I’ve worked in large companies. I’ve worked in small companies. I’ve worked in startups.
But the most jarring change I’ve ever experienced as an employee is when two of those were smashed together, like when the startup I worked for was acquired by a much larger company. Suddenly, a 50-person company was folded into a 2,500 person company.
In my opinion, that wasn’t what the problem was. Lots of small companies are bought frequently, and though there are changes, many weather the storm. It depends on the context and industry for sure.
But this one was incredibly egregious for a pretty simple reason. The everyday systems that we were used to (like email, time tracking, time off requests, project management, expense reports, CRM and more) were at once familiar, but simultaneously dislocating. Everything was just slightly different.
We knew how to manage our projects, but not like this. We knew how our CRM worked, but not like this.
The setup was different and the accounts were different, such as switching from a localized version of Salesforce to an enterprise level. It was like we were driving the same roads, but in cars with different driving seats.
This was a total cluster of team collaboration. And it wasn’t even that the old, bigger company was doing it “wrong” compared to the new(er) startup I was a part of, it was that no one worked closely with us in transition.
The thing that held us back from optimal team collaboration was awareness.
We had gaps, and they had gaps, and both were exposed. For the first time, there was no one we could turn to and say “Hey, did you know how to do this?” because no one had ever used these systems before.
The gap when our systems switched to the larger company was in our institutional knowledge. And this is a huge issue for companies large and small. When long-time employees move on, there are often no clear guidelines and processes about what that person did or what they were responsible for.
Of course, some positions require more documentation than others, and your team needs to be aware of that as well. We didn’t do a great job of recording and documenting what was happening. Tools like Notion or Confluence or other knowledge management systems can help you organize and record these processes.
To achieve effective team communication, that often means not leaving things to chance. This is especially true if your company has offices in multiple locations or many of colleagues work remotely or travel often. In these cases, email is usually very inefficient–phone calls may even be better.
At ClickUp, we have lots of team members scattered around the country and globe, which means that email usually won’t cut it. We run a productivity software company, so yes, we use our own system to keep track of projects. We supplement those tasks and details with explanations, such as with videos from Loom.
We’re a huge user of Loom capabilities, because we can quickly capture any changes that need to be made, inform the team of updates or make suggestions. With Loom, our miscommunication has definitely decreased and our overcommunication has been even better! Here’s an example of our design team putting Loom in action:
Also, ClickUp unfurls Loom videos right inside task descriptions and comments, allowing you to watch them right on the platform. Pretty awesome!
Too often teams confuse their project management system with the methodology they’re actually using. Just because you use a kanban board doesn’t mean you’re truly an agile team. And just because you don’t use Kanban doesn’t mean you aren’t agile. No, you should choose how you want to work and then let the tools augment your work.
In the transition to a larger company, my team was forced into using Wrike but in reality that didn’t help anything. We really had a communication problem that was never fully addressed. And all the tools in the world wouldn’t have made that easier if no one wanted to use them or to try and communicate clearly.
At first, I was going to suggest to cut down on meetings. And maybe you need to do that. But the reason I’d suggest that is because with too many meetings, people zone out. What’s important gets lost. And on top of that, if meetings are unorganised or without clear agendas, there are too many opportunities to go off topic and pursue rabbit trails.
If meetings are less frequent, your team will know that it’s important. Another way to make your meetings count is to intentionally make them short. Daily team huddles or stand-ups make this a possibility. Team members know it’ll be short and if there are solid guidelines, team members can address things one-on-one after the meeting is over.
I’ll go back once again to that transition the startup was making to the larger company. A huge part of our frustration is that we were surfacing problems with the communication and the routines, but no one admitted that there were errors. It was definitely a CYA culture that us newbies just “didn’t understand”.
A lot of the slights and misperceptions may have ignored or forgiven if we could’ve received honest answers, even if we didn’t like those answers. That would’ve garnered respect rather than resentment. Once team members are honest about what’s happening and any mistakes being made, that will improve everyone’s workflow and help each person work more productively.
Improving team collaboration can be a frustrating exercise because it takes time and everyone has to be involved. By its very nature, you have to delegate collaboration–no one can collaborate alone. Everyone has to be willing to do it and that collaborative culture starts at the top.
Yet, everyone must take responsibility for it. So I encourage you to think about your individual role and what tips here you can use to improve collaboration, and then think of ways to help your organization also embrace some of these ideas.
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