Communications in huge teams: A Ubisoft Story

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Communications in huge teams: A Ubisoft Story

Learning from Ubisoft

Aspart of our consulting work, we work with many different types of teams to determine the challenges they face in communicating with each other. I think no one will find it surprising that we find huge teams face the biggest challenges when it comes to communicating effectively.

 

The Backstory

Today I’m going to share a story of an Ubisoft software architect, Maxime, which I thought highlights the issues and the causes behind communication challenges in a big organisation.

Maxime observed the following:

With so many people involved, specialization naturally occurs. There’s a lot of work to do, and no one can master all the game’s systems. So people specialize, there’s no way around it. It’s like an assembly line in a car factory: When people realize they’re just one replaceable person on a massive production chain, you can imagine it affects their motivation.

[…]

On large-scale projects, good communication is, simply put, impossible. How do you get the right message to the right people? You can’t communicate everything to everyone; there’s just too much information. Hundreds of decisions are made every week. Inevitably, at some point, someone who should have been consulted before making a decision will be forgotten. This creates frustration over time.

On top of that, often too many people are involved in making a decision. You don’t usually want to make a decision in a meeting with 20 people. That’s inefficient. So the person in charge of the meeting chooses who will be present—and too bad for the others. What’s it going to be? A huge, inefficient meeting where no decision is made, or a small meeting that goes well but creates frustration in the long run?

So how does motivation and information overload factor in internal staff communications?

Motivation

When you feel like just another cog in a large system, chances are that you will put in less effort in your work. Teams believe that the systems created in the large organisations will catch their mistakes. But these systems designed to catch infrequent mistakes have worked so well, that they have encouraged more mistakes to be made.

We have observed that people are likely to be less careful in their words and are less attentive in receiving information when other team members are around. The thinking goes, “someone is there to make sure I’m right.” Problem is, everyone else thinks the same, and the mistakes are not corrected and a miscommunication happens.

I believe that this need not be the case. While the discussion on motivation in large organisations is beyond the scope here, we should really think about how can we reduce miscommunication that occur from these attitudes. Should we put more systems in place to catch these mistakes? Or should we attempt to reduce them somehow? A point for you to ponder, but our clients have usually chosen the former.

Information overload

In large organisations and teams, the number of decisions to be made and the amount of information that needs to be moved is staggering. When I was working as a senior head in the Singapore government, I was averaging 200 emails, 5 calls, 2 meetings a day. My bosses probably had it worse with a staff of 150.

The conventional thinking is that it is impossible to communicate everything to everyone. But what if we re-think the information communication paradigm from a source-centric one to a needs-centric one?

In a source-centric model, the source determines where the information needs to be communicated to in order to make a suitable decision, or influence the decision-making.

In a needs-centric model, the information is organised publicly, and the person who needs the information to make the decisions has access to these information. All he needs is for the information to be well-organised (which is MUCH easier said than done).

We believe that it is futile to attempt to have a successful source-centric model given the volume of information in this day and age, and have repeatedly advised clients from adopting such models for better internal staff communications. A source-centric approach is inefficient at best and ineffective at worst as a lot of guesswork is done by the source to decide on the flow of the information.

We believe that a needs-centric model is the model for the information age and have actively worked with clients for implementation in large teams. Moreover, the implementation of a needs-centric model requires proper planning and also training of the teams to ensure information accessibility. We will be sharing some case studies in the near future based on our design thinking based research work on internal communications.

What we have done

In Edvantedge Consulting, we believe in what we preach and have modelled our internal communications framework based on what we have learned. I’m proud to say that we stay on top of things with almost ZERO internal emails by:

  1. Using an effective management tool and internally-agreed usage protocol. No more guessing and vague emails.
  2. Having a clear work-stream and communications protocol. Knowing where everyone is on a work-stream and the various ways to short-circuit the communications system to get attention and a decision made.
  3. Allowing teams access to information to make informed decisions and make use of available resources. No more futile work and reinvention of the wheel.

We welcome you to read some of our case studies and our research on our website, and also to follow our publication, Employee Communications, on Medium.

2017-05-19T16:49:29+00:00