Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication

What’s the difference, which one to choose and how to establish effective communication within the team 💁‍🙇‍

Have you ever had a feeling that some topics or questions should be discussed in a different way?

For example:

  • there is a pending issue which should be resolved in minutes and somebody sends an email when he could just fire a @channel on slack
  • impatient team member writes a 500-word essay about quarterly planning on slack and pings for immediate response

Below is my take on Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication, which one to choose for different kinds of discussions, which tools to use and how to implement them within the team.

Synchronous communication

Use Slack, Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram — any tool which looks like a chat

Used when there is a pending issue which requires an immediate reaction. In this case, stakeholders need to have a common understanding of what is urgent. Also, they should use the same tool and be present.

Fits for low-stakes decisions.

Short questions and answers. The subject of the conversation changes fast — in hours or days.

Asynchronous communication

Use E-mails, Google Docs, Confluence, Jira — anything where you’re not supposed to answer immediately

You can use slack but don’t be frustrated if you won’t get the immediate reaction. Also, a good way to use slack for asynchronous communication is to keep the theme based channels. For example, you have an important decision to take or case to solve. You can create a channel and keep all conversations regarding this topic there. Set the topic for the channel and explain it for all channel members. You can write long messages and don’t require immediate answers.

If you notice that conversation starts to lose its focus, simply ask your buddies to move all gifs and non-relevant comments to another channel as you’d like to keep this channel only for discussions about the mentioned topic.

  • Fits for high-stakes strategic decisions.
  • Long questions and answers. The subject of the conversation stays the same for a long time — weeks, months and even years.

How to establish the efficient way of communication in the team

Define the communication channels for the different kinds of questions/topics/issues 

Build the matrix of conversation subjects and communication channels. Write there which issues will be discussed on slack, which on jira and which through the e-mail. You can add there “time to answer” (2h, 1d, 1week) or just add sync or async.

Bring the team on board and ask for feedback

Explain to them why it’s important to have a common understanding of where and how you could talk about different topics. The team should know that finding the right way for communication is the key to effective collaboration. Show them that they will get more value and less frustration if they will know what to expect from each other when discussing the issues in a more structured way.

For example, they won’t be frustrated by not getting the immediate reaction on a slack channel for the request that was defined as non-urgent and the response time was defined as 2 days. Also, they could get more value from the meaningful conversation regarding important topics through the email. Don’t forget to let the team discuss and agree on the communication channels and rules.

Be consistent

Once the rules are established and agreed within the team, start to follow them. Changing the habits is hard and you’ll definitely have pitfalls. If you’d like to get the most from the structured approach to communication, you have to be consistent with the execution of those rules. Don’t be afraid to say something like this:

“Thanks for the question and 2 pings, let’s move this conversation to email (another channel, google doc, confluence) where you could give more detailed information about the issue and I’ll be back with the answer till the end of the week”.

  • Evaluate and adjust. Not all rules work and it’s normal. If you’ll notice that you have to move some conversations to the synchronous or asynchronous way and this will bring more value to the team, just do it. The key is to help yourself and the team to gain the most from the way you cooperate.

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