Effective communication is the lifeblood of any organization, flowing in multiple directions: up to leadership, out to stakeholders, and in amongst team members. Mastering communication is not just a skill but a strategic imperative for leaders regardless of your domain.

COMMUNICATION UP

When we talk about communication “up,” we refer to the art of conveying information, updates, roadmaps, results, and insights to higher-ups within the organization. This upward flow of communication is crucial for alignment, transparency, and decision-making. Leaders must cultivate an environment where their teams feel empowered to share successes, challenges, and innovative ideas with those in positions of authority. By fostering open channels of communication, leaders can harness the collective intelligence of their teams and drive organizational success. The more context that is shared and debated and the more diversity of perspectives one listens to; the more robust your outcomes, strategic goals, roadmaps, and decisions will be. If you make decisions for the team without hearing others’ viewpoints, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Engage in dialogue and debate to gather different perspectives. When communicating upward, think about the results, what leadership wants to know, and work back from there. Focus on key points, not the details; think high-level summaries and utilize formats such as PowerPoint presentations and one-page executive summaries. Always keep it brief.

COMMUNICATION OUT

Communication “out” involves engaging with external stakeholders, including clients, partners, and the broader community. In today’s interconnected world, organizations must proactively manage their external communications to build trust, manage expectations, and cultivate positive relationships. Whether it’s through public relations efforts, social media engagement, or stakeholder outreach programs, leaders play a pivotal role in shaping the external perception of their organization. At Netflix, stakeholder management took up most of my calendar. Daily one-on-ones with other leaders within the organization were essential. We focused on understanding their problems and struggles, what they were working on, where our teams intersected, and how we could optimize and unblock those problems. High collaboration across teams resulted from building strong relationships. Keep stakeholders informed about your roadmaps, plans, methodologies, workflows, problems, blockers, and intentions. Stay connected regularly and identify a stakeholder map to determine who you need to connect with and how often, based on their connection to your team. For external stakeholders, connect at least once a month or quarter to hear about changes that might impact you and your team or business. Newsletters or blogs work well for external communication, while face-to-face meetings, a team page, or SharePoint can keep internal stakeholders updated on roadmaps, decisions, and plans.

COMMUNICATION IN

Lastly, communication “in” refers to the exchange of information and ideas within the team or organization. Strong internal communication fosters collaboration, a sense of belonging, and ensures everyone is aligned toward common goals. Leaders must prioritize creating a culture of open communication, where team members feel comfortable sharing feedback, raising concerns, and seeking clarification. You have to be willing to open up debates about any team activities. In a team, shared influence and control are essential for any decision, unlike working alone where you have complete control. For instance in a balanced product team, focus on collaboration and utilize both consensus and consent to make decisions. If you see collaboration stalling with everyone aiming for 100% consensus, as a leader, you must call it if there is a majority leaning towards a particular path. Lead the team through discussion and debate to get buy-in and alignment. If you make a decision and then tell the team what to do, you leave them feeling disempowered because they didn’t have a seat at the table. However, in a disaster, it is completely acceptable, even expected, for you to make the decision and tell the team what to do. For team communication, focus on debate and use regular one-on-ones to stay connected with team members on a personal level. This is where you lean into coaching, exploring goals and problems, and unpacking what might be blocking that individual or creating a plan to achieve that goal. Debates and coaching are your tools for internal communication. Use formats such as memos to align and keep a central source document to refer to, getting information out of people’s heads and into something that can be referenced.
In conclusion, effective communication up, out, and in is essential for leadership success. Figure out who your audience is and then lean into different approaches and tools to communicate regularly. Lean into over communicating rather than under communicating, especially if there is change going on. By mastering these communication channels, leaders can foster alignment, build trust, and drive organizational performance.