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How I Make Decisions When Everything Is Changing

A startup founder explains how he knew when it was time to stop communicating every single change with everyone on staff.

How I Make Decisions When Everything Is Changing
[Photo: Flickr user Jun]

Perhaps the CEO’s most important operational responsibility is designing and implementing the communication architecture for her company.
Ben Horowitz

Buffer has recently grown to more than 50 people during our fastest two months of growth ever. I’ve found that a lot changes when you grow to this size and any time the team grows quickly. There are a bunch of challenges, and it’s also invigorating. It might be the most exciting and toughest phase of building the company so far.

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Since I’m learning insights from all the different teams, I see patterns across multiple areas of the company. This leads me to ideas for making changes that could make the whole company more effective.

That’s where the danger comes in. Here’s how I’m striving to lead effectively during this time of change.

Creating A Communication Architecture

Something we’ve naturally needed to do as we go through this growth is to think about the communication architecture of the company.

What this has meant in our case is thinking about my role as cofounder and CEO, and the role of people who have experience. It’s no longer efficient for the whole company to know about and think about every change we’re making. We’ve formed smaller teams so that they can work autonomously on a specific part of the company without needing to know everything about all other parts of the business.

Part of creating the communication architecture is to be aware of and embrace people on the team becoming leaders, and then to have regular conversations with these people to share my thoughts. Our product and engineering team consists of 20 people. There’s no way I can speak with all 20 people regularly enough to share all the insights and advice I have. Therefore, I need to speak primarily with a few people in order to get the context in a more effective way.

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The result is that I naturally end up with a unique picture of the whole company, since I’m learning from all the different teams at once. I’m in one of the best positions to notice and implement changes to how we work, but far enough removed that I might miss some context about how my ideas could have negative implications.

How I’m Striving To Approach This Challenge

Create context: I try to have the communication architecture in place to put me in the best position to understand a lot of the context, and to notice patterns between challenges in different areas.

Reflect: I aim to identify those challenges and spend enough time reflecting on them in a way that others might not have the viewpoint or time to do.

Stop short of solving: Once I find myself beginning to move towards a solution for any challenge, I stop myself before giving any instructions.

Share with others: I then speak with those who will be affected by any potential changes to solve the challenge I’ve found. When I do this, I try to share all the context I can, without proposing a solution for the issue at hand.

Keep an open mind: Sometimes I may have a hint of a solution in mind, but I try to remain open to the different ones that I can only learn from speaking with others.

The upshot of this method is that I’m often not even the one who comes up with solutions, and the changes we make are more fully embraced as a result.

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Change With No Context Versus Context With No Change

It’s really hard to do this, and I often fail. It also takes longer.

But my belief is that this approach is the best long-term choice. The difference between sharing changes with no context and sharing context with no change is night and day.

We’ve always taken the path with Buffer that leads to us all feeling happiest with our work. We also try to take the approach that leads to the most honesty and openness between all team members. As we grow, if we start to enforce changes without sharing the “why,” we’re eventually going to incur a debt in our culture and see some adverse side effects from that choice.

If we instead share the challenges we’ve uncovered, get the right advice in order to see the full context, then make changes we all agree on, we’re going to have the best chance of creating a culture of trust, honesty, and joy.

This article originally appeared on Buffer and is reprinted with permission.

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