There we were. A fine team, ripe with promise. The team is fired up with enthusiasm (since those that weren’t have already been fired with enthusiasm), and you as the leader are ready to lead your bright eyed troops into the fray of competition and prosperity.
All you need do now, is communicate.
So how do you do it?
Let’s travel back few months back and watch the evolution of communication as experienced by Node Africa.
Figure 1: Image courtesy of NASA
Stage 1: Rocket Hanger
Team Location: At Large
Primary consideration: Identity. Free Collaboration
“In the beginning was the word. And the word was ‘Test’.” – Geek proverb*
The team was dispersed geographically, working from wherever there was internet and coffee. Node was still not clearly defined, had little in the way of cash or infrastructure but had tons of goodwill and grit. Our email domain hosted on Office 365 was the first tangible aspect of the company identity.
We were on our way.
We had a launch to plan. In very short order, a WhatsApp group comprising suppliers and staff was created and our first taste of collaboration begun.
What worked: We had a brand identity via our email domain. All the people handling the launch were (mostly) on the same page
What didn’t: “Yet another WhatsApp group” fatigue. WhatsApp has a whole lot of noise. Also, WhatsApp is predominantly mobile which meant switching devices between tasks and team communications. This quickly becomes an irritant.
Figure 2: Image courtesy of NASA
Stage 2: Rocket Transport to Launch pad
Team Location: At Large
Primary consideration: Internal Communication, Task Tracking,
“Fortunately, the computer virus did no harm to our records. It was immediately devoured by the bugs in our own programming” – Unknown Developer
Launch planning is underway. We were already fielding a few customer inquiries before we even had infrastructure. Good potential! However, the collaboration front was faltering. All team members were already in multiple WhatsApp groups and thus, critical team communication could easily be overlooked in the midst of all the noise from the other groups and conversations.
We eventually figured we could use Telegram for team only conversation, reserving WhatsApp for the larger launch co-ordination. It helped that Telegram had stickers which were a big plus in lightening the tone of communication among the team.
It’s hard to go back to the drawing board when you don’t actually have a physical one. We started using Trello as our electronic whiteboard. We used it to:
- Track tasks and wish lists related to both the launch and the organization at large that needed to be shared and highly visible.
- Track trials and customer deployments
- Track the stuff we figured we’d need to make the office work (furniture, stationery, deskside masseuse…)
Around this time, we begun speculating on what platform we could use to help us connect better with our customers. We had Excel lists with potentials leads and customers. We took the plunge with Highrise CRM for a short while, as we tried to figure out how to manage the sales pipeline. Our experience of this solution is that it required far too much manual intervention so it was quickly abandoned after a brief trial.
What worked: Email is still pretty central to our communication with clients. Trello helped us visualize what has been requested, what has been deployed and what we should be billing for. Telegram gave us our first private space, though as other people begun to discover it, the noise begun to grow.
What didn’t: WhatsApp noise levels made it unusable for communications outside the launch planning. Highrise CRM required far too much manual intervention to make it work.
Figure 3: Image courtesy of NASA
Stage 3: Liftoff and Orbit
Team Location: Casa De Node
Primary consideration: Team Communication, Customer Outreach and Retention, Collaboration, Metrics Tracking
“The information explosion has reached the point where it’s cheaper and easier to re-invent the wheel”
After the giddiness died down, we realized that we needed to leverage the buzz into leads that we could then close and turn into revenue.
Our search for a tool that could get us off the ground quickly at the least possible price (read free) led us to Hubspot. Hubspot is exceedingly awesome on many levels. Their first big win is in the automation of the data collection process. Hubspot supply an Outlook plugin that allows the user to track all outgoing mail and correspondence. This in turn populates the Hubspot CRM so that all team members have visibility into the ongoing discussions with clients. We run a cold emailer campaign with surprising success largely due to this HubSpot integration. Another powerful feature is their notification that lets you know when a recipient is looking at some communication you sent them. Calling your customer as they are looking at your proposal (which may occur to your customer as
-witchcraft hypnotism- telepathy) is astoundingly effective. This is invaluable for follow-ups and pipeline management, all within the free plan. Going onto the paid plan unlocks lots more functionality, which I hope to write about in the future (after we move onto the $50 monthly paid plan).
For team collaboration, we centered our communication around Slack. Slack, to put it mildly is as close as we have gotten to communication nirvana. It allows us to group teams into channels. Thus you can have channels for company-wide communications as well as smaller team role based communication and private messages from one team member to the other. Slack also integrates into other tools such as Trello (still used for project/event planning), the support ticket platform (for tracking support requests) and the website (that little “Talk to us” widget pops up in Slack as a new channel). The desktop and mobile clients work pretty seamlessly, making a mobile workforce life style a fun reality. We love the ability to pin items (files/pics/links) for reference – such as our Swear Jar rates
The other collaboration tool we fell in love with is Quip, a fantastic document collaboration platform which we currently use for blog post production and running our meetings. A bonus feature is that Quip plays nice with Slack as well.
One of the first pieces of furniture we obtained was a 32“TV screen that we quickly re-purposed into our KPI dashboard using a combination of Screenly (powered by a Raspberry Pi) and Geckoboard. This tracks everything from the data center health, revenue growth and personnel duty to our “open communication” index tracked by determining how much communication flows in private vs public channels on slack.
Figure 4: Image courtesy of NASA
We’ve been orbiting for 9 months now. We’ve learnt quite a bit about effective communication but we still have lots more to master. A key take away from all this is that we leverage the tools for as long as we are deriving value. Whenever that changes, we discover that there is a world of excellent, very affordable apps and tech that we can leverage to keep the conversation going.
That’s all we are trying to do ultimately.
Keep the conversation going.