Do you use backchannels effectively?

Last updated by Daniel Mackay [SSW] 6 months ago.See history

Often, when a manager is called in to help out with a conflict situation, they don’t have all the context or details, so backchannels can help to fill the gap.

Prior backchannels - Have a "corridor conversation" with your manager or teammate before a client meeting. If your manager has no idea about an issue, when they’re put on the spot in a meeting, they then have to interrogate regarding processes followed, etc. It’s better to have them prepared before they go in. One way to do this is by asking good questions – see the video on how to ask good questions below.

Live backchannels - Assist in real-time with relevant information in an alternative private channel e.g. SMS or Teams. This can help the conversation flow and help to verify what is being said, and limits the need for phrases such as “William, is that true?”

Post backchannels – Debrief your manager or teammate how the call or situation was handled, outcomes, where it is at now, next steps, etc.

In general, use Teams for private information, or SMS as a last resort. Treat sensitive information or scenarios with care to ensure a good outcome for all parties.

Client: "I told them we’d need X" Manager: "Oh that does sound reasonable. Devs, why was that missed?"

Figure: Bad example - Manager looks uninformed and is always on the back foot, and needing to ask questions that everyone else in the call on both sides already knows

Client: "I told them we’d need X." Dev (on a private channel with Manager): "That’s true, but it only came up after the 1st Sprint was already done." Manager: "My understanding was that was only asked for after the 1st Sprint."

Figure: Good example - Manager is armed with relevant information as needed

Dev: "Heads up, they might be sensitive about this part as they have been very clear with us about it from the start and I missed it. This part was really my fault."

Figure: Good example - Let the manager know what parts are reasonable to push, and what battles are better surrendered

When using a private Teams Chat to backchannel a Teams Meeting, it's a good idea to name the chat at prefix with "Backchannel - {{MEETING NAME}}.

This makes it purpose of the chat obvious and reduces the risk of private messages being mistakenly sent through to the wider audience.

Video - Asking good questions

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