I’m currently scaling two organizations on a fast growth trajectory. The staff is always growing, our projects always increasing, and our need for quick, clear communication is always apparent. At Sideways8, communication is at the heart of everything we do. Our tagline is even, “better communication through digital marketing.” At 48in48 we are communicating with 100s of people at a time, always seeking to communicate clearly so everyone is on the same page.
I think about communication and company organization all the time, hoping to get an edge and improve it. So, these are my thoughts on meetings, internal communication and project management, along with some tools to help along the way.
To communicate well, have lots of meetings
Those that know me well probably think this heading is sarcastic, it isn’t. Fast growth companies need to have lots of meeting, but those meetings can be very short. I suggest that every company should start with a daily “stand-up.” A stand-up is a meeting that you have standing up so it never takes too long. Ideally, a stand-up meeting is 5 to 15 minutes long and covers the following three things.
Stand-up meeting/call agenda
- Updates. What has happened in the last 24 hours that your team members should know about? This can be personal, like telling your team you just got engaged, or work related, like letting the team know a big client is flying into your office next week. These updates keep you in sync as a team both personally and professionally.
- Critical tasks for today. Each person shares the most important one or two things they are working on that day. This gives the team insight into the day to day activities of a team member. It also helps the team to realize when a team member is stuck because they are saying the same thing several days in a row. This is also a good time to see when people are in alignment and can help one another in their tasks. If your team needs help thinking through their critical tasks for a day, consider my 5/5/5 method.
- Blockers. Each person should share anything that is blocking them from completing their tasks. This helps the team see the challenges of each individual and gives them the opportunity to lend a hand.
Other focused, short meetings
With the daily stand-up serving to get the team focused, cohesive and moving forward, now come the focused meetings. These are short (15 to 30 minute) meetings that focus on something key to the success of the organization. These meetings might need to happen weekly, bi-weekly or monthly.
Take 48in48 for example. At 48in48 we put on events to build 48 nonprofit websites in 48 hours. The timelines for those events are very important. So, every week we have a “timeline call” to walk through all event timelines and make sure we aren’t missing anything critical. We also have a weekly “dashboard review call” to walk through all of the key numbers for our events to make sure we are on track. Each of these calls is 15 minutes or less and backs up to our daily stand-up call. Even though the calls are back to back, they are clearly different calls with different agendas and a time limit.
A series of short meetings doesn’t leave a lot of time for problem-solving. So, I suggest having a problem-solving meeting either every other week or once a month. This is the meeting where you hash through issues that have come up in other meetings. It might be tempting to try to problem solve on the fly during your daily stand-up, but resist that temptation. Instead, either wait to solve problems during the problem-solving meeting, or solve them offline with only the people in the room (or on the call) that really need to be there.
If your company is remote like mine, you will need a good conference line to use for calls. I use Uber Conference for both companies. They have a free option that is great, and premium is even better.
A plan for internal company communication
Email was great when it came out and revolutionized business and how we collaborate. But, let’s be honest, it kind of sucks now, especially for internal communication. Fast growth companies and organizations need to be able to communicate quickly, in a focused manner, across devices. For this I strongly recommend Slack.
Slack is free if you don’t want the premium features (both of my companies run on the free version), simple to use, and fantastic. It supports the following types of basic internal communication:
- Direct messages to an individual
- Group messages to specific individuals
- Channels for communication where you can focus your conversation. A channel is a great place for discussion specific to a project, event, etc.
- At Sideways8 we have a channel for each client
- At 48in48 we have a channel for each event, committee, etc.
- Slack also has a ton of integrations like being able to share files, set reminders, and all sorts of other things.
There are other good tools like Hipchat and more as well. Whatever system you choose to use, make sure the whole company is invested in it. All internal communication must happen in one place with some loose guidelines around it to ensure great communication within your growing company.
Recommended communication guidelines
- All internal communication should happen in one place (except of conversation about specific tasks, which will happen in your project management platform, more on that later).
- Limit side conversations about any project that involves other people within the organization.
- Categorize your channels for communication around the most important topics you are consistently talking about and have all of the communication about that topic in that space.
- Determine appropriate response times to internal and external messages to set expectations. For example:
- Email communications should be responded to within 24 hours.
- Internal communications should be responded to within 12 hours.
- Weekends are personal time, no communication response needed.
- Once communication is sent, the responsibility for what is discussed is on the receiver. In other words, if you ask someone something on Slack and they forget to respond and it makes your project late, it’s their fault.
- Always give context when communicating. Everyone has a lot going on, so don’t just ask a generic question that someone won’t understand immediately. Give surrounding context, a link, or a document to help the person understand what you are asking.
- Ask the right question the first time. Too often people ask a question in order to get to another question in order to get to the final question they actually want to know. Instead of wasting a co-workers time, think about what you want to know for a moment and ask the exact right question to get the perfect answer you need.
Recommendations for company/organization project planning and execution
Every organization needs a spot for task management. It could be a complex project management platform or a simple whiteboard with post-it notes all over it. Regardless of the system, if people don’t write down the things they are working on and mark them as complete when finished, things will get lost and balls will be dropped.
At Sideways8 we use teamwork.com. Teamwork is great for setting up projects and collaborating on them. It will handle file sharing, task lists, project milestones, basically anything you can imagine from a traditional project management perspective. Teamwork has a free plan that works pretty well for small teams.
At 48in48 we use Trello. Trello is a lot more flexible and can be used a million different ways. I find the best way to think about Trello is like a digital version of having post-it notes that you can fill out with information, checklists, labels, files, etc. and then those post-it notes go into columns of like information. Trello is great for companies using scrum methodology, or people that just want a ton of flexibility in how they organize and arrange their projects and work. Trello has a free plan that works great for small companies, plus their mobile app is pretty great.
Whatever platform your company uses, the bottom line is that you need one. There must be a single source of truth for the status of every project, event or collaborative effort. There must be a place where the team can see what has been completed and what has not. There must be a place to ask questions about a specific task without them getting lost in the abyss. Your project management platform is that place.
Every fast growth company/organization must have the following to keep pace and scale quickly.
- A thoughtful meeting strategy to keep everyone in sync.
- An internal communications system and protocol to make sure communications are quick and never lost.
- A platform for tasks that is the single source of truth for all projects and initiatives.
With these three things in place, a company or organization will be able to communicate effectively and move quicker than ever to keep up with fast-paced growth.