Keep Everyone on the Same Page With a Newsletter

Some newsletters that I receive, though ostensibly marketing material, deliver great value. Newsletters can provide even more value when provided to the members of a distributed team.

It’s hard to keep remote workers on the same page when it comes to the state of their field or industry; a newsletter can help to ensure that distributed teams at least share some common footing and run into fewer knowledge gaps.

Here are some tips to help your newsletter provide real value for your team.

Learn From the Best

I may not be talking about the kind of newsletters that companies send to their customers in this article, but that doesn’t mean the best of those kinds of publications can’t inform the creation of great internal newsletters. To that end, I urge anyone reading this to check out both the Sprouter weekly newsletter and Gdgt‘s recurring missive to members of the site, which doesn’t follow a schedule, but somehow always seems to hit my inbox at just the right time.

Despite having very different formats and focusing on completely different areas, both Sprouter’s and Gdgt’s newsletters share at least one thing in common: providing information that, although related to the core business of each company, isn’t presented as a sales pitch or with a specific marketing slant. Obviously, with a newsletter targeted at keeping a distributed team up to speed on pertinent developments, information is the whole point. But how you choose to convey that information can take very different forms.

Sprouter takes a more scattershot approach. It provides a variety of different material, with a founder profile, a list of hot startups, a list of upcoming events, and a selection of outgoing links to awesome blog posts related to the startup economy from around the web, as chosen by both Sprouter staff and members of its user community. Each item is accompanied by a brief description, and a link to the full piece or site if you’re interested in finding out more. If you wanted to make team involvement a key aspect of your newsletter, this is a great model. You could include story submissions from each team member, so that pieces that are important to your employees are the ones everyone is reading. It also provides team leaders with an informal way of seeing what everyone is interested in.

Gdgt takes a much more focused approach, but one that feels just as useful. Generally speaking, the Gdgt newsletter features a single lengthy article by the site’s co-founders Ryan Block and Peter Rojas, dealing with a hot topic in the gadget-sphere. For example, the Feb. 10 edition contained a long rumination on the situation at Nokia (s nok) following Stephen Elop’s memo regarding the company’s “burning platform.” Your team leader or a key internal stakeholder could provide a single central piece for each edition, articulating the next major project milestone in detail, for example, or talking about a recent external development that has a significant impact on what the team is working on.

Focus on the News in Your Newsletter

While I realize you may be excited about your company’s latest achievements, that’s not necessarily the best thing to put in a newsletter. Too often, internal newsletters are packed with corporate boosterism, which can put off team members and negatively affect worthwhile engagement.

Instead, focus on what’s changed or new that’s relevant to your team. Don’t think of it like an interim project report, stating progress towards milestones, budget updates, etc. Instead, talk frankly about non-measurable and contextual concerns that won’t get surfaced in more traditional reporting tools. This is your team you’re talking to, not clients or even stakeholders; a newsletter is the perfect place to address things that might otherwise fall through the cracks during normal daily interaction or in other documents. Think specifically about what might be news to your team members since the last time you had a team-wide check-in.

Distributed teams face communication challenges that technology is making easier and easier to overcome, but the form of communication many teams choose to use can leave huge knowledge gaps between members. IM and traditional email exchanges are often too ephemeral, and not inclusive. A newsletter provides a chance for reflection, idea collection and archiving, and a chance for all to step back and look at things from a contemplative distance, all with relatively little time and input.

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