Shut Up and Learn to Collaborate!

Which is better? – working in a growing business

Jack, a copywriter working remotely, is communicated to by only his boss, Jane, and only via emails. Jack doesn’t feel involved in the company’s life and doesn’t feel a part of the team. As a result, he isn’t that committed to the project or the goals.
Jack, a copywriter working remotely, communicates with all of the team in real time throughout the day. He can access all the same people, systems and files as everyone else. He joins meetings via video link and edits documents with his manager live. His tasks and work is tracked the same way as everyone else.
You Decide.

The Challenges You Will Face Growing Your Team

To grow your business and keep your teams dynamic you have four main challenges:

  1. Keeping communication two way
  2. Keeping everyone informed
  3. Keeping everyone involved
  4. Keeping communication targeted


1. Keeping communication two way

Start-ups have excitement in the air with the whole team constantly engaging with each other. Communication works in small organisations because leaders often talk with staff, and staff provide feedback. As your business grows it’s harder to really listen and learn from staff. As a result staff become disengaged and you miss out on their insights. Use collaboration tools to keep constant two way communication.

2. Keeping everyone informed

The four goals of collaboration are:

  1. Everyone who needs to know knows
  2. Only the people who need to know are informed
  3. Anyone who can help, gives input
  4. Decisions are made in the context of the business direction and customer experience

Our staff normally work across different locations. To keep everyone informed we use social feeds (Slack) as they allow us to talk to each other in any location in real time. However, their real power is in organising conversations by topic, opportunity or issue. We can even tag certain staff members and teams to bring them into the conversation only when they are required.

3. Keeping everyone involved

Xilinx, a semiconductor manufacturer, implemented social media tools and reported an increase in engineer productivity by around 25%. They embraced collaboration and allowed employees to maintain “wikis” (online Wikipedia for a business) or online forums to share best practices and workarounds for particular problems.

Another great tool we have used for work planning is Trello. We have boards where we can see our tasks and what the rest of the team is working on. It also allows us to: assign each other tasks, link documents to tasks, vote on work priorities and store new ideas.

4. Keeping communication targeted

A joint study by a few European universities shows that communication and overall productivity tends to suffer with teams of 20+ members. In order to not get lost in miscommunication, make sure you set communication ground rules. For example: how to log task updates, how to link files to comments, and which feeds are used for what. The goal is that only the people who need to know are informed.

Collaboration works best when everyone knows their role. The next article in the scale your business series is how to replace outdated job descriptions with meaningful position contracts.

Stop relying on talented people

Talented people are used to solve problems. It makes sense. They have the knowledge, resourcefulness and capability to get things done. This is a problem because it’s not a scalable solution. Often the real underlying problem doesn’t get dealt with. Before long, a similar problem arises again and another talented person is tasked with solving it. What’s needed is a system that identifies the issues and provides a consistent workable solution anyone can follow.

“Talent should serve the system and the system should empower the talent.”

The same goes for achieving results. If your talented staff are achieving top results, don’t be tricked into thinking that every new staff member will automatically perform to the same level.



“I’ve seen time and time again that when our business coaching clients implement systems and sound business processes, their team enjoys more success, retention increases, and the cost of replacing any one team member drops dramatically.”


5 Steps To Building Empowering Systems:


1.Harness the knowledge of your best staff

The problem with brilliant people is that it’s too easy to rely on the experience and knowledge stuck in their heads. To grow you need to be able to replicate their experience and knowledge. There are many core tasks in your business, like sales, that your team repeat over and over again. You need to capture your staff’s knowledge and start to systematise by designing repeatable processes.


2. Map the process

The best place to start is by designing process maps. A “process map” visually describes the flow of activities of a process helping you gain a clear understanding of how things really work. Check out the example below:

How To Play Pictionary



3.Improve on your best

Designing your staff’s processes is very exciting. Your goal is to find the easiest and most repeatable way to add the most value. When done properly you go beyond documenting and uncover insights and efficiencies. You can allow people to think creatively about new ways of working. But remember, creativity is thinking of new ideas, innovation is implementing new ideas. You need to make sure any great ideas are put into practice.



4.Integrate each process into the rest of the business

Just documenting processes won’t change your business. You can’t just write policy and process documentation. You won’t get real results. These documents are rarely followed and rarely kept up to date. You must put a front end on the process that people can interact with.




5.Keep the processes alive

You need to remember that your systems and processes are always a work in progress. They are never static. As your market grows and adapts you need to change with it. We are not looking at putting in the final system that will work for a million customers today. You need to start with the 100 customers. But, that system for the hundred customers won’t work for the million customers tomorrow.


Give staff the authority and autonomy to be great. Involve them in the initial process design and then turn them into process champions. Make them accountable to improve the process. Make sure the process controls are helping the team meet the business objectives.

 “My first boss in consulting understood this concept. Whenever I had an issue there were only two outcomes for him: 1. I didn’t follow the process so go back and follow it or 2. The process didn’t work so bring me a recommendation on how to fix it.”


Let’s Get Practical – how to give people a way to interact with the process:

1. Visual controls 

  • Checklists. If the process states you need to complete five tasks, then give your staff a checklist to mark off as they complete them.
  • Budgets and dashboards. Allow staff to track how well they are following the process.

2. Procedural control

  • Review process for hiring. E.g. All interviews are conducted by two staff members.
  • Project initiation. Require a business case review before starting.
  • Sales scripts. Reduce thinking time and optimise profit and the customer experience. Include guides on pricing boundaries & upselling.

3. Embedded controls

  • Templates – by completing the template you have followed each step of the process (often without realising it). For example, when we do our free business health check we have standard questions and response templates. This allows us to pool our years of experience very quickly.
  • Saving Power – Hotels have a “lights off” policy to save power. To make this process work they require you to have the key in the room for the electricity to work. When you leave the room it turns off the electricity.
  • Expense process – you can’t make a payment unless you assign a budget code. This ensures the expense data is kept up to date.
  • Customer follow up – When the system registers a sale it automatically creates future tasks for follow up and prepopulates the correct templates or automatically sends an email.

4. Measurement controls

  • This is a carrot and stick approach. Track process efficiency and the outputs in your monthly KPIS. If a staff member is meeting their targets then you don’t need to worry. If they don’t they are now more inspired to follow the process.


Aim to Implement all four controls at once

Notice that all of these process controls reduce reliance on you, make life easier for your staff, optimise your profit and provide your customers a more consistent and optimised experience.

Building a process orientated business is not a one off exercise. It is a culture change. If you ever want to scale your business, sell it or reduce your stress you need to reduce the reliance on you.