May 12, 2022
Insights

How to evolve your communication and operating norms as your team grows

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For growing companies, collaboration is everything. It’s the often overlooked secret ingredient that’s responsible for building some of the most successful businesses around. Even in our earliest days, we realized that if we wanted to grow to be one of the biggest players in the finance automation and spend management spaces, we needed to be intentional about setting a foundation for collaboration. Pillars that would allow us to reach the ambitious goals we set for ourselves. 

And we did. Norms like setting ambitious goals and building in the open, obsessing over efficiency and scalability, and others became core to our operations. 

But just like our product, we’re always iterating on our internal workflows to put teams in the best position to succeed. And we recently realized that what worked for us when we had a team of 150 wouldn’t work for us as we slowly crossed the 300 FTE mark. 

So what did we do? 

Over the last few months, we’ve been adjusting the way we communicate as an organization to maximize transparency and encourage efficient, respectful collaboration. It’s an ongoing process but here are some of the go-to habits that are working for us as we grow. 

Prioritize efficient communications if you want to scale

All teams need to communicate. It’s an essential part of the job, no matter what industry you’re in or how big or small your business is. But as you scale your business, it’s imperative that you improve your internal communications in parallel to work efficiently. 

The same goes for your internal operations. If your processes aren’t efficient, it won’t be easy to move quickly and communicate effectively. 

Many founders are mistaken in thinking they’ll outperform the competition with a better product, but this is often not the case. The secret that separates the good companies from the great ones doesn’t lie within their product but in better execution, thanks to their communication and operations. Put another way, a better product lies within a point in time, but with better execution, even less-than-stellar products can catch up. The more employees you have, the more imperative it is to revisit how you communicate on a regular basis. 

Brook’s Law: Communication paths grow faster than the number of people involved.  

If there’s misalignment on an OKR, you have to be able to diagnose the root cause. Did the project vision cause the misalignment? Or was it the goals set? Metrics? Once you’ve identified what’s causing the rift, you have to be able to work through it constructively. Without a clear, collaborative way to address these issues, it’s impossible to scale. 

Without streamlined communication, teams can quickly feel siloed from the rest of the organization. Employees will feel compelled to adopt their own communication methods, be it Slack, email, or something else. And once this happens, project management becomes increasingly complex, collaboration falls apart, and teams put their heads down and focus on completing projects independently from the rest of the organization. 

Communication and operational norms that drive velocity

Here are some of the norms that have helped us scale our communications and operations as our business grew.

1. Ensure decisions are made quickly, written down, and shared widely

For our customers, we constantly speak to the value of saving time. Internally at Ramp, the mantra is no different. We are always trying to figure out ways to get the most out of each hour spent working. So we’re constantly asking ourselves, what can we do to get things moving faster? And how do we do this without sacrificing quality? 

We use Slab for our internal documentation

The answer is pretty simple—we heavily lean on writing. For us, documentation like meeting notes, decisions, and FAQs are high-value and should be treated as such. That means sharing things widely and frequently. For us, the goal is defaulting to making written documents public, rather than hiding in private folders, channels, or email threads.

2. Use meetings deliberately to increase your output

Meetings can be misleading because it’s easy to fill days with them and claim productivity. But often, they might not be the best use of time. 

Time is scarce, and we must get the most out of it. So how do we operationalize meetings at Ramp? We encourage teams to ask themselves the most important, tried and true question: could this meeting have been an email? 

If the answer is yes, we encourage simple updates via Slack or email in place of a meeting block. If teams need to have that meeting, we recommend sharing an agenda with ideal outcomes. We also empower employees to take ownership of their calendars and decline meetings they feel they don’t need to be in. 

We also suggest frequent calendar audits. If someone’s KRs don’t align with the focus of their meetings, they’re encouraged to decline them. In other words, make sure you’re allocating time in line with your priorities.

3. Give structure to your Slack 

All of these points on communication ladders up to our other preferred method of collaboration here at Ramp, Slack. It’s a popular and powerful piece of software that allows teams to work together, communicate frequently, and foster team culture in this world of increasingly remote work. However, Slack can become as inefficient as meetings when not operationalized, taking up lots of time and headspace with little to show for it. 

At Ramp, we use Slack a lot. In 30 days, we regularly send over half a million messages a day across nearly 800 channels. Roughly speaking, this equates to close to 1.3 unread messages per minute. In short, we spend a lot of time on Slack. 

Here’s how we build transparency and efficient collaboration into our day-to-day Slack operations. 

Encourage public Slack channels  

We use three Slack channels widely, all with a unique goal or intention.

Category
Type
Examples
Process
Audience
Goal
#Team
Private or Public
#team-engineering
Team driven
Single team
Space for teams & managers to communicate
#Project
Public
#project-scaled-CSM
Project driven
Cross functional team
Space to collaborate on a key project
#Alert,
#Input,
#Data
Public
#product-questions
#help-data
#customer-feedback
Process driven
Cross functional team
Space to trigger a process (e.g. question, input, alert)

Team: These channels are for a single group, such as Engineering or Marketing, and it’s a space for groups and managers to communicate.

Project: These are channels for cross-functional teams working together and collaborating on a single project.

Process: These are another cross-functional set of channels designed to trigger a process such as questions, inputs, or alerts.

Generally speaking, private channels inherently don’t allow room for dialogue or collaboration, so we strongly discourage them. 

Keep project updates organized

Project kick-offs are an integral part of Ramp. But to be successful, we created communication and operations-driven frameworks. The kick-offs include:

  • Defining goals: Why are we doing this? Which OKR does it fall into? 
  • Hypothesizing: What is this project? How do we measure it? 
  • Planning: What is the plan to accomplish these results? What are we not doing already? 
  • RASCI: Who is involved, and what are their roles? How do we work together? 

Once all of these are defined, we lay them out in the appropriate channel, preferably in a collaborative doc, so everyone has a chance to have their voices heard. All relevant documents are then linked in that channel, such as metrics being tracked, OKRs, plans, and specs. And finally, updates are given frequently, clearly, and concisely. 

Make Slack work for you, not the other way around

Slack is a tool. It works for you. At Ramp, we encourage focusing on what matters most. In the case of Slack, that means threads, mentions, and DMs. If there’s a channel that team members are a part of that they don’t feel they add value to, we empower them to mute it. We also encourage setting up a do not disturb status or blocking out notifications to give time for disruption-free work. 

Better communication allows you to build in the open

So how does all of this connect? What does optimizing communication allow you to do? 

Build in the open. 

The visibility that comes with building in the open leads to empowerment, which leads to velocity. And when you’re a growing business with lofty goals, this velocity is the key to everything. 

With visibility, fewer approvals are required during the project planning phase since everyone is on board, which leads to more velocity. With everyone feeling like they have an open forum to discuss their perspectives, there’s empowerment, which encourages people to do their best work more efficiently. 

Now it’s true that real-time and open communication can lead to some anxiety since every conversation is out for the world to see. But there’s a way to have these open dialogues while also being respectful to the ideas and perspectives of colleagues. 

Want to drive to high-velocity growth? Focus on efficient communication

Without these frameworks in place, Ramp, as we know it today, wouldn’t be here. Because of our commitment to communicating in the open, we’ve been able to build the product we have today. 

When employees feel empowered to collaborate and are encouraged to have their voices heard, they do their best work. When employees document their work, thoughts, and ideas openly, they leave a paper trail for others to be inspired by, saving everyone time in the long run. In the end, Ramp is here to provide the most impact for our customers. And because we’ve focused on being the most impactful with our time, we can deliver solutions that save businesses just that.  

If you like the way we think about work, check out our roles!

Learn how Ramp strengthens your finances

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Geoff Charles
Head of Product, Ramp

Geoff has been building financial services for over 10 years, ranging from management consulting at Oliver Wyman to product development at LendUp, Nomis Solutions, and Mission Lane.

Jacob Wallenberg
Head of People Operations, Ramp

Jacob Wallenberg is the Head of People Operations at Ramp. Prior to his current role he held other operational roles both at Ramp and other startups.

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