We communicate in two ways, synchronously and asynchronously. Synchronous communication is when people are focused continuously until the communication is finished. Asynchronous communication is using a pattern that allows for focusing on something else while waiting for the other person to formulate a response.
Developing applications is more of a common place for considering synchronous vs. asynchronous systems, but our everyday communications can benefit from these considerations as well. Team workflows involve a complicated set of communication touch points. By structuring team workflows with the right balance of communication channels, we can create efficient and effective communication. Every team will have to figure out the right balance for their situation. When doing so, we can use the patterns that other teams found successful.
Increasing asynchronous communication is a good place to start. When Elon Musk talks about running Tesla and SpaceX he emphasizes his use of asynchronous email to keep things moving while he is not physically there. In particular, asynchronous communication is valuable for communicating non-emotional information, such as project status and answering discrete questions.
“Wherever possible I try to communicate asynchronously” — Elon Musk
The most popular tools to facilitate asynchronous communication include Email and Slack. When using these applications, the most important factor in success is being comfortable using the tool. Everyone on the team must understand the efficiency the app can provide and feel fully comfortable communicating through it.
Understanding the activities that should be done synchronously can ensure that team connection stays strong. Emotional and creative activities are the type of communication that is better done synchronously. This includes brainstorms, team building and retrospectives.
The right set of communications systems will change over time. An effective way to start new communication is to start it as a synchronous process and, once comfortable, transition it to be asynchronous. This can help compartmentalize the areas of friction. It is important for all of these systems to maintain a continuous feedback cycle. This will allow for creating and iterating on a set of efficient and accessible communication paths to fit any teams unique requirements.