Build a Communication Map for your org

Courtesy these guys

I have consistently mentioned in my previous posts that the first thing you do when you settle into a new role as a leader in an organization is to study the communication design of the org. A lot of the inefficiencies in the organization are typically due to unclear goals, dependencies spread across multiple teams with incoherent priorization, and the lack of a process behind decision making. These are the kind of things that a communication map fixes. Put simply, a communication map is what you use to navigate the organization and make it more nimble, agile, and decisive. It tackles the following four aspects:

  • Defining and prioritizing organizational goals
  • Managing dependencies and deadlocks between teams
  • Making decisions especially those cross-functional ones
  • Democratize brainstorming

Putting a communication map in place is as much of a cultural change as a process change and can take months to accomplish. It’s key to first understand the vibe of the organization and try to fill in the holes if any, rather than just slap on an end to end process of your own (though sometimes things can be so broken, that its best to just scrap everything and start from scratch).

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this exercise especially as the company becomes larger. A small startup can afford to huddle and make calls on the fly. But as soon as your org is larger than 40–50 folks, you have to work on the communication map of the company. Here is favorite setup to do this is (and an example):

  • Define and manage Goals : Quarterly OKRs in a transparent format
  • Manage dependencies and break deadlocks : One-off session post the OKR process if needed
  • Decision making: Weekly Product sessions with all the key leads in room
  • Brainstorming: Weekly working sessions with leadership
  • Hiring: Bi-weekly hiring committee of peers that is neutral and consistent
  • Promotions: Quarterly promo committee that make recommendations to leadership

Its critical that the topics for decision making and brainstorming sessions both be driven by the team and not just by the leadership. This is different from the regular setup where the leadership keeps asking for reviews and discussions on topics that they think matter. When you allow the org to set the agenda for the meetings, it decentralizes and empowers the team, and typically brings up the most critical issues in the org to the forefront. It also vastly increases access to the leadership — a cornerstone of any good communication map.

Basically if you can help define the goals of an org, break any dependencies when those goals are set, provide a clear forum for decision making and find an organic way to encourage cross-team brainstorms then the org will essentially run itself. Leaving the leadership with ample time to spend on larger strategic choices. Which is mostly what you should be doing anyways.

Let me know if I missed something. I have used this framework in teams across Google, Motorola and Flipkart, and it has mostly worked well. The final setup is always slightly different for different cultures, but focusing on the communication map of your org will lead to good things.

PS: Niket will be kicking off office hours starting next week. I expect it to be a few hours spread over two days every week. Hope to see you there. More info on how to register soon.

PPS: There will be some amount of vetting but otherwise its an opportunity to come talk about your product, business, org etc. The intention is to pass on whatever little we have learned from our work in Valley to the next generation of entrepreneurs in India. I am big believer that the great companies of the future are being built right now in some dinky little office in India!