Agile Insights Blog

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Think to Speak: 3 Keys to Thoughtful Small Team Communication

Jun 8, 2021 4:18:53 PM

Teams within startup companies endure environments fraught with challenges. Revenue generation, valuable resource management, investment security, talent attraction, market capture, and more all require incredible focus for any company, though the missteps by small organizations can prove fatal. Enduring such challenges by small teams requires critical thought and poised communication. Consider the following three key tenets of small team communication success, built around the deliberate “thought” that precedes the “speech.”

1. Balance group and individual thought purposefully in small teams.

Group dialogue stimulates creative thought and constructive problem solving. Designing intentional group discussions—with detailed agendas and advance information for pre-thought—around a focused topic spurs team commitment to the cause at hand. Often, the most effective and productive meetings result from pre-investment by all parties. When all participants are mentally engaged in the effort, a high-value exchange of ideas results.

In like fashion, preparing individual dialogue with team members encourages open thought, free from concerns of judgment. It’s human nature to crave being listened to and to be appreciated for one’s genuine insights and opinions offered. Establishing an environment and culture where each member’s perspectives are valued builds trust in the company leaders.

2. Share team vision and strategic purpose often and in multiple mediums.

A common understanding of a team’s purpose amongst colleagues encourages increased participation and ownership. The collective group can better apply their talents towards projects, challenges, and opportunities when they understand the broader benefits of their efforts. This is one of the most powerful aspects of small business—the excitement of personally investing, owning, and shaping one’s future.

This process perhaps proves most beneficial to leadership who gain from the unique, pertinent feedback returned from partners closest to the issues. Further, the exercise establishes and nurtures internal and cross-team trust. Much like the agile retrospective process used by product teams, continuous evaluation proves invaluable in the strategic development process. According to renowned agile leader Norman Kerth, “A retrospective fosters learning, growth, and maturity in the participants.”[1]

3. Context and orientation are underrated, underutilized, and increasingly vital in modern distributed and remote activities.

Positive, regular communication increases team stability and lends a sense of calm to daily activities amidst the hectic pace of small organizations. Providing frequent updates on the context behind projects improves team alignment, especially for geographically separated teams. Whether it regards a common meeting, a discrete challenge, or the company vision, members can focus and perform better when they understand the “why.”    

Investing the time to build common context and orientation also aids in the critical thought process, allowing for improved evaluation of options and enactment of planned activities. Acknowledging the leadership principles of former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, Adam Mendler noted that with informed reflection, [teams] are “not only more likely to make good decisions but are better positioned to execute on them.”[2]

In summary, startups and small businesses are oriented around small groups of talented individuals who grapple daily to breathe life into concept through execution. Remaining mindful of simple communication tenets enhances trust and alignment within small organizations—both vital aspects of survival and success.

[1] Kerth, Norman L., Project Retrospectives: A Handbook for Team Reviews, Dorset House Publishing (2001), p. xvi.

[2] Mendler, Adam, “What Leaders Can Learn from Colin Powell,” Forbes, 13 August 2018,

Ethan Griffin
Written by Ethan Griffin

VP Strategy & Public Sector at Vennli
Top-tier, senior executive with a 25-year, proven reputation for critical thought, strategic vision, innovative leadership, and team performance across global operations, workforce, and budget areas. Adept at decisive risk management in dynamic, pressure-filled environments. 3 Master’s degrees (Organizational Management, GWU), current TS/SCI.

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