How Should Managers Deal With The Challenges Of Group Chat?

Group chat is a powerful workplace tool, but it does have some limitations
Group chat is a powerful workplace tool, but it does have some limitations
Image Credit: Rik Lomas

As a manager, one of the things that you want to do is to use your manager skills to get the members of your team to talk with each other. When an issue comes up, you’d like as many people as possible to be able to take a look at it and offer their inputs as to how best to solve it. In the past, we’d call a meeting, get everyone to stop doing what they were doing, and come together for a couple of hours to go over the thing that we were currently dealing with. That always took up a lot of time and was quite disruptive. These days we have new group chat tools that we can use for the same purpose. However, there are some issues with group chat that a manager needs to be aware of.

The Power Of Group Chat

So what is this group chat thing? When your team communicates with each other, they discuss a number of different things. They discuss new ideas that they have had, they send out announcements, they try to record feedback from customers and decisions that they have made, and there might even be some debates in there also. Whenever they have these discussions, OUR manager training tells us that somebody has to take on the role of writing down what was said or agreed to. This is where modern group chat tools come in. They provide an online way for these conversations to occur and they automatically make a permanent record of the discussions.

There is no such thing as just one group chat tool. There is currently quite a list of popular tools: HipChat, Slack, Flowdeck, Google Hangouts, etc. The idea behind group chat tools is simple: anyone in the group can say something using the tool. This can be seen a type of quick, casual conversation. Once it has been posted, other people on the team will see it and they will submit their thoughts on this topic. Over time the conversation will unfold like one of those old-fashion ticker-tapes: the oldest part of the conversation will scroll away and be replaced by the most recent parts of the conversation.

It turns out that as powerful as group chat tools are, they tend to create a fundamental problem. The issue is that nobody wants to be left out of the conversation. What this means is that once a conversation is started, all the members of your team are going to feel obligated to jump in and offer their two cents worth because they don’t want to let the conversation pass them by. Because people don’t want to miss out, they’ll speak up just to be heard. Decisions start to be based on snap judgements because the conversation is moving so fast. What has happened is that a manic workplace environment has been created.

How To Solve The Problems Created By Group Chat

So clearly there is a lot of good that can come from the use of a group chat tool, but at the same time it can create frenzied environment in which the proper amount of time is not being spent on evaluating issues and reaching solid decisions. So what’s the solution to this problem? I believe that what has to happen is that as a manager, you need to step in. You need to find a way to move the conversation from the group chat tool to a different medium so that you can slow things down. By doing this, you’ll make it easier to make good decisions.

When your team is faced with having to make a decision, a group chat tool is probably just going to get in their way. What they are going to want to do is to take the time to get some traction on the issue, really dig in, and take the time to come up with compelling arguments regarding what the team’s next steps should be. The goal of this slower approach to decision making is to allow the members of your team to have the time that they are going to need in order to consider the issue that is before them and then respond with their best thoughts.

The problem with group chat tools is that the conversations that we use to have during group meetings that were both calm and measured are turning into online conversations that are scattered and chaotic. As a manager, what you need to do is to allow conversations within your group to start using the team’s group chat tool. When you see a discussion starting to get out of hand or one that requires some careful consideration, you need to step in. You’ll want to move that conversation out of the group chat tool and allow the people who are participating to slow things down. They may want to write a long email or create a detailed document. This will allow everyone to take a step back and absorb what someone says about an idea without having to keep throwing in their own one liners. This is how your team is going to be able to use a group chat tool to reach good decisions.

What All Of This Means For You

Communication is one of the most important things, next to team building, that a manager needs to make sure that his or her team is doing. We are always looking for ways to help improve the flow of communication between the members of our team. The arrival of a new breed of communication tool, group chat, has given us a new way to boost communications; however, we need to be careful how we use this new tool.

When our teams have discussions, a record of the discussion needs to be created. When we use an online group chat tool, the casual conversations that occur within our team will all be recorded. These are powerful tools that let anyone on the team start a conversation. However, there is a downside to these tools. When a conversation starts, everyone is going to want to jump in and participate so that they don’t feel left out. Very quickly a discussion about a hot topic or an open issue can get out of hand and become chaotic. As a manager, you need to be able to step in and remove a conversation from a group chat and allow them members of your team to discuss it at a slower pace. Allow long emails to be created or documents to be written about it. By doing this you’ll allow the team the time that they’ll need to come to a sound decision.

Group chat tools are a fantastic new tool that will help teams to do a better job of communicating amongst themselves. However, managers need to keep a careful eye on the discussions and step in if a discussion becomes too heated or goes on for too long. If this happens, we need to slow things down and allow good decisions to be made. Make sure that your team uses their group chat tool correctly!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: What criteria do you think that you should use to determine that a discussion should be removed from a group chat discussion?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental IT Leader Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental IT Leader Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Just exactly how self-aware are you? Do you think that you see yourself the way that other people see you? Sadly, it turns out that most of us don’t have the manager skills to be as self-aware as we think that we are. What this all means is that if we were able to find a way to become more self-aware, then we’d be in a better position to understand how and why people treat us the way that they do. How can we make this happen?