How our team improved its internal communications with three simple practices

Internal communication is more important than growth hacking for startups.

Kaisa-Maria Suomalainen

Sep 12, 2017

5 min read

No need to wipe your glasses, I know I’m making a pretty strong claim here. Don’t get me wrong either: getting people to notice your product is important. It’s just that a lot of talk about startup communications is focused on marketing or that elusive act of growth hacking.

This is quite sad because communication has value beyond promotion. In fact, how you communicate with your team is crucial for your team’s success.

Why is that? There are brilliant individuals who never really started to bloom as a team. There are great projects that were silently brushed away because something wasn’t quite there. In other words, they failed to communicate effectively.

Great communication is not something that happens by itself (unless you are a team of three, know each other since the age of four, have matching personalities and spend practically all the time in the same room. I guess it’s safe to assume then that you know each other inside out but whether this is a healthy or even a likely scenario I do not know…)

The first step is to understand that communication is more than sharing information. That is just one part of the story. Communication is also a ritual, and an essential part of that ritual is to create meanings that glue your team together. A Sense of humor. Shared goals. Style of working. It makes sense to foster practices that improve how you share information and also help you to feel more unified.

I’ve been thinking about this issue quite a lot and I decided to write a blog post about our communication practices and what we have learned so far. I hope they’ll inspire you to create, boost or enhance your own ways of communicating.

Step 1: Start with a cup of coffee

You know what they say. When inspiration fails, a routine is there to have your back.

Find a routine that fosters an informal exchange of information. Meeting over a cup of coffee can go a long way. But what if you don’t have an office or are working remotely for other reasons?

Our team decided to create a virtual coffee room. We set up a google hangouts session every day at 10 am sharp and discuss whatever comes to mind. Usually that involves quite a lot work-related talk and thanks to this practice we know 1) what is important this week or at least are reminded of it 2) can share our thoughts, ideas and concerns that otherwise would be too menial or minor to prompt a meeting of their own 3) know what other team members are doing. The third point is important because it helps to understand the workload of others and whether there is something that could be done together. These short sessions have also saved us from doing double work and improved our daily productivity.

Step 2: Always keep your notepad (or app) close

Keeping minutes or writing memos might seem like an outdated practice (think of the offices with the 1970s decor and piles of dusty folders), but trust me if you forget to do this it will soon cost you your nerves and even money.

To avoid this we decided to put extra focus on documenting our journey and started taking notes consistently. At the moment we are using Microsoft OneNote because it allows organizing items thematically. We have dedicated one section to meeting notes only. In addition to that, we are using sections like “workshops”, “office” and so on. With this kind of structure, you can easily add new bullets when needed. Quite soon we realized that keeping up with our to do’s needs more than a notebook and we signed up for Trello.

Taking notes is similar to keeping a journal. The best part of this practice is that it allows you to look back to our past meetings and discussions. It’s also motivating: you can see what you have accomplished and also what never really worked. Either way, it’s a valuable tool for daily operations and gives you an opportunity to check whether you are moving in the right direction.

Step 3: Talk to your team (and keep your slack discussion public)

Slack is great, but just because you have it and your team members are all signed in, doesn’t mean your team is communicating effectively. If you don’t treat Slack with the care and consideration it deserves, you might fall into these two pitfalls.

The first one is overusing private channels. That happens quite easily. You start a discussion with your colleague and leave it there. Quite soon public channels start to look empty and when you get your weekly report you’ll notice that 80% of your team’s discussions takes place in private channels. This was something I personally wanted to avoid at all costs.

So, talk to your team. There’s no point assuming what others should know. Let them decide what is relevant and what is not. Make sure you share all work matters on slack (a meeting you are planning to have, a challenge with clashing schedules, a bug you cannot solve). Even if the topic doesn’t exactly fall into their lot, your team might still have something to say or to contribute. But first, they have to know about it. So it’s better to cover as many topics as possible in public channels. We started ours with #dev and #announcement channels.

Don’t limit your discussion to simple to do’s and announcements. One-sided communication is not enough for internal communication to really work. Think of your #random channel as a shared kitchen or a lounge. Joke, tell stories and even though it’s irrelevant. Once we spent almost an hour talking about unicorns (animals — not startups) and how certain individuals believe they possess healing powers. Not the most productive 40 minutes in our lives, but if you can crack a joke about unicorns with your colleagues you can surely ask their opinion about that silly blog post idea you had.

And that brings me back to my first point. Don’t underestimate the value of informal exchange of ideas and information. Sharing is a key to trust and compassion that are needed to create killer teams that can accomplish anything. And it’s exactly that kind of team when your growth hacking starts bringing results and you need to deliver your promises.

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