Have you ever been in a company or a team going through sudden growth or change? It's easy to feel lost and disconnected. Periods of rapid change are uncomfortable at best and can sometimes cause stress, anxiety and fear.
In my team we've seen this more than once. As (oddly) both Peter Pan and Battlestar Galactica said
“All of this has happened before and all of it will happen again.”
In the early days of Campaign Monitor it was easy; I’d lean over and ask our founder or lead developer “what’re you working on?”. And they would show me, and then I knew everything there was to know.
Then one day there was Diana, a remote support person who, it turns out, didn’t magically know everything I knew. Now I needed to write things down somewhere. The team grew, the product grew, and suddenly I was finding out about changes from our customers.
So we introduced internal chat and we tried different wikis and newsletters and eventually we got it working, at least for the most part.
And then: Investments, growth, new teams and tons of new people doing jobs I’ve never done, producing things which I don’t always understand, in ways I never expected and for reasons I may know nothing about.
It’s exciting, it’s unsettling and it’s totally normal. But could we get back to that state where we mostly knew what was going on and why? And what can you do if you aren't at the point end of the org chart?
Here are 4 things we can all work on, no matter what our role is in the company:
One of my favourite business books is Patrick Lencioni’s “The Advantage”, in which he talks about the critical importance of creating clarity.
When a company has clarity around who it is, what it does and why it does it, everyone can judge their own behaviour and the behaviour of others in the same way. It lets us understand the “why” behind what we’re doing.
Every effective person should share and create clarity about their goals, key measures, our priorities and roadmap. If you are not agreeing on those, you are destined to waste a bunch of time and effort.
- Share the “why” behind your decisions, as well as the what and the how.
- Tie your daily work and your longer projects to your company goals and measures and values.
- Speak up if you don’t understand the full picture. It’s ok to ask.
Sharing information is vitally important, but information without context can be misleading. It’s important for me to know that the Widget project has been shelved. It’s far better to understand the context, that our numbers show Widgets are not important to our target customers and that they’re all about Gizmos this year.
Information presented in context helps people understand it better, even if they don’t agree with the decision.
- Be careful not to assume everyone understands the background to a decision; include it in your documentation.
- Explicitly give people permission to ask you for more information.
- ‘Show your working’ with links to research or metrics in addition to gut feel.
When we went from a handful of people in an office to a handful of people in an office and one in Portland, we suddenly learned that communication doesn’t always just happen.
As your company grows you must be much more intentional about our communication. Regular, digestable communication, shared with clarity and context, will do more to align us than an all-company getaway. Although those too will help.
- Pick a central place for documentation and make that your source of truth (avoid splintering communication into many channels).
- Consider regular email newsletters on your particular subject area to help inform others and to force yourself to think clearly about your priorities.
- Look for opportunities to share your team’s knowledge with the rest of the company.
As you grow bigger and move faster you will run into those projects that someone else is already doing, or where it’s already been tried before. There’s a risk of wasted effort through duplication or clashing approaches.
- Make sure your work is not hidden away from other teams by sharing it openly.
- Create opportunities for other teams to come and give you a brown bag session.
- Make individuals in your team the point person for intra-team discussions.
If you think this all sounds like hard work, you’re right. You get alignment and clarity for free as a tiny company but you have to actively work on it as you grow.
But it can be done, and the more we all practice it the easier it gets to maintain.
Don’t settle for being left out of the loop. Make an effort to read the information that’s being published, and to share what you learn. Don’t wait for a new person to introduce themselves; reach out and tell them about you and your team.
Speak up if you’re uncertain and ask for clarification. Talk to the people who can do something about it. Don’t expect everything to be fixed for you, because we’re all figuring this out as we go and nobody has a magic wand.