‘Group chat is like being in an all day meeting with random participants and no agenda’
Efficiency and effectiveness of communication is critical to organisational agility and how we use available tools to improve this can play a key role in digital transformation. Yet I’ve lost count of the number of organisations I’ve dealt with that have stories of attempting to implement some kind of new collaboration, communication or sharing technology, only to find that staff adoption, activation and retention rates fall far short of expectation. Many of us, for better or for worse, are wedded to email.
The only vaguely serious contender to email’s crown has perhaps been Slack, which has grown rapidly and which some have described as an email killer. Real-time communication like group chat offers up the prospect of faster decision-making and accelerated communication flow. Yet whilst we all get too much email and it has become the domain of commonplace bad habits (like inbox to-do-lists and reply-all), perhaps the kind of asynchronous communication that it typifies is not quite the enemy of agility that it is often taken to be. Perhaps it is more the case, as Jason Fried (the founder and CEO of Basecamp) says in this excellent summation of the pros and cons of group chat, that truly effective group communication comes from how you blend asynchronous with real-time communication tools:
‘All sorts of eventual bad happens when a company begins thinking one-line-at-a-time most of the time.’
Group chat, says Jason, is great for certain use cases (hashing things out quickly, getting critical information in front of people in a timely manner, adding fun to work, helping to nurture a sense of belonging). Yet when it is used as the primary method of communication across an organisation or group it can carry with it significant downside. Like follow fatigue, catch-up anxiety and FOMO, lack of depth in explanation, reflex responses, implied consensus, diversions and pile-ons, repetition, over-informing, lack of context at the subject level, rapid context shifting, difficulty of review, expectation of presence, and time-zone communication.
But I particularly liked his point about the perils of ‘asap culture’. Group chat, he says, conditions us to believe that everything is worth being discussed quickly and immediately when in reality few things are:
‘…ASAP is inflationary — it devalues any request that doesn’t say ASAP. Before you know it, the only way to get anything done is by throwing it in front of people and asking for their immediate feedback. It’s like you’re constantly tapping everyone’s shoulder — or pulling on everyone’s shirt — to get them to stop what they’re doing and turn around to address what’s on your mind. It’s not a sustainable practice.’
Real agility comes from effective prioritisation and management of organisational focus and attention, and not from attempting to do everything at once.