Internal Communication
Internal Communication

Internal Communication

This page is a work in progress, part of a multi-year effort to capture and share learnings, frameworks, tools, and processes to run organizations. See Running Organizations for more.

How Internal Communication Works

Communication is Multi-Dimensional

Right Message, Right People, Right Time

Internal Communication is about the right people getting the right messages at the right time. Most of the internal communication in organizations happens between peers, in informal channels, every single day. You can't control internal communication, but you can shape how communication occurs and how key internal messages land in your organization.

Leadership Communication

The Leadership Team must plan the spread of messages that increase people's awareness, motivation, and sense of responsibility for outcomes. Most of this communication should be a scheduled part of your operating rhythm, but there are always one-off situations, like crises.

Leadership should plan for upward communication, both from Managers and frontline employees. This type of communication takes the form of Management meetings, regular surveys, Town Halls, All Hands Q&As, or anonymous feedback forms.

Shape Organizational Communication

The majority of internal communication will happen informally and organically, but you can shape and nudge this communication in directions that support the organization's goals by curating tools and creating rules, guidelines, practices, and automation.

Leadership Communication

Each message that leadership sends is an opportunity to reinforce or undermine what's important. Each message communicates whether you're serious about where are you trying to go (Vision), what you're trying to accomplish (Mission), and how you are trying to do it (Core Values).

Rhythmic Communication

The Leadership Team needs to design a rhythm to communication that is structured, pre-scheduled and keeps people informed about what's going on, how things are going, and what's going to happen. Typical rhythms include Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly, and Annual communication.

Plan the big communication events first, and then fill in the calendar with smaller, more flexible forms of communication.

The annual and quarterly big communication pillars like Quarterly Reviews and Engagement Surveys should be put on the calendar for the next year. From there, add in more frequent communication - progress reporting, Pulse Surveys, and newsletters. Finally, plan for where you'll put one-off announcements like benefits changes, new product or feature launches, and marketing announcements.

Daily Communication With the Organization

Reporting on Leading Indicators/KPIs and Scoreboards is a key form of communication. Metrics should be updated frequently (ideally every day) and be made accessible to staff. Automation can be helpful, but updating these metrics will usually require some manual work. Updates should be kept out of email and placed somewhere central, like the homepage of a knowledge base.

In times of change or crisis, a daily rhythm of briefing (i.e. Daily Stand Up) can be helpful. A great model for this sort of communication comes from the book Team of Teams - Stanley McCrystal used a daily "O&I Meeting" as a daily back brief that encouraged dialogue and discussion.

Weekly Communication With the Organization

A Weekly CEO Email is a common tool that CEOs use to inform the organization of progress and performance. The Email also serves to keep critical messages in front of everyone in the midst of the whirlwind of daily work.

The CEO can ask department leaders to fill out information by a certain time and day to share progress or can lean on a consistently filled out roll-up report to write the Email.

These emails generally go out at the end of the week. This weekly communication doesn't need to be an email - it can be a document, a Slack message to the appropriate organization-wide channel, or a on a platform of your choice.

Weekly Department-Level Emails can be used, just like with CEO Emails, to inform people within a department of how things went during the week. These can include news about customers or clients and can be more detailed and team-specific - like celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. These can be shared across departments, too, to increase visibility and awareness across the organization.

As with the CEO Email, department leaders don't need to write the entire thing - they can have teams fill out sections that roll up to a completed writeup.

Weekly All-Hands Meetings are usually held at the beginning or end of the week. These can be in a Town Hall format or can include a Q&A portion to address any staff questions.

Pulse Surveys take the temperature of how people are feeling and what the blockers to productivity are. This is a helpful "upward" communication mechanism for managers and leaders.

Monthly Communication With the Organization

Monthly communication to and from leadership doesn't need to differ from what's covered on a weekly basis (i.e. Weekly CEO Email, Weekly Department Email). One difference is that monthly metrics datasets are larger, making performance reports more meaningful. Many organizations share more substantive reports internally on a monthly basis.

Month-over-Month leading indicator performance can be shared to show progress. A monthly analysis of YoY performance controls for seasonality and shows how the organization performed last month versus last year at this time.

There are a series of meeting formats that take place monthly in many organizations, as the month represents one-third of a complete quarter. These meetings can include Operations Reviews, Retrospectives, Show and Tells, Strategy Reviews, and more. See Meetings for more.

Quarterly Communication With the Organization

Quarterly Reviews and Quarterly Kickoffs are all-hands events that take place every quarter and run down the wins, the progress made last quarter, and the plans for the next quarter. These are critical meetings for accountability to the plans and goals. See Meetings for more.

Upward Surveys can be conducted to check in on how the management team is performing. Upward surveys ask employees for feedback on how their managers are doing and how they can improve.

Anonymous feedback works well when it's sent up the management chain, as it lessens the fear of retribution. If you ask for non-anonymous feedback, you'll likely hear from the same subset of employees consistently, which may be helpful but will not be representative of the "silent majority" of the organization.

Annual Communication With the Organization

Annual Reviews combined with All-Staff Offsites are a common feature of smaller and hybrid or remote organizations. Annual Reviews generally take on the features of Quarterly Reviews, but with expanded length and scope, and with more emphasis placed on the big picture (i.e. Mission, Vision, Strategy) and the next year. See Meetings for more.

Annual Engagement Surveys or Satisfaction Surveys are other common forms of communication sent up the chain. For more on surveys, see Cultivating Culture.

Crisis Communication

Crisis and disaster communication plans are important for any organization. Common crises are natural disasters, company bankruptcy, layoffs, organizational misconduct, workplace violence, and more.

Formal crisis communication plans are critical when you have people managers who aren't on the Leadership Team. Your managers need to know how to respond to a crisis. They're also important if you’re asynchronous or have multiple locations.

Incident Response Team

Who will respond to the crisis? Who will you expect to be available and be in the room as you work out the details of the response? Make clear to those who will be on the team that they're on it to limit surprises in a time of crisis.

In small organizations, the entire Leadership Team and your HR representative should be present to work through the plan and how you'll communicate it. Having a Communications/Marketer person is important for crises that have an external component.

Define Constituencies, Roles & Responsibilities

As you gather an Incident Response Team, you need to map out needs to hear what, and by when. Mapping out your "audiences" and the messages you need to send is a good first step to communicating effectively with the organization.

What role do you expect each team member to play in the group, and what will their responsibility be in contributing to the plan? What specific actions should they take? Getting clear on agreements here is important.

Consider assigning a single person to synthesize the news. Another may be in charge of updating the organization's Knowledge Base with announcements, FAQs, policies, and more. Someone might be in charge of sending a key email or setting up a meeting.

Leadership Communication Principles

Explain The 'Why'

Always explain the 'why' in decision-making. Explaining why builds trust, cooperation, and commitment. Writing it out proves that you've thought through the downsides of the decision and that you're prepared to live with those downsides.

"If you show that you do understand the pitfalls of your plan, it reassures people that you didn't decide blindly. If you knew all those problems and still chose Plan A, perhaps it's not as bad as they thought. Ideally, being open about pros and cons leads to a conversation in which you can convince them that Plan A really is best." - Dave Hitz (Source: How to Castrate a Bull)

Managers need to understand the 'why' very clearly, and may benefit from having well-crafted talking points to support the reasons. I've made the mistake of thinking about an issue in 10 different ways, discussing it with my Leadership Team multiple times, and then neglecting to follow through with management. Managers are your conduits for change and improvement, and if they don't understand the why, you shouldn’t expect their support.


"What's In It For Me?" should be top-of-mind when sending a message, and messages should be tailored to the recipient. Why should they care? What are you asking them to do? If you want people to take action (i.e. Benefits -> "If you want coverage next year"), or to change their behavior (i.e. Policy -> "You will be held accountable for…"), make very clear what the ask is and what the consequences for action or inaction are.

Compress Messages

A long-form writeup is helpful, but assume it won't be read by everyone or remembered by anyone. To make messages stick, they need to be made concise. Develop a strong tl;dr for every key message that goes out.

"When we make 'compression progress,' we become like Nike, which compressed its entire marketing philosophy into three words: “Just Do It.” Or Nassim Taleb, whose succinct book Antifragile cites almost 500 books in the bibliography. Einstein, too, explained a large portion of how reality works through a simple formula: E = mc²." - David Perell (Source: Expression is Compression)

Never Leave a Void

If you don't communicate frequently, people will fill the void by letting their imaginations and the rumor mill run wild. What you'll get is an anxious organization full of people who expect the worst.

"Often when the mind doesn’t know, it assumes a potentially negative outcome or intention. And when we assume the negative, we become suspicious. In turn, that suspicion leads to a lack of trust." (Source: CEO Tools 2.0)

Use Stories

The leadership team must develop the ability to tell compelling stories. Stories support your core values, operating principles, vision, mission, and the reason why a certain hard decision was made.

"Constant storytelling about problems and solutions...serves a number of overlapping purposes. Stories are good at presenting things sequentially (this happened, then that). Stories also present things causally (this happened because of that). Thus stories are a powerful way to understand what happened (the sequence of events) and why (the causes and effects of those events)." (Source: Balancing Act)

The Peak-end Rule says that we judge experiences based on how we felt at their peak and at the end. Using stories at the end of a message can make that message more powerful and resonant.

Repeat The Message

Critical messages must be repeated, in different ways, through different mediums, if we expect them to stick or expect people to take action. This persistence is described as polite pummeling in the excellent book Scaling Up Excellence.

Messages delivered in a remote work setting will naturally have less resonance, as fewer will be received face-to-face. Leveraging charisma in a Zoom meeting is a lot harder than in-person. Increasing the quantity of messaging and the channels used to communicate messages can help combat this.

"Quantity of communication connects directly to any success or failure...More communication leads to better efficiency, stronger cooperation, and deeper trust. Between two nations—or between two people—if silence reigns, problems will arise in the relationship or there will be no relationship at all." - Sam Carpenter (Source: Work the System)

Communicate Feelings

Transparency is more than being open with data and information. At the end of the day, business is about human relationships and human coordination. We can't separate emotion from business. Business is personal, and we are emotional creatures. The ability to communicate with candor - to share our feelings - is a critical component of communicating effectively.

"At any moment, individuals and leaders are either revealing or concealing. They are either becoming more transparent or more opaque. In our experience, leaders who reveal (facts, thoughts, feelings, and sensations) have a free flow of abundant energy for accomplishing their vision." (Source: The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership)

Our fear of feelings serves us poorly in times of change and transition when emotions run high. If we withhold, what builds over time is resentment, not commitment.

Communicate Agreements

We often blame a lack of accountability on people not following through or following orders, but a common cause of lack of accountability starts with people not making clear agreements with one another. If we're not clear on what we want from one another, what we're going to do, and when we're going to do it, why should we expect that we or anyone else will be accountable?

"An Impeccable Agreement should be written down in a location that is easily accessible by all participants. The only exception is when the agreement is so small, or so regular, that all participants are sure not to forget what the exact agreement is." - Matt Mochary (Source: The Great CEO Within)

When we do fail to live up to our agreements, we need to point it out in the moment and ensure we only make agreements we can live up to going forward.

Humanize the Workplace

Humanizing the workplace means starting with empathy. Key messages should always express care and compassion for those affected. It means acknowledging people.

Have a clear plan for how you'll celebrate or acknowledge Birthdays, Anniversaries, Promotions, and people who exhibited your core values. Appreciation and recognition of people are critical for building a positive culture and can also serve as helpful hooks for reinforcing your core values.

Shaping Organizational Communication

Shaping internal communication is about communicating fully and productively within and across teams. This requires that we utilize writing, curating communication channels, and have clear guidelines for what to communicate, how to communicate, and where to do it.

Writing Culture

Writing is powerful because it can be consumed on our own time, it's easy to record and it's cheap to store. Writing can last forever, as it's easily transferrable across systems.

Writing Creates A Learning Culture

Writing is thinking. We often think we understand a problem, a concept, or a decision until we start writing. Paul Graham explains that writing is the process by which you earn a complete thought on a topic.

"If writing down your ideas always makes them more precise and more complete, then no one who hasn't written about a topic has fully formed ideas about it. And someone who never writes has no fully formed ideas about anything nontrivial." - Paul Graham (Source: Putting Ideas Into Words)

Making our thinking explicit, for others to probe and study and challenge, creates the opportunity for learning that conversations and meetings can not.

"The most productive learning usually occurs when managers combine skills in advocacy and inquiry. Another way to say this is 'reciprocal inquiry.' By this, we mean that everyone makes his or her thinking explicit and subject to public examination." - Peter Senge (Source: The Fifth Discipline)

Writing Forces Leaders to Communicate

A lack of communication isn't always about leaders hoarding information to exert an "advantage" over others. It’s hard to remember who knows what, and who's been communicated with on x, y, z. The easiest way to avoid these problems is to require writing. Leaders who write frequently avoid becoming bottlenecks to productivity.

Documentation & Thinking

There are two types of writing in the workplace: documentation of work, like processes and procedures, and thinking, as in a memo. When we assign a notetaker in a meeting, that person documents the work. When we ask someone to write up a proposal, we’re asking them to think.

Documentation is about making information visible, accessible, and clear for everyone. Most organizations have file folders, checklists, and knowledge bases full of routine documentation.

Fewer organizations have clear thinking in the form of proposals, memos, and archived writeups saved in an accessible place.

When to Write to Think

Memos and proposals are time-consuming and hard to timebox on a calendar, so they can’t be used for every little decision.

Key Issues deserve writing. If you have big issues in an Issues List, writing clear-headed analyses of those issues and proposing ways in which they could be resolved is a high-leverage activity. Discussing Issues verbally tends to only scratch the surface. By analyzing and writing first, a discussion can be much more fruitful.

Big decisions need writeups. Any big upcoming decision should be analyzed, reasoned, and communicated as publicly as is productive. Taking the time to write up how a decision came to be and why it was made is important for creating a trusting culture. Log the writeups for these decisions somewhere accessible.

Reflection at work requires writing. You can't learn from your experience if you're not reflecting on that experience. Personal reflection and retrospectives deserve some thought and consideration, and writing is the best way to process an experience.

Avoid Writing For Emotionally-Charged Areas

One downside of business writing is its lack of emotional resonance. For emotionally charged topics, writing often comes off flat. Audio adds an emotional level. Video adds another level. In-person is the highest level.

In emotionally charged situations, video or in-person should be the default. Writing is great as a backup - so that people can revisit the takeaway, the message, the "why," on their own team, at their own speed.

Create Filters For Writing at Scale

A lack of filters for writing can become a problem at scale. An organization of 100 can get away with a single Slack instance where everyone can talk to everyone else in public channels. An organization of 1,000 has to have ways to filter conversations, or people end up with hundreds of unread messages.

If everyone is writing memos, you'll end up with rich documentation, but a deluge of required reading for people to get up to speed and get aligned. One way to "filter" information is to create tl;dr's at the top of documents. Another is to use people-as-filters - using Managers or Chief of Staff roles to filter key messages.

Writing Culture Examples

Amazon's writing culture has two core elements: "Six pagers" and "working backward" PR/FAQs. Six Pagers are used to "describe, review, or propose just about any type of idea, process, or business." This form of narrative is an essential item for meetings, as it helps Amazon avoid live presentations and half-baked thinking. PR/FAQs are for new product development. The PR (press release) is where a product concept is named, targeted to a specific customer, and summarized. The FAQ backs up the information in the Press Release, bringing in answers to internal and external questions, and often using supporting materials like tables, graphs, charts, and visuals. (Source: Working Backwards)
McKinsey's leaders use very long-form, often fifteen-page memos to deliver thoughts to the organization. Marvin Bower, McKinsey's Managing Director from 1950-1967 wrote extensively, is considered "the father of management consulting," and is credited in creating the "writing culture" that McKinsey has to this day. (Source: The Firm)
HashiCorp has standardized templates for function-specific documents (i.e. design briefs for Design, success plans for Sales), but across the company they use Problem Requirements Documents (PRD) and Request for Comment (RFC) documents to define and solve problems. Hashicorp's PRD document template is used to understand problems - what the problem is, who it affects, and why it's important to solve. Colleagues give feedback on the PRD before moving to a RFC. Hashicorp's Request for Comment doc template is for articulating and getting feedback on a problem to be solved.
Stripe uses narrative writeups instead of slide decks and they have a documentation team that creates sample docs that teams can use for their own documents. Instead of standardizing all documents, they differentiate high-leverage document types from low-leverage types and create guidelines about format and review only for high-leverage types. (Source: How Stripe Built a Writing Culture)

Communicate Between Teams

Information is power. Teams and departments can withhold information from one another to exert power. Designing effective cross-functional communication between teams is important to preventing bottlenecks, silos, and unproductive cultures.

Conway's law says that organizations design systems that mirror their own communication structure. How you design internal communication between teams is a critical component of what you end up creating for your customer.

Handling Information

Departments should have answers for how they'll handle information. Some information must be kept confidential and some must be shared openly. HR will have different information policies than will Engineering than will Finance, for example.

  • What information do we share openly?
  • What information should be controlled or keep private?
  • How is information stored? What tools and technology do we use?
  • How do we find the critical information we need?
  • How do we keep information up-to-date?

Departments should ask one another - What information would you like from us that you're not getting? What are you getting that you don't need?

Once a departmental communication rhythm has been determined, consider publishing it so that other departments can see what's coming. I like a visual of a calendar for this - here's an HR example.

Wins, Learnings & Plans

Sharing wins, learnings, and plans on a quarterly basis is a good process for teams and departments to share openly with one another. That openness helps create a shared consciousness in the organization and promotes a collaborative environment where teams can jump in and help one another out.

"Insight can come from anywhere, but only if information reaches the right person at the right time. Because we can't predict when that will be, we have to aspire to what economists refer to as information symmetry - a condition in which all relevant information is known to all participants." - Aaron Dignan (Source: Brave New Work)

Here’s an example I love from Basecamp.

Basecamp has teams write "Heartbeats," every 6 weeks, which summarize their accomplishments, the details that mattered and the importance of their work. They cover the big challenges and they're highly reflective. They're followed by "Kickoffs," in which teams write up their plans for the next 6 weeks. Kickoffs detail the specifics of the plan, at a level that's relevant to everyone in the organization. (Source: How We Communicate)

Enhanced with Knowledge Bases

Knowledge bases store information to help others learn, understand and execute processes and procedures. They're not a perfect solution - knowledge work is not learned exclusively through explicit knowledge - but they're a great start to sharing openly, and they're critical for onboarding new team members.

Instead of "pushing" information at people, knowledge bases people allow people "pull" information when they need it, without needing to ask for help from others.

"When information is pushed, we have to wade through it and separate the signal (what we need) from the noise (what we don't). But when information is abundant, a 'pull'-based system where information is tagged, stored, and ready to search is far superior." - Aaron Dignan (Source: Brave New Work)

Guidelines about adding information to knowledge bases are critical to storing and curating information in a way that's accessible to the right people.

The best knowledge base example I've seen is Gitlab's Handbook, which is over 2,000 printed pages of curated information.

Curate Communication Channels

Tame Your Channels

In the digital world of chat, email, project management systems, case/ticketing systems, and docs, it's not always clear where certain types of information are supposed to go. We have a proliferation of tools and not enough guidelines and rules for how to use them. We either end up being inundated by unnecessary or redundant communication, or people end up not sharing at all. The solution is to curate channels.

Curating channels means using a limited number of software systems and channels within teams and across departments, and assigning individuals to create summaries and cull outdated or unnecessary information. Staff should also be empowered and encouraged to mute non-mission critical chat channels.

The most advanced organizations in organizing and taming communication are remote-first, asynchronous companies.

My favorite resources on internal communication in remote organizations are The 37Signals Guide to Internal Communication, Gitlab's How to embrace asynchronous communication for remote work, and Dropbox's Virtual First Toolkit: How to communicate effectively.


Chat channels like Slack and Teams are tailored for internal communication, whereas email is usually a mix of internal and external communication. Chat bypasses clogged email inboxes and is quick. It's best for urgent issues, quick collaborations, and team-building.

The ideal outcome of chat is that you have just enough communication to facilitate productive conversations and a sense of community without disrupting people's core work.

Every chat channel should have a clear purpose. Channels are for teams, projects, clients, and functions. New channels should follow established naming conventions and conversations within them should be threaded.

Bots, particularly in Slack, are powerful for automating asynchronous communication as part of your internal communication rhythm. Compared to standing calendar meeting slots, Bot prompts can save a lot of time and energy.

Tips for handling chat: How to use Slack effectively


Email is mostly used for external and formal communication. Our inboxes are stuffed full of client/customer emails, cold outreach emails, reports, cc'd messages we didn't need, and more. Limiting internal email use should be a priority for most organizations.

Shifting to chat and docs also allows for greater collaboration.

Keeping paper trails organized in knowledge bases limits inbox noise and centralizes information.

Don't use email for recurring reports. Recurring reports should be archived and saved somewhere, not stuck in people's inboxes. When new team members join, they should have access to information without having to get forwarded emails from everyone on the team.


Docs are great for long-form communication that need to be saved somewhere accessible for later. They're also useful for collaborative ideation sessions.

Collaborative documents, like Google Docs, should be used if the subject might need to be referenced later or if feedback is needed. A Google Doc with Comments and Suggestions can prevent a back-and-forth email thread and hours spent reconciling feedback from replies.

A key issue with documents is organization. While emails are one-way sends - individuals have to design how to file emails for themselves - documents live somewhere. Organizing hierarchical Dropbox and Drive folders is impossible at any significant size, and search functionality requires that everyone knows what the doc was named in the first place. This is where knowledge bases shine.

Internal Knowledge Base

Internal knowledge bases serve as a home for documentation. They house policy, processes, procedures, handbooks, meeting notes, internal newsletters, and more. Tying performance reporting in with industry insights, employee benefits information, and standard operating procedures makes for a powerful system.

Knowledge bases help you deal with the proliferation of documents, through curation. Managers must choose which information is critical and deserves a spot in a knowledge base and which information is not, and can remain stored in folders and accessible via search functionality.

Small organizations can build basic knowledge bases in a spreadsheet, with tabs for different functions or processes. Google Sites is another free option. Most organizations use tools like Confluence, Guru, or Notion.

Roll Up Project & Function-Specific Software Comms

Project management platforms, ticketing software, and sales and marketing platforms are other areas where detailed communication takes place and where information silos occur. Individual teams can try to limit communication across platforms, but trying to force teams into a single platform to prevent silos will likely decrease productivity instead of increase it.

The solution to these natural silos is roll-up reporting and summaries. Look for ways to build these reports and summaries into the regular communication rhythm, and store them in your knowledge bases.

Internal Communication Guidelines

Establishing official organization-wide internal communication guidelines is a necessity for organizations that staff remote workers. Guidelines make clear how channels should be used and where information should go.

Guidelines should apply to the detail level - i.e. "How we use Slack" - and should be upheld by Management and Leadership. As organizations grow, channels grow and change, and guidelines need to be updated.

Guided By Core Values

What do your core values say about how you should communicate? How you communicate internally is part of the how. What are your operating principles for communication, based on those core values?

Simple and Easy to Use

Guidelines can be as simple as a doc or spreadsheet with three columns:
  1. Tool Name
  2. Primary Use
  3. Operating Principles & Norms.

The more complicated and detailed your guidelines are, the more difficult they'll be to uphold and the more likely they'll need to be updated as both the channels and the organization change.

Communication Guideline Examples