I strongly believe that open communication is the key to successful projects and team wellbeing, even though it feels hard sometimes – and most surely also is hard. Open communication is one of the values recognised in the Solita Project Lead Manifesto part 4: We communicate openly in every situation and it is also the value that resonates with me most. I think that everything is connected to open communication and that’s why I see it so important for me to develop my skills and use most of my time in my role.
Open communication is hard in the role of a Project Lead because it requires a lot of different things:
- Looooots of time: you need to use a lot of time for thinking, about what to say, how to say things, when to say things, to whom to say things and in which kind of situation to say things.
- Knowing your team members: what they need, how they process information, what kind of information they want and what kind of information they need.
- Good understanding of what you can communicate: how not to overcommunicate or be too open, and actually knowing what kinds of things are open e.g., contract-wise.
- Good self-esteem and courage: openness means that you need to be open and honest to yourself, which is not the easiest thing.
Also, openness is something that is heavily expected especially in the role of Project Lead – if a team needed to choose, whose responsibility open communication is, it would choose Project Lead. The reason for this is that the Project Lead most probably has the most information related to the project and decisions that will be affecting the team. Also, because the Project Lead role is a leadership role, the Project Lead is expected to show example – also in open communication.
In this blog post, I will tell you how open communication is reflected in my work as a Project Lead in Solita, what it brings when communication is open and what kinds of things are hard in open communication. I will also tell of what makes open communication possible altogether and give my pro tips on how to create openness.
Everything starts with psychological safety
It is important to understand that open communication is not something that just happens or something that is an easy task to do. It requires a lot from the company culture that you can be open. It is super hard to communicate openly as a Project Lead, without having a feeling of psychological safety, because openness requires a lot of speaking up. Without that, you are just communicating without saying anything.
In Solita, one of our core values is courage and I must say that I can feel it in my work. I believe that courage is at the core of psychological safety because when the culture knows the value of courage, it produces openness and via that psychological safety – everyone is welcome to be and communicate as they are and nobody needs to be afraid of being judged somehow. On the contrary, everyone is encouraged to share things that matter. Also, in Solita, we are not afraid of making mistakes, because we understand, that in our business, mistakes should happen so that we are able to do the best innovations – and be humans in general.
Openness is different with different people, even though the core message is the same
It’s essential and hard to recognise, what and how to communicate to different people that you are working with. Still, some things are easy to keep in mind when communicating: basically, you don’t communicate in the same way (or even the same things) inside your own company and with the customer. Besides that, it is important that everyone has the same information one way or another, even though everything is not said to everyone and not the same way. For example, hard topics e.g., related to some specific people or business decisions that are discussed in a steering group just cannot be shared with the team, not because it’s not their business but because it could be sensitive information that should be treated carefully. Also, on the contrary, you cannot share detailed information about team members’ private lives in the steering group with the customer. Still, in the role of a Project Lead, it is super important to focus on delivering the same information in different ways – it doesn’t break openness, even though you are not saying exact same things to different people.
This is it! Open communication in practice
In practice, these five things are my approaches to open communication:
- I prepare hard and/or large topics in advance. If there’s anything that I see 1) is not an easy topic 2) requires thinking 3) possibly affects the future 4) is not easy to freely explain, I prepare for that. I think the case through, what I want and need to say, write it down, think the situation of where to say it and then – say it. Also, after saying that, I do my best so that everyone feels safe to ask and comment whatever is on their mind. With this, communication is effective but most importantly there is way less misunderstanding when things are not just randomly said out loud. Of course, sometimes it takes too much time to prepare for communication (at least, for me, it is sometimes typical), but in most cases, it is better to be prepared than not to be.
- We keep others up to date on what is happening in everyday life. This is something I learned from my team members when I joined the team I am currently working with. I have found that it also makes more room for open communication on hard topics when we share just normal everyday things, such as I will be on a long lunch, I will be running errands for a couple of hours, I need to install a new washing machine etc. This kind of openness also reduces guessing about what is happening in the project, and it releases time for things that matter – for the actual work.
- I don’t mystify my work, but I am telling openly of what I am doing. With this kind of action, I am part of the team and not some manager somewhere. With this, I do my best that my team members know what I am doing and what kind of things are on the table that are affecting their everyday lives. Of course, I am not succeeding in this every time, for example, it is super easy to overshare things and there could be too much information available. It is also not very easy to know, how to communicate about things that are not allowed to be shared but are affecting team members.
- I am bravely addressing issues that I see that need to be fixed. In the Project Lead Manifesto, it is super wisely said that addressing issues means that we care. I just love that. It’s never nice to discuss topics that you feel are hard and include a lot of emotions, but in my experience, in the long run, it is always worth it. You cannot hide from the problems if you want them to be solved. That’s why I have decided to trust the process in this.
- Finally: I am talking about my feelings and insecurities when I have failed and when I don’t know something. Of course, I fail with this almost every day, but at least I’m trying, and that is more than enough. As already mentioned at the start of this blog, the Project Leader role is a leadership role and without showing an example in this issue you cannot expect openness from others. Also, when showing openly that things are not easy, it makes room for others also be open and honest.
Pro tips for being more open in your communication
My five cents for open communication:
- Start with easy things: share minor everyday things with your team, for example, telling, the team if you are away for a couple of hours during the day.
- Make preparations. Easy? Not. Worth it? Yes.
- Say out loud your feelings when talking about a hard topic, e.g., this is hard for me because this is a hard topic, I do my best to tell you about this, let’s figure out this together…
- Ask, if you were clear and understandable or not. It’s more than human not to be able to say everything right every time, so it’s also more than okay to confirm of what to specify.
- Be merciful to yourself. Open communication is hard and feels hard. Still, I believe in you!
I want to encourage you to be open in your communication, because even though it feels hard (and most surely it will be hard), it tells that you care and it causes good things – well-being, innovations, better business, happier people – and impact that lasts.
This was the last post in the Project Lead Manifesto series, we hope you found the content enjoyable and gained a deeper insight into the role of a Project Lead here at Solita.
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