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How to Ensure Company-Wide Alignment

Internal Communication
Collaboration

28 August, 2020

Brad Henrickson, CTO at Scoop, discusses how he successfully introduced company-wide alignment by developing succinct communication strategies.

Problem

When I joined my previous organization, it was a small startup with 40 to 50 employees widely regarded as an environment in which people had a lot of autonomy. Essentially, if they wanted to work on something they could, and if they didn’t want to do something they didn’t have to. As I became more familiar with the organization I realized that a lot of people were insufficiently engaged -- there was too much latitude and the hands-off mentality was pervasive. People wanted to do well but lacked the direction and no one was stepping in to help lead the initiatives.
 

Actions taken

First off, I identified key things that we need to be aligned on and that we cared about. There was a lack of knowledge of what was happening throughout the organization and one of the key things that was missing from a project standpoint was a structure that would allow people to understand what other people were doing and be able to share their own projects.
 

There were few spaces to get insight into what we were building and why, and communication around it was usually ad hoc. I decided to enhance communication and build alignment by introducing minimal and least-demanding pieces that would be part of a larger framework. This was in stark contrast to re-baking the entire software development process and convening big, long-lasting forums. Instead, I provided a number of checkpoints people could align around and it helped them understand what we were doing and enable them to have conversations with different people.
 

To achieve this, the first thing I did was to create a notion of one-pager. If someone wanted to do any type of project -- and it didn’t matter if they were a PM or engineer -- they would have to write down what their goal was, how they would approach it, who was on the team and then socialize it by posting it on Slack. Then, everyone could read it and provide feedback; it was immensely helpful to the individual who would receive feedback company-wide but also to everyone else who would be informed of their plans. One-pagers allowed people to preserve their autonomy but also built better alignment without creating the override process to support their effort.
 

I also mapped the teams, their roles and responsibilities, and drew precise demarcation lines between product and engineering. Then we introduced an idea of a team’s representative which was a different role from someone who was a people’s manager for the team. A person who would represent the team would be someone who was passionate to communicate what the team was doing outward to the wider company which allowed information to flow more easily and shed more light on what teams were doing.
 

Also, I put a significant effort to encourage people to have conversations of all kinds. Rather than having people immersed in their own work, I would have them communicate outward what was going on, on a regular cadence. Once we laid solid foundations for understanding what was happening, we could start building scaffolding for more comprehensive communication and alignment strategies that would communicate in a succinct way what was happening and why. The end result was that people became much more engaged, preserved their autonomy, were happy and thriving on clarity and inspired by camaraderie brought by intensified communication.
 

Lessons learned

  • Never underestimate how much lightweight things can help you. There is an aversion to introducing any new process, particularly in early-stage organizations, therefore you need to determine what is the minimum viable process -- as I call it -- to accomplish things you wanted to do.
  • Autonomy is not a synonym for productivity or happiness. Autonomy should be built on some ground rules and some baseline structure and you will need something to contain that autonomy, to help charge it and build some velocity around it. Autonomy itself is not necessarily a good thing, especially if you don’t have a supporting structure to ensure that it won’t be dissolved in vagueness and irresponsibility.
  • You want things to be concise and easy. Both can be applied to a one-pager and minimum viable process. If someone would have to fill in a 15 pages-long document they won’t do it or if they do, they will do it because it is required not because it will make their lives better. There is a cost to doing something and if you want someone to do it, make sure it’s not expensive. Make it low cost and easy for people to do the right thing.

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