You’ve probably heard of “osmosis” in a biology class. It’s the process by which water molecules pass through a semipermeable membrane to equalize the concentration of solutes on either side. Osmotic Communication has a special place in agile. In fact, it was first coined by one of the founders of Agile, Alistair Cockburn.
Osmotic communication is similar in describing the absorption of information across a barrier. In other words, osmotic communication is the advantageous way team members pick up bits and pieces of information from their surroundings without actively seeking it out.
Osmotic communication occurs whenever team members are physically co-located with one another. For instance, if you overhear a colleague talking about a new client project they’re working on, you’re engaging in osmotic communication.
Also, if you happen to walk by someone’s desk and see them looking at a document with a perplexed expression, you might ask if they need help, thus absorbing some of the context surrounding their task and contributing to the resolution.
This type of osmotic communication usually happens when team members work closely together on a common goal and have constant digital interaction.
Benefits of Osmotic Communication
Several benefits can come from leveraging osmotic communication in your workplace:
It fosters a greater sense of knowledge-sharing and collaboration among team members
One advantage of osmotic communication is that it is more informal and allows team members to share ideas more easily. As a result, it creates a greater sense of sharing and collaboration among team members.
Additionally, osmotic communication can help reduce the time spent on unnecessary tasks, such as scheduling meetings or sending emails. Ultimately, this can lead to a more productive and efficient team. Because it’s low-cost and low-effort, it’s an easy way to improve communication within a team.
When it comes to team communication, one of the most important things to consider is the cost and effort required. After all, if a method of communication is too expensive or time-consuming, it can quickly become a hindrance rather than a help. It is where osmotic communication comes in.
Osmotic communication is a low-cost, low-effort way of sharing information between team members. It occurs naturally as people work together in close proximity and doesn’t require any special equipment or training. As a result, it can be beneficial for project management teams who need to exchange ideas and information regularly.
It can help reduce the amount of “communication overhead”
Osmotic communication effectively reduces communication overhead, as it allows people to quickly and easily exchange information without having to use words or time. For instance, having to set up a meeting to discuss a topic can be avoided by a simple memo or email that already explains certain processes or information that need to be relayed.
Virtual Osmotic Communication
With the growth of technology and remote teams worldwide, we may not realize it, but we have already been doing a lot of osmotic communication.
For example, when utilizing productivity tools like Asana, Slack, and Discord. Any discussions you may set in a public chat group or thread can be a form of osmotic communication.
Or if you’ve copied on an email thread but don’t have time to read through all the messages, you might still absorb some helpful information simply by having the emails in your inbox.
Topics are discussed where various team members can read and catch up at their own pace. The virtual workspace has made osmotic communication easier in many ways.
Examples of Osmotic Communication Agile
Osmotic Communication has a special place in agile communciation. In fact, it was first coined by one of the founders of Agile, Alistair Cockburn.
Agile teams are some of the best utilizers of osmotic communication because the work areas are designed for it, the team is usually co-located, and the goal is constant communication
Maximizing osmotic communication in your workplace is not rocket science. You can take a few simple steps, whether on-site or online, no matter what your current setup is. Here are a few things you can do:
Encourage physical proximity
If possible, arrange desks so that team members sit close to one another. It makes it more likely that they’ll overhear relevant conversations and be able to contribute meaningfully. Physically having a dedicated team space with a whiteboard helps people quickly swarm and solve issues and visualize work.
For example, in a typical agile setup, there is a workspace with all the information needed for the team to do their job within arms reach. It includes product backlog, burndown charts, task boards, etc. This way, team members can quickly and easily see what needs to be done and provide input independently without having to wait for a meeting or update.
Make use of chat tools
Chat tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams can help create virtual watercooler moments where team members can easily share what they’re working on and solicit feedback from their colleagues. Be careful of the different communication style in your workplace.
Dedicated spaces for knowledge sharing
Designate specific physical or virtual areas where team members can readily find information about ongoing projects or company initiatives. It might include setting up a shared document or wiki that everyone has access to or establishing regular times for updates and Q&A sessions.
Osmotic communication is a powerful tool, but only if used effectively. Here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to foster osmotic communication in your workplace:
Don’t overload team members with information
Another example of how agile teams utilize osmotic communication is through daily stand-ups. During these brief meetings, each team member gives a quick update on what they worked on the day before and what they plan to work on today. These regular updates help keep everyone in the loop and allow for questions or comments to be addressed quickly and easily.
Ensure that the information shared is relevant and valuable for everyone on the team. There’s no need to copy everyone on every email or include them in every chat thread.
Encourage team members to speak up
Osmotic communication only works if team members feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their thoughts and ideas. Encourage an open and inclusive environment where everyone feels like they can contribute. Retrospectives should be facilitated by scrum master to ensure all team members get opportunity to speak about their cards
Respect people’s time and attention
Avoid pointless meetings and use pre agreed meetings such as refinement, planning, estimating, showcase and daily standup to talk about issues Don’t force team members to listen in on conversations that they’re not interested in or that are not relevant to their work. Recognize that everyone has different needs and preferences when it comes to communication.
Osmotic communication is a simple but effective way for team members to absorb useful information from their surroundings without actively seeking it out. By encouraging physical proximity, leveraging chat tools, and creating dedicated knowledge-sharing spaces, you can foster a greater sense of collaboration among your team and improve overall communication.