The Company Communication Challenge

Earlier this week, I was dining with the CEO of a relatively new startup and discussing the challenges of company growth. The CEO was mainly focused on logistical issues and financial concerns and hadn’t given any thought to the impact of team communications. This is somewhat understandable. When your team works in one office and shares physical kanban boards, you may not be focusing on how you manage a globally dispersed organisation.

Still, I wanted to underline how important it is to build effective communication strategies into the very foundation of a company, into its actual DNA. During the discussion, I was reminded of a Ben Horowitz quote: As a company grows, communication becomes its biggest challenge. This is a statement that should be stuck to the laptop of every CEO.

I’ve worked for companies of all sizes, from startups to behemoths, and do you know what separates the good from the bad? The companies that promote and value communication. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. Good company and team communication is something that has to be worked at. It’s not something organic. It’s not something that can be expected to nurture itself. It’s something that has to be championed — fostered at every level.

It’s my focus on developing successful communications that partly underlines my passion for collaborative platforms. Whether it’s Salesforce Chatter, Igloo, LeanKit, Basecamp, Evernote, or other online tools. It’s only when you move away from traditional corporate communication platforms that you start to realise the possible gains to open and transparent collaboration. But there are still many companies that are yet to embrace or even try this approach.

And this is where the cracks start to appear.

CEOs need to decide from an early point, how important collaboration and communication tools will be for the company, especially if you have global aspirations. If you’re used to having daily scrum meetings together in the same room, how do you seamlessly scale when your team geographically expands? It’s incredible how quickly people develop a comfort zone, how quickly they develop familiar working patterns. It’s when you start to move away from these patterns that teams start to fragment.

This is especially true when you introduce remote workers.

While Marissa Mayer has corralled her team into a tight corporate huddle over at Yahoo, other companies are embracing the remote working model with gusto. They see the benefits. They see the increase in productivity. They see the energy. As long as your corporate culture fosters collaboration and transparency, there’s nothing to be feared by remote working and distributed team models.

To return to Horowitz, the biggest challenge to growing companies is communication. Once communication becomes an afterthought, you’ve lost the battle. A company-wide email or a group update every few weeks simply isn’t enough. If you’re taking people on a journey, you need to make sure they’re with you every step of the way. There shouldn’t be any darkness in a company’s communication corridor, only brilliant, illuminating light.

One final comment. After I finished dinner with my CEO friend, I caught him looking at his iPhone. He was googling Salesforce Chatter. Score one for collaborative communication.

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