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The Tricky Thing about Asynchronous Communication

Slack. It's amazingly wonderful; except when it's not.

I've been a huge proponent of using communication tools like Slack over in-person meetings for a long time. To me, you can be be so much more productive holding a discussion over chat than you would be in a meeting.

Except when you're not.

Here's a made-up example that reflects common occurrences in Slack:

Jane: @channel What do you think about using Huboard for our backlog management?

Krissy: Hmm. I've never used Huboard so I wouldn't know

Joe: I don't think it would help much

Krissy: Looking at it, it seems pretty neat though

Joe: Our bigger problem is we need to close stories quicker

Bob: Does anyone know about this e-mail the customer just sent?

Max: What email?

Joe: The one titled "Weird behavior"

Krissy: Oh, I saw that one. Looks like something is up with the database.

For as much as I hate the overuse of meetings, in this situation, a meeting would never have allowed Bob to completely take over the conversation (for a valid issue, just not the one at hand).

I think this is due to the very informal nature of chat. People can join and leave a conversation at any point, even without you knowing. Interruptions happen all the time, and too often conversations are left unfinished because someone gets pulled away (and the other participants aren't usually aware of this until five minutes have passed with no response).

Collaboration in groups is incredibly tricky, and unfortunately the nature of chat encourages this bad habit of never completing conversations.

What's the solution? I have no idea.

I think chat is here to stay, and that's a very good thing. But I also feel there's something missing from it. There's no effortless way to transition informal conversations in to formal ones when needed.

Chat needs to get better at culling the signal from the noise.

Enjoy this content? Check out my upcoming book, The Non-Conformist Leader.