Growing Pains

Companies are always changing. I've been lucky enough to be in a few that were growing. One went from 30 to 70 people in the three years I was there. Another was trying to double people and revenue in one year. My current company is growing too.

It's fascinating to watch things unfold. Who do you hire? How many people do you hire? How do you create a company structure that satisfies the company's needs both in the present and the future? It's a crazy puzzle.

Here are the common problems I've seen:

1) Lack of strategy/direction
Sweet! We lured in all of these sharp people! Wait. What should they do? Do they have good managers? Wait-we just hired twenty more-what's the strategy now?

2) Communication breakdown
This is somewhat related to #1. You hire a lot of people. Teams grow. The bigger a company, more likely it is that things will get lost in translation or not be communicated at all. It's like playing a giant game of telephone.

3) The wrong people
A perfect start up team is completely different from a perfect mid-sized company. Personalities are different. Communication style is different. Management style is different. How do you scale without shoving squares into circles?

4) Loss of culture
It's easy to generate a cohesive, fun culture with similar people in a small company. When you get larger, you need more people-and that's harder to find. Those people are inevitably more and more different from each other. You try to accomodate everyone and that leads to a more tame, vanilla atmosphere with less humor (you never know who you could insult by accident). 

So what could be some possible solutions? If I were CEO of a growing company, here's what I'd try out.

  • Try to give employees time and resources to have lives outside of work so they have time to pursue their passions and to go out for lunch, dinner, or drinks with their coworkers. You can't craft better relationships between people but you can create an environment where they're more likely to interact.
  • Divide larger groups into subgroups whenever possible to make working more efficient and to encourage closer, more trusting relationships among peers.
  • Make your office an experience that employees can discuss and bond over. Put art on the walls. Buy a mini golf set. Put in a slide. Server coffee and bagels every Friday. Host internal hackathons. Play the news. Play the World Cup. Even if employees have never met, they'll be able to bond over a common experience.
  • Be clear in your management and responsibilities structure as you grow. If managers and responsibilities are clearly defined, it's easier to distribute information efficiently. If you're growing fast, put in the time to reset with every burst of growth.
  • Be real with your people. Know what they want and be clear with what the company wants. As you grow, they may leave but you'll maintain those relationships, expand your network, and transition more smoothly from employee to employee. You may even end up with a network you can tap into at every stage of your future company's growth.

Again-these are solutions to problems I've witnessed. I'm not sure if they work. Would love to hear how others are tackling similar issues.