Dealing With a Communication Meltdown at Your Startup
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Communication breakdown in a small team can be nerve wracking – especially when tight deadlines and certain milestones need to be met. And if not handled properly, it can cause a startup's mission to stall as regrouping may be required.
At my startup Practice Makes Perfect -- a nonprofit focused on partnering with schools and operating their summer programs in inner-city neighborhoods – we had such an experience. During the process of gearing up for one of our largest summers of programming to date, our closely-knit had a communication mishap that could have had a negative effect on our program quality this summer.
In the process of getting us back on track, I learned a number of important lessons about dealing with a communication meltdown.
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You need to address the situation. Make sure you address why there was a communication breakdown. This issue should be your first focus -- before any problem solving can take place.
Initially, I made the mistake of brushing the problem under the rug and just moving forward. I believed this was the right approach, because I saw addressing it as a form of dwelling on the past. I figured we would have one long debrief at the end, which would allow everyone to focus on the problems at hand now. I was wrong. I wound up explaining the situation to members individually in a manner that took three times as long. At the end of that process, I realized that people would actually dwell on the mistake more if they have no clue as to how it happened.
Over communicate. The reason we were in a bind was because we did not communicate enough. Over communication can be taxing and tedious if it is done all of the time. It can also make people feel like they are being micro-managed, which most people do not like. However, in the process of trying to work through a tough problem, you want to keep everyone involved and informed. That way if other hiccups or bumps are presented, they can be thought through and solved immediately. Similarly, progress should be reported as well. The little wins in addressing the challenge will be motivating and continue to drive you and your team.
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Create a suggestion box or identify a way to gather feedback. As soon as I informed my teammates about the situation, everyone -- including myself -- had ideas on how to prevent this from happening next year. And even though those thoughts are important, they were not the timeliest. (We had another 12 months before our next summer program.) Creating a suggestion box allowed everyone to get their thoughts on paper without pulling everyone's focus off the big picture of addressing our challenge. Once we were ready to debrief, we had several great suggestions to incorporate for the following year.