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Stewart Butterfield on the overhead cost of big teams and bad communication

As organizations expand, adding new employees, new teams, or entirely new departments, the job of a communicator becomes more and more complex — and more and more critical.

  • Why it matters: The job of every manager, colleague, and collaborator gets more complex, too. Suddenly their labor, innocently, includes reviewing each other's work, sharing feedback, helping prep for meetings, weighing in on decks. And if it isn't structured and channeled well, the cost of those new hires can add up to a lot more than their salaries.

Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of Slack, dug in further at a recent Axios HQ event. "Suddenly, the overhead charge of communication goes from 20% of people's time to 40%, 50%, 60%. At a big enough organization, you have people who are contributing almost nothing, but using up like a factor of 10 x of other people's time."

It is on leaders to thoughtfully expand. It is on managers to keep teams focused. And it is only with the skill and insights of a modern communication leader that the entire organization can learn to offer context, stay crisp, and move forward at full force. The mantra that Stewart keeps in mind — from Microsoft and Satya Nadella — reflects the power of smart, brief thinking. "Create clarity. Generate energy. Deliver results."

Four ways to get there: 

  • Consolidate. Cut back on all the inbox overload by auditing and condensing what your organization sends.
  • Focus on your most critical messages. Separate what matters from what doesn't, what needs follow up and what doesn't. 
  • Understand your unique audience. Center your updates around the reader's degree of context, not your own. 
  • Be clearer. "We have to redouble our efforts on the clarity in communication," Stewart said. Give employees the context they need to understand your message and emphasize how they should take action after reading it. 

Once your comms team starts elevating what truly matters, they can stop wasting time on unproductive sends that zap their time, energy, and focus.

Go deeper: Bad workplace comms waste creativity — and up to 57% of salaries

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