BL&T No. 063: Strengthening Collaboration Through Over-Communication

Ways of Working

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


"The more you share your experience, and the more you make your commitments public, the more you get back. If you share your love for another person, your love isn't lessened, it increases."

From "The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life" by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan [Book]


I used to keep a lot in my life close to the chest. I think it had to do with a desire to be independent and make my own decisions. Qualities I developed as early as I could talk, according to my parents. I wanted to play my own game and knew that sharing works-in-progress would invite input. I also liked the surprise aspect of sharing a big decision once it was final. My parents used to joke that one day I'd call them and say, "Hey! I'm moving to the West Coast” and go on to describe my new apartment and travel schedule. Similarly, I remember calling them to let them know I was proposing to Dana and that the diamond I had ordered was in transit to their house.

Over the years, I've realized that this approach is not always a good one, and in many ways, I'm doing myself a disservice. There are times when the surprise of a big decision backfires because when I share it, I get new information that may have helped me make a better one.

I’d like to think I’ve learned and these days, I practice more open sharing. For example, when trying to select our second car, I must have told anyone and everyone we were in the process of looking. Alongside my own hours of research, I learned a lot from others who had test-driven other cars or had more of an interest in cars than me. Ultimately, this insight led me to go a different route than I may have on my own. When looking for a house, I took the same approach. A week before closing, my open sharing led me to a lower interest rate, thanks to a conversation with Sei-Wook, Barrel COO/President.

When working in a team, I believe that more communication and open sharing could prevent most issues from ever happening. Maybe it's better to classify the type of communication I'm referring to as "over-communication." It goes beyond aligning on deadlines and next steps. It involves sharing information that may seem useless or low-priority at the time but makes all the difference later. I'll give you an example.

On Friday evening, I received an urgent message from an Account Director on our team about a technical glitch with a client's marketing setup. With a big Black Friday launch today, it was critical that the issue got addressed immediately. After digging in, the Account Director learned that the client had been aware of the glitch for days, trying to resolve it with someone on our team. When there was no solution by the end of the day, they decided to seek further help. By that time, it was beyond urgent. Luckily, we resolved the issue by the end of the weekend, but I just kept thinking, it didn't have to be this way...

I won't act like over-communicating is easy. We're already inundated with information daily, so sharing information that isn't pressing can feel like we're just adding to the noise. However, I'd like to think it works in reverse. The less we communicate, the noisier it gets.

When working in a team, the trouble with keeping everything to ourselves is that it creates gaps. Communication gaps lead people to live in a false reality and make uninformed decisions.

On Thursday, the Account Director and I had a call with the client involved in Friday’s mishap to discuss ways to improve our collaboration thus far. We had no idea what was brewing. From our perspective, everything was tracking in a positive direction then, boom. In other situations, those left out of the loop assume the worst. They think to themselves, "If I haven't heard an update on the issue, then it must not be getting addressed." Unfortunately, they may never get curious enough to close the gap and instead act with whatever information they have. This can end in all kinds of disaster, only adding to the noise as everyone attempts to pick up the pieces.

Communication gaps are what keep our minds racing.

As the ones working in secret, we only have ourselves for input. While we prep our work for the big reveal, we get nervous, questioning how it will land.

When we're experiencing the gaps, we lose focus on priorities, overwhelmed with unanswered questions. We become emotionally exhausted, worrying about how those around us perceive what we're doing. We grow resentful of our co-workers, assuming they don't care or aren't as dedicated as we are.

So, what do we do? How do we know what's worth communicating? Well, like most good things in life, it takes practice. A fun question to ask is, what am I not sharing?

I love the framing of this question because it assumes we're consciously choosing not to share information, even if that's not true. It forces us to face why we may be keeping something secret and consider what about it may be valuable for others to know at some point in time. Information like:

  • Experiments, such as trying a new agenda for a client planning session
  • Feedback, such as a client's praise for a recent hire
  • Updates, such as verbal confirmation that a client may need an extension
  • Works-in-progress, such as brainstorming next month's marketing calendar

Perhaps I'm optimistic, but to me, when you over-communicate, there's so much less that gets in the way, and much less will go wrong. And, if it does? We probably knew it was coming. In that way, over-communication not only invites feedback that can help us make more informed decisions, but it gets us out in front of everything.

When we're in crisis mode, we're only ever looking a few feet ahead, reacting to everything coming at us. Like driving a car (or motorcycle), the further we can see down the road, the more prepared we are. The easier it will be to avoid unwelcome surprises. Over-communication helps us see 30, 40, 50 feet down the road. The client mentioned they might need an extension? Let's talk to them now and see what's going on. Are they aware of how that may delay their website launch?

Once we return from the Thanksgiving holiday, I'm eager to find ways to practice over-communication with the team. One habit I'd like to build is asking ourselves in standup every morning: what are we not sharing? Then, I imagine taking our responses and sharing them with the rest of our leadership group. I'm not sure what gaps this exercise will fill, but that's the beauty of putting it out there.

Lesson? Over-communication strengthens collaboration. It helps us close gaps before they arise. It keeps us ten steps ahead, so we always know what's coming. It puts us in a proactive position vs. a reactive one, giving us space to stay focused on our priorities and engage the group as we move toward a decision.

Thought Starter

What am I not sharing? Why? How might sharing this information benefit the group?

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