3 Secrets to Effective Communication During Rapid Business Growth

Once your team numbers reach double digits, you may find it hard to communicate your high-level visions with each employee.

learn more about Ash Rust

By Ash Rust


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Consider this case study: BlackBerry, once the big shot of the mobile industry, has fallen hard. Since the company's peak in 2007, its stock has plummeted from $236 to less than $8 per share. So, why did Blackberry lose more than 95 percent of its value in less than a decade? The answer: ineffective communication.

Related: 4 Communication Habits That Will Make You and Others Feel Good

Ironically, leaders at Research In Motion (RIM) -- BlackBerry's parent company -- couldn't maintain lines of communication with their eternal teams. "Everybody just kept their mouths shut [about missed deadlines], waiting for something else to break," an employee said of the problem. And, because employees weren't communicating, RIM's executives were clueless to the true scale of BlackBerry's problems.

Unfortunately, the company's story isn't unusual. Many otherwise-successful, growing companies falter because of miscommunication. Rapid growth is a wonderful opportunity, yet it abounds with chances for communication breakdown. Booming business necessitates new hires, but frantic hiring often leads to miscommunicated expectations, misunderstood roles and little interpersonal familiarity.

From my time at Klout, a rapidly growing social media analytics startup, I know the consequences of strained communication. When I arrived in 2008, I was the eighth employee. When I left 18 months later, the staff had grown to almost 60. Everybody agreed we needed more people to maintain our rapid growth, but that growth in itself created many Catch-22 situations: Hire fast, but don't lower standards. Let senior team members step up, but don't lock up key positions with insiders. Give new hires autonomy, but don't let them run free without adequate training.

The secrets to effective communication

In the early days of a startup's life, communication is easy; founders can sit around a table with the entire team. But once the team reaches double digits -- often abruptly, and with dozens of new initiates -- entrepreneurs may find it challenging to communicate high-level visions with each member.

Luckily, there are ways to promote effective communication during your startup's growth spurt.

1. Make hierarchies clear, to prevent rivalries.

When I worked at Klout, a co-worker and I possessed different titles but had the same rank and worked on the same projects. Instead of collaborating effectively, we spent time working through personal problems and directly competing for ownership over projects. Rather than delegating tasks, we both sought to attend every meeting because we feared the other was trash-talking. The entire team suffered communication breakdown as subordinates emulated our distrustful habits.

Related: Smooth Speaking Skills Signal That You Are Probably Amazing at Most Things

Finally, a new product manager was hired from Zynga. After he saw that no one had ownership, he assigned seniority as he saw fit. Although it was challenging at first, productivity skyrocketed. With a fresh, neutral leader installed, petty fights about personal issues stopped, and communication about the job at hand became more important.

2. Don't worry about being harsh; worry about getting the job done.

To make your rankings clear, you need a management team that is quick on its feet and assertive -- even if its members come across sometimes as harsh. The product manager at Klout who solved our communication woes could be difficult at times, but the manager's firmness was often necessary to keep us on-task rather than squabbling among ourselves.

As Klout's founder eventually realized, a department without a clear leader may spell peril for the company. A leadership vacuum causes haphazard communication, as nobody knows whom to report to. In turn, this sparks friction between employees as the team pulls in multiple directions. Indecisiveness is worse than someone's being a jerk (but try not to be a jerk).

3. Amplify your message.

After appointing effective leaders, constantly communicate the company's end goals to each manager. Then, work with those managers to ensure that message translates into action items for their teams. This kind of communication is extremely important for clarity, as engineers' contributions to the overall mission will be very different than, say, the sales staff's role.

Especially as the company grows, it's impossible to relate to every role. And while you personally may not be able to talk to every employee about where the company is heading, any and all communication efforts you make will be for the best.

During rapid growth, effective communication boils down to leadership and ownership. Entrepreneurs must be brave enough to make decisions, delegate ownership to team members and hold everyone accountable -- on a regular, ongoing basis. Clear, effective communication might sound like a nice-to-have quality rather than a must-have, but it's the needle and thread that keeps your growing company from bursting at its seams.

Related: 9 Phrases Smart People Never Use In Conversation

Ash Rust

Entrepreneur in Residence, Trinity Ventures

Ash Rust is the entrepreneur in residence at Trinity Ventures, a venture capital firm combining business insight, practical expertise and a personal touch to help startups win big. He’s a coach at the Alchemist Accelerator. Rust served as an officer in the British Army before studying computer science at Exeter College, Oxford. 

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

Everyone Wants to Get Close to Their Favorite Artist. Here's the Technology Making It a Reality — But Better.
The Highest-Paid, Highest-Profile People in Every Field Know This Communication Strategy
After Early Rejection From Publishers, This Author Self-Published Her Book and Sold More Than 500,000 Copies. Here's How She Did It.
Having Trouble Speaking Up in Meetings? Try This Strategy.
He Names Brands for Amazon, Meta and Forever 21, and Says This Is the Big Blank Space in the Naming Game
Buying / Investing in Business

The 19 Covenants of a Standard Franchise Agreement

A quick look at the promises, rights or duties that the franchisee or franchisor owes to the other.

Thought Leaders

Facing a Tough Problem? Try These Hacks to Find the Solution You Need

Not every problem has easy answers, and that's okay. Here are four ways you can free yourself from gridlock when you're stuck.

Business News

A Mississippi News Anchor Is Under Fire for Quoting Snoop Dogg

WLBT's Barbara Bassett used the rapper's "fo shizzle" phrase during a live broadcast, causing the station to let her go.

Business News

These Are the Most and Least Affordable Places to Retire in The U.S.

The Northeast and West Coast are the least affordable, while areas in the Mountain State region tend to be ideal for retirees on a budget.

Growing a Business

This $150 Lifetime Subscription Could Help Your Business Make International Connections

Train your employees with this subscription to Babbel and be ready for international deals.


Thinking of a Career Change? Here Are 4 Steps You Can Take To Get There.

Author Joanne Lipman on what experience and science tell us about successful job pivots.