A Two-Way Street Will Get You There and Back Quicker

Last Updated Aug 14, 2007 12:57 PM EDT

A comment from a reader of this blog raises an important point regarding communication within a team. Following the recent post highlighting lessons that Tour De France teams can provide for business teams, a reader pointed out:

"At the elite level (of cycling), though, everyone is brought back to the pack (the peloton) because of high winds at the front spot. You can't win the Tour by staying in front all of the time. That makes cycling a better business analogy than dog sledding ("if you aren't in front, the view never changes")."
Though I spent a fair amount of time conceiving of and writing the original post, this reader was able to quickly distill the clearest and most useful analogy of all, sadly relegated to the comments section. While it's a humbling experience for the blogger, it's also a useful one â€" especially when team is involved.

Though we often hear the management chestnut, "Always hire people smarter than you," it's rare to see managers and team leaders actually asking for feedback from the rest of the team.

But to illustrate why two-way communication can be crucial, there's the famous story of the beginnings of Java. As legend goes, 25-year-old Sun engineer Patrick Naughton was not happy with where the company was headed and was contemplating a move to another tech company he felt was on the right track. After a casual conversation with CEO and hockey teammate Scott McNealy, Naughton was asked to write down his criticisms of Sun and email them to the CEO.

Because of the well-thought-out opinions of a relatively junior engineer, Sun created a team, including Naughton, to work in relative autonomy on a programming language that would eventually become Java and revolutionize content delivery on the Web. You think Scott McNealy is happy that he was open to feedback?

Two-way communication can range from casually asking team members for their advice or input on a given problem, to implementing a review system that involves direct reports and peers, to something as simple as adding a comments section on your intra-team blog. More on the ins and outs of two-way communication later, but for now, I'm happy that we've got it here.