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Bursts of Color - Internal Comms

Bursts of Color - Internal Comms
By Geoff Donaker • Issue #82 • View online
Once a company grows past about 25 employees, it’s common to hear complaints like “I don’t know what’s going on at this company,” “Who decided that?!” and “I feel disconnected.” It’s equally common for founders to be shocked by such complaints: after all, founders do know what’s going on and they’re not trying to keep it a secret. So what’s happening here?
This simple answer is that more people equals more complexity, as illustrated in popular graphics like this one:

there are many versions of this graphic; I found this one on LeadingAgile.com
there are many versions of this graphic; I found this one on LeadingAgile.com
Three Rules of Thumb for Internal Comms
It’s kind of obvious that, as the team grows, leaders must spend increasing time and effort on internal communication to have any hope of getting people to do what the leaders want. While there is no silver bullet to this, I do suggest these three rules of thumb as good places to start:
  1. Repeat yourself a lot
  2. Avoid I-formations
  3. Meet IRL consistently
1. Repeat Yourself A Lot
With a small team, you can gather the troops to “listen up” and be relatively sure that everyone gets the message. As the team grows past a certain point, however, this is no longer true. Someone will miss the All Hands Meeting… and some who attend will zone out. Some don’t read their email, others don’t keep up with Slack and still others will watch only the first 30 seconds of your 3 minute video. In aggregate, I estimate that only about 50% of staff will fully hear/process any given announcement in any given channel. The only reasonable solution I’ve found is to get comfortable repeating yourself – and to do so in a wide range of channels, so that you’re likely to catch everyone at least once.
Only 50% of the team will hear any particular announcement
Only 50% of the team will hear any particular announcement
2. Avoid I-Formations
As a team grows, there’s a natural tendency to promote strong individual contributors to “player/coach” roles, meaning they do their day job while also managing one or two teammates. This leads to an I-Formation on your org chart, where each manager has only one or two direct reports, and communication gets garbled much more than needed. We’ve all played Telephone, right? Instead of letting the team grow vertically this way, the better move is to only promote or hire the most promising leaders into real manager roles with 6-10 direct reports each. Now the manager is getting enough experience every day to learn the job well, and you have a chance of creating a cohesive sub-team. 
3. Meet IRL Consistently
The last few years have shown that remote work can be very efficient. Nonetheless, in-person time remains much better for transferring the kinds of everyday information, feelings and ideas that build trust and teamwork over time. So it’s no surprise that most of you are now actively experimenting with different versions of IRL work and expectations. Just to name a few:
  • Everyone in office T-Th
  • Everyone in office M-Th between 12-4pm
  • Everyone in office M, Engineering T, Sales W
  • All-hands offsites quarterly in a different city
  • Regional meetups monthly
  • Functional meetups quarterly
There is no one right answer here. However, the common thread is an effort to get people together as frequently as possible… and also to provide space for the kind of casual conversations that happen over lunch.
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Geoff Donaker

Bursts of Color is a newsletter for start-up leaders who work with Burst Capital. It's meant to include products, people and ideas that I think are interesting and maybe relevant for you.

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