This is #Slack…and Here’s How Your Unit Can Use It

[This post originally appeared on www.themilitaryleader.com.]

One week spent in a military unit will show you that efficiency isn’t its shining characteristic. Not only does information bombard the unit from multiple levels of the chain of command, but within the organization there are hundreds of conversations taking place to prepare for, synchronize, and execute the myriad of events on the calendar. (And I’m sure the same is true for the business world.)

These conversations happen over thousands of emails, in meetings, face to face, and on the phone. And if your experience is like mine, almost everything goes out over email.

But what if there was a way to customize your conversations based on your team’s requirements instead of relying on the single “channel” that is the email inbox? What if you could have your conversations in the right place, instead of all over the place?

Enter #Slack.

Slack Basics

Slack is a web and mobile application that gives its members extraordinary flexibility to streamline the conversations they have. Using Slack, organizations can:

  • Create customizable teams
  • Organize conversations into channels
  • Send direct messages to individuals
  • Create private conversation groups
  • Customize notifications
  • Share and collaborate on documents
  • Search conversations and documents
  • Integrate social media applications

Slack is what you wish your email could be, without the depressing, overwhelming feeling of insurmountablility. But it’s even more than that. It’s like creating email inbox folders for specific topics or events (like most of us do anyway), then inviting all the relevant team members to participate real-time as the topic or event progresses. By putting the right people in the right conversations, Slack instantly flattens any organization.

Let me give you the bottom line, then a bunch of ways you can use Slack in your formation.

If you are frustrated by a lack of flexibility in coordinating and communicating, you need to look into Slack. You’ll have to shed your allegiance to traditional communication avenues and adopt a mindset of creativity and innovation, but you won’t be sorry. (Honestly, you may not even realize how hamstrung your organization is until you play around with Slack and experience its form and function.) And now…

A Long List of Ways to Use Slack

Channels. Use channels as a way to narrow the conversations to the most relevant people, specific events, or topics. A unit might have Slack channels named:

  • Unit Leaders. Collaborate with leaders at any level in the chain of command (Platoon Sergeants, All Officers, Bravo Company NCOs). Yes, you can do this in email, but Slack is a live chat, searchable, pushes notifications to mobile and desktop, and has a better user experience.
  • Training Information/Discussion. Here, you can brainstorm training ideas for upcoming range time, push out the latest guidance from Range Control, send the draft Training Meeting slides, or give instant feedback on the progress of training.
  • Announcements. Quickly let everyone know the boss is in the area or share big news events that might have an impact on the unit.
  • Administrative Updates. Get the latest personnel and staff info related to the unit.
  • Maintenance & Sustainment. This is the Executive Officer’s channel to keep the maintenance and support knowledge going strong.
  • Holiday Party Planning. Got a big event coming up? Bring in everyone involved (including spouses) to share ideas, report progress, give feedback on flyers and design, and share social media posts.
  • Calendar Updates. Use this channel to push calendar changes throughout the entire formation, not just one level down.
  • Deadlines. Gently remind everyone that the slides are due, the boss needs the report, and that they’ve got to order ammunition for the big training event next month.
  • Resources. Give your leaders an easy place to highlight valuable resources they find.
  • Rumor Control. Here’s a channel for the command to personally respond to rumors and hearsay. Imagine how much clarity could be achieved if leaders could squash rumors as soon as they appear.
  • Families. Here’s a channel for spouses and family members to talk directly to leaders.
  • Good News Stories. Need a way to pull good news stories from the entire formation? Let leaders publish their team’s accomplishments instantly and directly.
  • Working Documents. Bring in leaders from all levels to provide input on critical documents like policy letters, training guidance, and operations orders. Slack integrates with applications like Dropbox and Google Docs and can upload any file you can attach to an email.
  • RFIs. In a meeting and need a quick answer? Open Slack, select your custom channel for subordinate leaders, instantly send your request, and watch as the answers populate in real-time. No waiting for emails to trickle in.
  • Idea Generation. Use this channel when you’re facing a complex problem and need ideas from across the formation. Send out the background info and let people churn away at potential solutions. MDMP anyone?
  • Suggestion Box. Gather the best ideas for improving your unit by creating a virtual suggestion box.
  • Professional Development Lessons. Ever had that moment of brilliance with no one around to tell it to? Post it to your unit’s Lessons channel and create a repository of good ideas the whole team can discuss and implement. And if the conversation drifts to another topic, break off a new channel, assign a #hashtag, or create a private group to continue the intellectual momentum.

I really hope you see the impact that Slack channels can have. There’s incredible time to be saved by trimming conversations to the most relevant people and by creating one-stop-shop channels for the latest unit information.

Private Groups. The Private Groups feature is a no-brainer for echeloned leadership. Commanders, NCOs, Primary Staff Members, Budget Folks, Single Soldiers, Women in the Unit, Service Members in Their Reenlistment Window…the list goes on. You can also create a tiered Private Group system whereby you only push info to larger circles when you are ready.

Direct Messaging. Use Direct Messaging like text messaging with individuals, but unlike mobile phone text, with Slack you can share links, collaborate on documents, tag the varying discussion topics with #hashtags, and search your conversation history. Use DM for subordinate leaders to instantly pass performance information higher (“Sir, Lieutenant Smith is not doing well on this range. You may want to come see his next iteration.”) and reference later for counseling.

Social and Document Integration. Slack integrates with every major social media site you care about, so you can pull-in your unit’s Facebook and Twitter feeds to see the latest postings. And the document collaboration function has lots of potential to streamline staff processes. But do not use Slack to transmit classified or Personally Identifiable Information.

Make the Change

Slack is one of the fastest growing software companies in America. Entire organizations are migrating their team communication away from email and over to Slack after realizing that conversations happen quicker and easier through the platform. Your unit could do the same. Check out the website, grab your staff or key team members, and brainstorm the ways in which you could streamline your communication through Slack. You might just wonder what took you so long.

Here are some resources to get you started:

Ready to spread the word? Let others know what you’re thinking about Slack and share this post with your network.

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Originally published at www.themilitaryleader.com on October 13, 2015.