What is it like being part of a large IC team? You’re about to find out as I have a guest post for you today by Josephine Graham.
She is the Internal Communications Lead at City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council here in the UK. However, she has just finished a secondment to NHS Digital and is here to share what she learnt from working in a larger team.
You can find Josephine on Twitter @iojosy if you have a question about what she’s written below. I’ll hand you over…
Team of one or team of many – what I learned managing internal communications in a larger team
Put your hand up if you’re an internal communications professional and you’re a team of one.
There are a lot of us about, right?
Sometimes it’s because we work in smaller organisations. Sometimes it’s down to how the function is prioritised, for strategic or financial reasons.
My comms debut, around 15 years ago, was as a corporate communications executive in a medium size business, with employees numbering under a thousand.
I rapidly developed a flair for connecting with the workforce and became the company’s inaugural internal communications manager.
This was my first time managing internal communications as a ‘sole trader’ – and until five months ago, the only way I had operated. I have worked with some great people, and benefitted from some fantastic training, but had never truly learned my trade from another, more experienced, internal communications expert.
It felt like a glaring gap in my employment history. A missing link. How did I really know I was doing it right if I’d only ever gone it alone?
So earlier this year, when, almost out of the (NHS) blue, I was offered a secondment placement, working to an experienced and highly-regarded head of internal communications, it felt like the learning opportunity of a lifetime.
My secondment was a three-month placement in a national NHS body. I was managing a small team, as an interim, while the permanent role holders (a job share) were working their notice at another organisation.
It was a unique position and an unparalleled development opportunity.
The differences between working as a team of one, as opposed to around four, were immediately apparent.
And now that the secondment has finished, and I am back in my substantive role as internal communications lead in a large local authority, it has given me chance to reflect on what I have learned.
When you work as a team of one, good planning is advised, but you don’t need to document everything you do. You don’t have the time. Yes of course you keep track of the important stuff, such as major campaigns, events and milestones, but lot of day-to-day work never even makes it onto a to-do list. It just gets done and then you move on.
When you work as a team, excellent planning is essential. Allocating work between various people, who work on different days, with different knowledge and specialisms, can feel daunting.
Fortunately it’s not really that complicated, and mainly relies on having a decent spreadsheet, honest conversations, and giving people choices about what they prefer to work on.
But the process of work allocation itself is an overhead.
So if you to do work on your own, you should feel gratified that you are probably much more efficient than your peers in a larger team, because you don’t need to have a conversation with yourself, about what you are going to do, and when.
But also consider taking the time to record and reflect on the work you are doing, even if it is just for yourself. You never know when you might want to demonstrate the value you have added.
Having never worked closely with other internal communications specialists on a daily basis, it was an utter privilege to work with my line manager, a brilliant head of comms with over 20 years’ experience in a number of high-profile organisations. It was also hugely rewarding to work with my team, talented communications professionals from a variety of backgrounds.
I developed a severe case of imposter syndrome while managing the team. But I got great feedback about my knowledge, judgment and approach, which, from both from a confidence and a benchmarking perspective, meant a lot to me.
To anyone working on your own, obviously not everyone has the opportunity to go on a secondment to get feedback about your skills. However, I would recommend linking up regularly with peers in the industry, through training, conferences, membership bodies, local networking, or online, if only to get that feedback that you do actually know what you are doing. There are always opportunities to learn from others, and it’s even better when you are able to offer some valuable advice to someone else.
Capacity and tools
By definition, a larger team is better resourced. Despite the time overhead of planning and collaboration, a bigger team can get more done. Often a larger team will also have access to a superior toolkit, and have the capacity to deliver it.
On the secondment I was impressed by the service my team provided to the organisation. An informative weekly ‘round-up’ email delivered, without fail, every Friday lunchtime. Intranet articles. Digital signage (also known as TV screens). Supporting regular face-to-face and live-video events to connect leadership with the workforce. Intranet support. Measurement and evaluation. The inevitable, occasional, ad-hoc all-staff emails.
The result was, the workforce and leadership were engaged in the internal communications process and used it well.
In a team of one, working in an even larger organisation, providing a similar service would be the fabric of dreams. What on earth can micro-teams learn from this?
The questions we smaller teams need to ask ourselves are: what do we need to prioritise to maximise the time and resource we do have? What can we automate or re-use? What is going to have the greater impact, and provide the better return on investment? We may not be able to deliver everything, but we can make sure we use the resources we do have well.
So how do I feel now?
Now I can happily proclaim I have worked in a larger, established team, and managed a function, while learning and collaborating with other internal communications experts. At last, when thinking about my body of work experience, I no longer feel like I am missing an arm.
The experience has been rich and has given me much to consider, in how to use this new-found insight in the future.
I am proud of how efficient and productive I am, and I have a renewed confidence in my core internal communications skills.
Looking at my current organisation, I have been able to reflect on what we do well. This includes engaging content, self-service (colleagues can submit articles to the intranet) and some basic automation (TV screens are auto-populated by intranet news headlines). The latter is largely thanks to my IT colleagues’ creative use of SharePoint, and it saves me a lot of time.
Things I would like to do more of include being able to provide more regular ‘push’ communications (for example, a weekly or fortnightly newsletter) and better use of measurement and evaluation. I believe this would help me build trust and engagement in internal communications, so that I am better equipped to help the organisation achieve its strategic aims.
To make that happen there may be other things I have to let go, which will involve discussing with my line manager what really matters to the organisation. But at least, having been on the secondment and seen what is possible with a larger team, I have the information to start that conversation.
Post author: Josephine Graham.
Thank you very much for sharing your experience, there’s so many excellent points in this piece. I love the fact one of the outcomes from your placement is a renewed confidence in your core skills.
You can find Josephine on LinkedIn, where I also spotted this glowing endorsement of the work she has done at NHS Digital.
Learn more about internal communication: PRWeek conference
If you want to learn more about internal communication, I recommend PRWeek’s Strategic Internal Communications conference on 5-6 December 2019.
I will be speaking about line manager communication on Thursday 5 December. Want to attend? You’re welcome to use the code AllThingsIC10 to save 10% off your ticket price.
Learn via All Things IC Masterclasses
Are you new to internal communication? If so, my upcoming Internal Communication Masterclass on 29 January 2020 is for you. It’s taking place in London and is suitable for people working in internal communication who are looking for a confidential space to learn, ask questions and air their challenges and ideas.
Perhaps you’re fairly new in role or have found yourself responsible for IC. Or maybe you’ve never studied comms before and would like to learn more. This is the course for you.
(If you’ve been working in comms for more than five years, the Strategic Internal Communication Masterclass on 11 February 2020 will suit you better).
Upcoming All Things IC Masterclasses:
- 13 November: Comms Director Mastermind
- 21 January: How to be a Comms Consultant – Momentum
- 28 January: Comms Director Mastermind
- 29 January: Internal Communication Masterclass
- 11 February: Strategic Internal Communication
- 24 February: Change Communication
- 25 February: How to be a Comms Consultant – Exploration.
First published on the All Things IC blog 7 November 2019.