Amongst many other best practices both CJ Jacobs at MediaNews Group and Lippe Oosterhof at Yahoo have pointed to, a key to successful collaboration is to speak the language of other departments. Simple, right?
What’s happening on the next sprint? Do you have consistent KPIs and OKRs? Who needs to prioritise the backlog? What’s the slug for that article?
Does everyone in your company know what those questions actually mean? Probably not.
At The New York Times, I was once told that the conversation we were having was a little “inside baseball.” As a Brit talking about syndication, I had no idea what they meant so smiled politely, as Brits do, and carried on. It turns out that inside baseball refers to, according to Wikipedia: “the minutiae and detailed inner workings of a system that are only interesting to, or appreciated by, experts, insiders, and aficionados.” I had walked away from the conversation happy that we were on the same page without realising that I was going too deep on a subject I knew about but others didn't — resulting in some of the group walking away with half an understanding of what was about to happen.
This is one small example and I can only imagine how often a misunderstanding occurs between departments in the ever more complex world that technology brings to our businesses.
As news organisations have traditionally been siloed by department and had full “ownership,” it takes extra effort to build trust. Some terms, such as “backlog,” may be normal to technology but negative to editorial. And a simple turn of phrase can cause defensiveness and have an adverse effect on a working relationship.
Such specific expertise, ways of working, and vocabulary may be some of the reasons the term “bridge role” has come about. These roles “bridge” departments by understanding the complexities and language of each to ensure each understands the other and that they are working together effectively and efficiently.
If we truly want to build trust, colleagues need to have transparency. And if we truly want to listen to other opinions, we have to make sure we understand what is being said. In some cases, we may need to take out all acronyms and jargon. Maybe we don’t need to go as far as speaking in terms that our grandmothers or kindergarten children would understand, but taking time to ensure terminology is neutral and understood can have a huge impact. It likely needs a period of over communication and visibility to meet today’s more complex needs.
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