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Unread 08-06-2018, 04:15 PM
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NShep98 NShep98 is online now
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Managing Effective Team Communication

I want to know how teams manage their communication in order to better facilitate a team discussion on the topic. Understanding that this is a broad question, I will attempt to break it down into several smaller questions. I suspect some of the answers may delve into team organization and planning as well.

1. How does your team communicate on a general scale?

I personally have experience with GroupMe and Slack. In what ways is the chat/platform of choice split up? I'm talking about things like subteams, leadership, announcements, general chit-chat, etc.

2. How do you keep everyone on the same page day to day?

The teams I have worked with both have had 6 days/week meetings to accommodate people with widely varying schedules. What methods are used to keep everyone kept up what is done on their "off days"?

3. How does team leadership communicate with the rest of the team?

How are executive decisions handled? Who gets a final decision on what, and at what point does a mentor/student leader step in to make that decision? How are these decisions relayed to the rest of the team such that everyone knows what was decided, and how do you make sure you have buy-in from the team?

4. How do you reconcile with people who don't often participate?

No one likes to be bombarded with chat notifications, so people tend to turn them off. The problem then becomes that large numbers of the team are not actively keeping up with communication, and this starts to become the norm for incoming team members.

5. How do you find a balance between the group chat and meeting time?

On one extreme, if a person is frequently not making an effort to attend meetings, I don't think they should get to chime in on every last discussion the same as a more active participant. On the other extreme, if a person is unable (i.e. not unwilling) to attend on a given day, I don't think they should be completely shut off from sharing their thoughts on what happened that day.

One example I have experienced when leaning toward the second scenario is, during offseasons, there are fewer meetings and smaller attendance per meeting (see question 2 about varying availability). However, since people are accustomed to relying heavily on these meetings to make decisions, most activity ends up trapped in planning mode whenever the team as a whole can't decide on a direction to go in.

6. How are group discussions held?

By this I mean in-person discussions, such as during kickoff when the most people are likely to be there. Who gets to speak when? When do you decide to move from one topic to the next? How do you make sure that everyone gets their fair input when many people want to speak and that the group keeps from moving to topic B when someone still has something to say about topic A?

I know there are a lot of questions here with potentially varying answers, so feel free to answer any or all of them, or offer clarifying questions.
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Unread 08-06-2018, 08:02 PM
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GeeTwo GeeTwo is offline
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Re: Managing Effective Team Communication

1. How does your team communicate on a general scale?
Slack and face-to-face (plus team policy documentation). This has worked OK for students and mentors; we are planning to create a text blast system for parents this year. We used text blast and e-mail a few years ago for everything but dropped both shortly after switching to Slack. On Slack, we have about 50 channels (I'm on 41, but then am doing most of the channel management since Isaac got his new job with Audubon.), which allows team members to join what they need. All members are members of #general (announcements) and #calendar (event reminders). All channel creation and reactivation is posted on #general. Any news from small channels which finds its way to #general are usually accompanied by a #link to the channel where discussion is taking place. We create channels for events, channels for working groups, channels for whatever we think a subteam will want to work on. We eventually archive channels which haven't had posts in a while and we don't expect to be resurrected next year. Of course, we have #random for non-robotics things of interest or humor, and one year we had #maryellensplayouse for stuff too random for random (I miss that channel). We also have #coachs_channel, which started out as a "direct conduit" to the head coach, but has eventually settled down to where people let the team know when and why they won't make a meeting.

Edit:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Stratis View Post
We stay away from apps like slack and groupme. The school has strict rules on student-mentor communications that those apps simply don't meet.
Curious. This is exactly why we switched from E-mail to Slack. But then, only teachers have school board e-mail addresses. We have a policy against direct messaging between students and teachers. Indeed, this is why we originally had #coachs_channel, so students could send messages to the coach in the light of day.

2. How do you keep everyone on the same page day to day?
There's a #projectplanning channel to keep up with and report progress on our GANNT chart. During build and competition season, punch lists based on the GANNT are posted in #robotbuild, to which most of the team is subscribed. Meetings and other events get regular reminders in #calendar. Each off-season project each has its own channel.

3. How does team leadership communicate with the rest of the team?
Announcements are usually made in person at a meeting and followed up in #general, or vice versa. Key mentors and student officers meet face to face in smaller groups each year (and sometimes more often) to coordinate decisions and decision authority. Where these lines fall shift each year based on the experience and capabilities of the students. We're more likely to fail by allowing students authority they aren't ready for, but we have missed the other way more than once. Team buy-in is regularly requested by "reaction" on Slack. If we don't get a significant fraction of the team checking in, we make a point of talking about it at a face to face meeting to see what the issue is, if any.

4. How do you reconcile with people who don't often participate?
A few gentle face-to-face reminders. If that doesn't work, we don't expect anything from them and move on.

5. How do you find a balance between the group chat and meeting time?
We try to start conversations on line, and end them face to face if the online conversation doen't come to a conclusion. Our list of regular offseason participants is well correlated with the list of members who monitor slack, so we are more likely to resolve issues on line during the off season than during build and competition.

6. How are group discussions held?
As most groups do, by assigning a "president/chairman" of each discussion whose main job is to keep the discussion single-threaded while getting everyone's opinion on the floor This is usually the leader who "owns" the current discussion - e.g. for strategy discussions, it's our strategy captain. It isn't always Roberts Rules (OK, it never is, 'cause I'm probably the only member of our team who has ever read them and I'm not a stickler.), but whether mentor or student, this is something people tend to take seriously. And if they don't someone else will call them on it.
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[Quoting brennonbrimhall]: We design a new robot every year, but we can't forget that we also design a new team every year as folks come and go.

Last edited by GeeTwo : 08-07-2018 at 10:22 AM.
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Unread 08-07-2018, 08:27 AM
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Re: Managing Effective Team Communication

Presentation that was given at last year's IndianaFIRST Forums at Purdue University:
https://www.indianafirst.org/files/E...munication.pdf
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Unread 08-07-2018, 09:41 AM
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Re: Managing Effective Team Communication

1. How does your team communicate on a general scale?

We stay away from apps like slack and groupme. The school has strict rules on student-mentor communications that those apps simply don't meet. No phone/texting, e-mails have to copy at least one other mentor and one of the students parents, and both students and mentors need to use their school e-mail accounts for all communications. It all goes hand in hand with FIRST's YPP. Apps like Slack would completely bypass that.

So, we use e-mail for weekly notifications/updates, lead by the captains. If we need to collect opinions on something, that goes into a google form to create a poll the team can fill out. Otherwise, we meet and talk about stuff in person. At events, the captains will typically organize a student-only group text for coordination purposes, and the chaperone's have student numbers for emergency use (and the students have theirs).

2. How do you keep everyone on the same page day to day?

Communication at the meetings is critical. Student leads spend the first few minutes going over what needs to be accomplished each meeting, and who is doing what. At the end of the meeting, we have a wrap up where each student (or group if they were working together) gets up and gives an overview of what they did so the entire team knows whats going on. Typically, the same student(s) will work on a project/mechanism from start to finish - if they miss a meeting, then we won't make progress on that part of the robot that day. It's usually more than one student to a mechanism, at which point they're responsible for updating their teammate when they miss a meeting. Unlike some teams, we limit our meeting time each week - I've heard of teams meeting 50+ hours per week, which is ridiculous. We meet 15 hours per week, which gives everyone time to get their homework done and enjoy at least a little time away from the team. As such, a majority of our students are actually at 80%+ of our meeting hours. With that kind of attendance, you can afford to let a mechanism sit idle for a meeting or two so the same people can keep working on it.

3. How does team leadership communicate with the rest of the team?

Decisions are announced via our weekly email and in person at the start or end of each meeting. Students are empowered to make almost all decisions, with mentors supporting them every step of the way. Exceptions to this are: Captain selection, lettering earners, and some of the logistics (transportation, hotel and restaurant reservations).

4. How do you reconcile with people who don't often participate?

That's the art of mentoring. Pulling people out of their shell and getting them to participate at meetings. By moving a majority of the communications to in person instead of electronic (there is never anything in our e-mails that is not talked about/announced at a meeting), mentors can work to pull people out of their shells and get them engaged with the team.

5. How do you find a balance between the group chat and meeting time?

We don't use group chat, so there's no question about finding a balance. We keep planning meetings relatively small (just mentors, captains, and/or other student leads), and have dedicated projects for the full team meetings. By empowering students to make decisions at all levels, you can avoid having to get the full team to agree on something before implementing it - you identify those that have the responsibility for the decision, and they make the decision. Other people will have other responsibilities for other decisions.

6. How are group discussions held?

Keep the group small and it's much more manageable. We make virtually no decisions as a full team. Strategy is decided by the strategy team. Overall robot design by the design team. Mechanism specifics by the group that's working on them. Generally speaking, when you have a decision to make or a problem to solve, you want a small (single digits!), odd number of people.3, 5, 7, 9. Organize your team around those sizes, and decisions become much easier.
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Unread 08-07-2018, 09:52 PM
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Re: Managing Effective Team Communication

1. How does your team communicate on a general scale?
We use Slack, but I've found similar success with Discord. The key difference is that most students haven't used Slack before and they can't message their non-team friends on Slack. More unfamiliarity but more focus. I stay away from email as much as possible because it gets messy fast.

2. How do you keep everyone on the same page day to day?
We start each day with a briefing and end each day with a debriefing. The way our schedule is configured, we also get a 40 minute meeting time (not build, but actual meetings) Tuesday and Thursday. We use that for planning multiple days in advance. We're gonna start with Trello (or something similar) next season.


3. How does team leadership communicate with the rest of the team?
Our team certainly comes to a point, meaning we funnel down to one captain (me). In our rookie year, most decisions were executive from me and my lead mentor (low buy-in). Going forward into our 2nd season, it will be more of a discussion amongst the subteam leads (controls, build, outreach, business, imagery), vice captain, and captain. The captain and mentors still maintain executive power, but take more feedback since the leads have experience now.

4. How do you reconcile with people who don't often participate?
You need X amount of build hours to go to competitions. If you don't want to do the work, you don't get to have the fun. We are categorized as a team, so we also get to boot people off if need be. People who care will stay active. If they don't care, we don't really want em.

5. How do you find a balance between the group chat and meeting time?
A lot of our meetings take place over Slack or at times when students are required to be there (as in its during the school day and its their assigned class). Keeping discussions on Slack allows for others to read back over it and chime in. I have yet to run into the problem of someone who doesn't do anything but has lots of hard opinions on every topic.

6. How are group discussions held?
Discussions need facilitators. Calling on hands, writing things on the board, giving discussion time, etc. I'm also considering using Google Forms to accept anonymous (or not) responses simultaneously and then putting the results on the board and talking about the intriguing ones.

I am a captain of a team going into their second year, so I may not have the most aged insight. However, I have A) been doing my homework and studying a whole ton about all aspects of FRC and B) have lots of experience with stuff like this, mostly through Boy Scouts.
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Unread 08-07-2018, 09:59 PM
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Re: Managing Effective Team Communication

Whoops! How our Slack is organized (because I can't figure out how to edit my message). We have #Announcements which can only be posted to by the captain, VC, and mentors. We have #random. We have #memery, which is a place for all of the meme-fueled energy of kids these days (which lets random be more of a "I don't know where this goes). We then have a channel for each event and each subteam, as well as a few private channels for leadership. Going forward, each project (our subteams are then divided by project) will get a channel. For example, we might have #bld-intake, #bld-shooter, #prog-vision, #prog-drive. The prefixs allow the channels to be grouped alphabetically by subteam.
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Unread 08-08-2018, 04:26 PM
kellyissure kellyissure is offline
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Re: Managing Effective Team Communication

1. How does your team communicate on a general scale?

We use Slack, broken down into specific channels, for day to day and general communication as there are pretty strict rules that govern adult-student communication by the school. However, when I was a student my team used Facebook Messanger as we didn't have mentors and we found it to be fairly useful. Keep in mind that this was a smaller team, so FB is not ideal for teams larger than 20 and has been falling out of favor of "youths" in terms of general use.

2. How do you keep everyone on the same page day to day?

The teams I have worked with have varied in how they do this. One used standups, others just had a general list of things that were needed to be done and was much more free-flowing.

3. How does team leadership communicate with the rest of the team?

In high school, we had a co-leadership where the business and engineering heads made decisions together and used a voting system with subteam leads when there were disagreements. However now as a mentor, I think that it's important to have all students aware of decisions that need to be made and to have participation. Now this doesn't necessarily mean that all minor decisions should be left to a democratic vote. Mentors should still have veto power for stupid decisions.

4. How do you reconcile with people who don't often participate?

We have a minimum hour requirement to attend competitions and I typically find that's enough to get kids who are truly interested to participate. People who care enough will stay active, and if there are other circumstances we deal with that on a case-by-case basis.

5. How do you find a balance between the group chat and meeting time?

Slack is extremely helpful in that people will have a record of what was discussed and will be able to be in-the-loop. However, if there is a major discussion/decision to be made or (obviously) robot work to be done, it's got to be in person.

6. How are group discussions held?

Meeting schedules, a moderator, if someone is talking you listen, etc. It's standard common decency stuff. If someone has had their hand raised for a while and hasn't been able to talk you, bring them into the conversation.
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