Head of Talent at Alan.eu
It might surprise you, but communication, responsibility, and transparency are the keys to successful businesses.
Why does a business succeed?
Because it can solve important problems quickly and better than anyone else. At Alan, we’re convinced that inappropriate shows of ego, things left unsaid, uncertainty, and an inability to exchange with colleagues create stress and slow down processes. But to escape it all, a business needs a few well-balanced ingredients and a strong culture.
Before taking you behind the scenes, we should remember that there’s no magic formula. Before working at Alan, I worked a several different companies: IBM, Startup Weekend, WeWork and Buffer. The choice of organizational structure and method of team management are critical and have a strong impact on the future of the business...no pressure!
That said, there are just as many organizational models as there are companies and markets. Rather than copy-paste certain practices, adapt them to the way your company functions and who you are as a business.
From past experience, I can say that successful companies share 3 traits:
Is your culture explicit enough?
Even if your internal org structure will evolve, your culture is durable. It’s the foundation of your organization.
While at Buffer, I learned what a strong internal culture can do, even if 100% of employees worked remotely and without any offices.
The team started by defining its values and uses them on a daily basis for all important decisions, including recruitment. When opinions differ, values help the team to stay united thanks to a shared foundation.
A company’s culture must be understood, shared, and respected by the entire team. The problem is that most professionals think that team culture is something implicit that comes naturally. However, if it’s not written down, it’s open to individual interpretation.
Here at Alan, the 3 pillars of our culture are at the heart of everything (productivity, recruitment policy, ways of working) . Our founders wrote them down on Day 1.
So, let’s get to the heart of the matter: how have we built communication, responsibility, and transparency into our organization?
Get rid of elephants in the room
To be as efficient as possible, we defined our approach to internal communication as precisely as possible. What communication channels do we use? With what frequency and for what objectives? What are our recurring meetings? How do we share information? These are the questions we needed to answer to allow information to circulate without getting lost or stuck.
I won’t get into the nitty gritty details, but here are two main elements:
- Present your arguments: each team member must explain and share the reasoning behind his decisions with the others. It allows him or her to get good feedback from peers and take advantage of all the good ideas other people might have. In other words, to take advantage of collective intelligence.
- Hello written memos, goodbye meetings. Meetings take time, break us out of deep work, and give an unfair advantage to skilled rhetoricians. We like the old school feel of writing things down. In other words, we’ve replaced meetings by “issues” in GitHub. More than 1000 issues have been raised and resolved here. Read more about it here.
Trust your teams
Your teams will return the sentiment a thousand fold.
Here at Alan, we shared our business objectives and power is shared amongst all our members, no matter what their role. Don’t confuse this will “delegating”. We got a whole lot further and give our teams the keys they need. The goal is to really involve each employee in the everyday running of the business. Everyone can make decisions quickly no matter their seniority. And this level of autonomy draws the best talent. They’re looking for freedom and want to make an impact. We all aim for excellence in our work and grow very rapidly.
Break your big goals down into weekly goals
Defining your goals is essential. They shouldn’t be too big, and more importantly, they must be reachable. No problem is too big or too ambitious if you can break it down!
Every Tuesday at Alan, we set a goal and sent it the next day to the entire team and our shareholders. We make decisions quickly and are super motivated by the sense that we’re constantly moving forward. Our teams take on significant challenges without apprehension, everyone moves at the same pace within the company.
Whether positive or constructive, feedback is the best way to help every individual improve and to avoid forced harmony within a team. The idea is that everyone needs feedback so everyone should ask for it.
How do you give quality feedback?
- Focus on behavior and not personality
- Be as specific as possible
- Avoid negative terms. You want a positive outcome! Using ‘but’ has a tendency to make the other person defensive.
- Put your ego aside. We can talk about failures just as much as success.
Set up individual meetings
At Alan, we hold 1:1s every morning every two weeks. These meetings are a way of checking in about goals we’re working on. It allows two people to discuss, learn, and progress. At our company, we take a walk around the block during our 1:1s, and typically ask questions like “What motivates you?”, “Are we working on the right things?”, “If you were in my shoes, what would you change?” It creates an impressive amount of harmony amongst team members.
It’s also the best way to help brilliant ideas surface, get out frustrations, or to talk about what can be improved, so it’s a positive feedback loop.
To make good decisions, teams have to know about everything. Whether it’s a fundraising round, recruiting, or new projects. Even our salaries are public information. It helps us avoid frustration and keep everyone engaged.
No organizational structure is universal. Ask yourself the right questions when it comes to your team and the context in which you’re working. Be analytical and not naive. What will help you succeed? Inspire yourself, read, discuss, meet, and gain food for thought from outside the business in order to find your own formula for success.