups in the same company. (This link can provide context if you want to look at cultures more closely.)

The resource/ice breaker that I share lists several project-related scenarios which can be used to explore differences in approaches and mindsets within your project team. You may also choose to use the topic as an on-going exploration within your team where you could select one of the topics at each of your meetings instead of trying to cover all of them during a team-building event.

Early exploration of different mindsets and assumptions among team members can be a valuable foundation to ensure smoother relationships and better collaboration on your project.  Feel free to suggest additional important scenarios to consider for discussion after you have reviewed the attachment I shared in this post.

 

Negotiation Preparation Worksheet


 

arm wrestleNegotiation skills is something that most people can always improve upon. There are several training vendors who offer training and coaching solutions in this regard and each of them offer their own tools and tips to further development. The resource that I am sharing is more generic – it has evolved from own notes taken during several training classes and has been modified and added to over the years.

The Negotiation Preparation Worksheet can help both experienced and new negotiators to organize their thoughts and prepare for a negotiation. Having your notes available during the negotiation discussions can help keep you focused and help you avoid distractions and knee-jerk reactions during crucial moments and stages of the discussion. The resource is shared in a format that is easy to modify/improve so feel free to add your own additional considerations to support your own planning process.

The Negotiation Preparation Worksheet resource link.

Uses:

  • Preparing for actual negotiations.
  • In training sessions to train participants on how to prepare and demonstrate the importance of this planning during a role-play later.
  • Prepare for discussion with supervisor/manager on salary increase.
  • Document your thinking going into a negotiation to support a post-negotiation lessons-learned reflection later which can help you and your team to continuously improve upon your past performances.

Team Process Review Exercise


effective meeting

Most teams have challenges when it comes to ensuring optimal collaboration and effectiveness during meetings. It is true that many people are not fond of meetings and the list of pet peeves include that meetings are too long, do not reach any outcomes or agreements, are one-way conversations etc.  The tool I am sharing today can help teams become more aware of their particular downfalls and habits which contribute to having less effective meetings.

The Team Process Review Exercise requires the assignment of an observer to help make behaviors, team dynamics, habits and meeting inefficiencies visible to the team by simply observing them during a meeting. The assigned observer can be a team member (rotate the assignment to other team members for multiple team meeting observations) or it can be a trusted outsider (typically from Human Resources or Training & Development). The resource includes a template for the assigned observer to use when capturing impressions of the team during a meeting. The process of capturing observations, presenting observations and dealing with observations as a team is also described in the shared resource.

Team Process Review Exercise resource link.

Reflections:

  • The process is not that unusual – most experienced Organization Development experts have their own version of the attached process and tool. It does not really matter which specific questions are considered for observations or how exactly the team receives the feedback, the important part is to give the team a way to see themselves through the eyes of someone who is not participating in the meeting and thereby learning about themselves. The feedback information can be used for team improvements and also for individual learning. Individuals can learn how their own behaviors are contributing to team successes or inefficiencies and have the opportunity to consciously choose helpful behaviors going forward.
  • Typical team actions following the use of this process are: having a concise set of team meeting rules which is either permanently displayed in the team meeting room or displayed on a screen at the start of each meeting to remind them of the behaviors they have decided to emphasize or eliminate in team meetings; implementing specific roles such as for example a time-keeper for each meeting to ensure that meetings, discussions and agenda topics are not dragged out too long and that an additional meeting be set instead to complete some topics which were too complicated to solve during a regular team meeting.
  • If you have used team measurement tools on a team you may also have a session where the team becomes aware of the likely blind-spots it may have due to the presence of specific personalities and styles in that team (based on the specific team effectiveness tool you have used with the team). The sum of the individuals present in meetings can lead to the greater team having specific blind-spots, which can be mitigated once the team becomes aware of them and are able to take actions (i.e. assign someone to take on a specific role which may be “missing ” in the team due to its specific contingent of members).