Building Your Organization: Communication and Honesty

I’ve been thinking about the “tool set” it takes to build organizations recently.

Why? Because I think I take some of the ways that I conceptualize things and see workflow patterns for granted. I have trouble explaining them to other people because there is a gap in the language I use and the assumptions/connections I make without thinking. Organizing and executing things is a bit like breathing to me.

But it’s really hard to build teams if you aren’t willing to put in the real effort to meet language barriers and expectations. I think that is why this quote stood out to me while I was reading today:

(In regards to some of the challenges that crowdfunded companies/projects run into and dealing with the expectations of your customers/funders) “There can be a disconnect in your ability to deliver to those expectations,” Mittal says. “In those cases, the tendency is for rewards-based backers to act more like unhappy consumers, a stress that can break a young startup. It is important to set expectations upfront and to remain in dialogue with customers.” — Alex Mittal, FundersClub, since in an interview in an article posted on First Round Capital’s Blog

It’s interesting to me that being honest about limits and goals is not something more valued in seminars/classes that I took at Yale and now in New York City. It’s hard to build a solid foundation for anything without a certain baseline of honesty and accountability. If you don’t know something, there really shouldn’t be shame in admitting that and asking for time to do more research/return with a better answer.

And yet… there are enough case studies of people having trouble saying “I don’t know” as an answer that Freakonomics was able to write a podcast on the subject.

The number of times I’ve been in a meeting where someone is grasping for straws to give answers that begin slightly off and then get increasingly worse…

We can’t control for behavior everywhere… but why not start with solid decisions inside of our organizations? Be honest with your coworkers. Set that baseline where they can go through your notes, follow your thought process and trust your baseline assumptions and approaches.

Start a revolution in business: be honest when you need more help at work. Your peers will thank you when they can explore with you instead of cleaning up the mess later.


Why I Organize a Speaker Series at Work

I am one of those people who is constantly over-scheduled. Mostly, I want to be everywhere and learn about as much as I can from different people. It means I end up taking phone calls to talk about project designs while I’m walking from work to a lecture at General Assembly, send emails with comments on a draft of a talk or blog post in the 2 minutes before I walk into a restaurant to meet a friend for dinner, and sometimes have 3-4 “breakfasts” in a row on Saturdays with interesting people who like to talk about ideas.

I like working on a single project at a time. It’s really wonderful to have freedom to focus so carefully on the details and execution of something. But I learn most when I have to juggle, balance and talk to people. I know that about myself. That is why I never work on just one thing in a day. It helps me look at each piece through different lenses, and sometimes coming back to my first project after working on a second means I can troubleshoot solutions in a new way. I find I am frequently more inspired this way.

After I ended my summer at TED content, I missed building content and thinking about speakers/narratives. I started a new job doing research that I really cared about, but the details about presentations and narratives were missing. I went out of my way to find and attend lectures. Really, it was to keep learning about different schools of thought and interesting projects in fields besides my own.

I learned about Ant Colonies, start up pricing methodologies, and the basics of programming in Python outside of work… and realized that my teams here could benefit from more exposure to some of these topics.

I really admire companies that take the extra step to build their own lecture series in their offices. Groups like Undercurrent host work “retreats” that encourage their team members to stay up to date on different topics and work through interesting problem solving methodologies. TED hosts speakers once a month as part of the TED@250 speaker series and encourages their team members and their friends to attend.

The speaker series I organize at work started as an event series for the interns and full time staff to have breaks in their week and learn more about what else is going on in New York City… but it turned into a lot more when we started “locally sourcing” talks and learning about the pet projects and interests in our office besides our regular work flow. I think we all left with a new appreciation for all the things that our co-workers do outside of the office.

Now we are able to run a series of interesting thought leaders in different industries… and paint a richer picture of our company as a whole. It doesn’t get better than that!