Internal communication has been a sticking point in for every library department I’ve worked in. Even within a team, employees felt like they didn’t know what their colleagues were doing.
Solutions to internal communication usually involve a lot of reading and writing. There are internal newsletters, emailed updates, or project reports. All of this written communication takes a ton of time and energy, with only mixed results.
If internal communication is a problem in your library, I want to share an almost magical solution that you can start doing right away. Even better: this communication fix takes 20 minutes at most.
A few years ago, I learned about a great solution to internal communication problems at a fantastic project management training from Megan Torrance of TorranceLearning. I realized in the training session that internal communication isn’t a problem unique to libraries, and that project management strategies offer a fix for this issue.
Many software development teams start each morning with a quick standup meeting to explain to what they’re working on that day.
Standup meetings are a classic project management technique. The idea is to keep each other informed about new projects, let colleagues know if their help is needed, and share a team sense of achievement. Participants don’t need to literally stand up; the name standup just indicates that you’re not going to be in the circle long enough to get settled in.
The time investment to payoff ratio is stunningly good. Each person is given 60 seconds maximum, so the standup meetings last only as many minutes as there are people.
I wanted to try standup meetings out with my circulation department, but I needed to tweak the format to fit our service-oriented work.
The timing was the first thing to change. Daily meetings seemed way too often. For one thing, we cover a wide variety of schedules to keep the library open, so it’s a rare day that we’re all here at the same time. Instead of daily standup, I settled on weekly standup meetings with my access services team.
The standup meetings have been amazing for our team communication. In just a few minutes, the entire team gets a sense of our biggest accomplishments and the challenges coming up.
I borrowed the format Megan Torrance shared at the training. We gather around our ILL processing table every Friday morning, and in 60 seconds, each team member is asked to share:
- What you’re working on
- What you need help with
- (If you want to share) something that’s going on in your personal life
This basic outline results in a lot of information packed into 60 seconds. For instance, a circulation manager might say:
“I’m working on hiring new student employees to staff the circulation desk. I might need your help with some of new hire training, because I’ll be out on vacation next week if my kid makes the gymnastics semi-finals.”
These two sentences give the team a heads up that new student employees will be joining the department, that they might need to lend a hand for training and orientation, and that their coworker has something exciting going on at home.
As a manager, I really appreciate the communal format of standup meetings. Everyone’s voice is heard and my staff are giving status updates to each other, not just to me. Everyone at the standup hears that reserve requests are flooding in or that interlibrary loan urgently needs extra processing help, and we’re able to create a quick plan to deal with it as a team.
The better understanding of current workloads we get at standup meetings helps us empathize with each other. When you know your coworker is dealing with rewriting loan rules, you’re able to empathize with her, hold off on less pressing requests, and understand if she’s slow to get back to you.
The empathy also extends to personal life. If you know that your colleague’s sister is visiting from out of town, you understand why he’s really motivated to get out the door at 5 o’clock sharp.
Of course, all of these things could be shared in casual conversation. The beauty of the standup meeting is that it sets aside a small amount of time to ensure updates are shared, and that information is shared equally with everyone at the same time. Staff who felt out of the loop before are assured a place in the circle.
I also believe that standup meetings help us get more done. Saying out loud what you plan to accomplish instantly creates a feeling of accountability, so we get to work right away.
How does your library department keep up to date with each other?
Standup up meetings are the best strategy I’ve found for my group. They’re quick, effective, and help us feel connected. If your library department could use an internal communication boost, invest 20 minutes to try out a standup meeting.