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7 Tools To Boost Communication In Your Business

These range from the digital realm to the physical realm. Enjoy!

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I am a big fan of learning about and experimenting with new management tools, styles and techniques. I have found that one of the toughest issues I deal with at work is communication. It’s hard enough to get your team to communicate with each other, and when you add in partner agencies and clients it gets even more challenging!

I have collated a list of the tools I would recommend to boost effective communication within your organisation. These range from the digital realm to the physical realm. Enjoy!

Slack

slack-logo

Without a doubt, Slack is the best tool I’ve found for team communication. Combining the best features of email and WhatsApp (my secondary methods of communication), Slack allows you to communicate with various team members inside and outside the organisation, regardless of where they are located.

Its channel feature is a great feature to keep track of various projects without the confusion of mail trails. It also allows you to keep all your thoughts and collateral in a centralised location. Slack makes it easy to brainstorm remotely, get approval from team members, partner agencies and clients, and broadcast info to larger teams. When they get their voice and video calling working well, I don’t see any reason to use any other platform.

  • Link: https://slack.com
  • Price: Freemium
  • Platforms: All – the web, desktop app, mobile apps 

Related: Sharpen Your Communication Skills

Physical Colocation

In terms of creating that extra spark in a project, nothing beats face-to-face communication. Colocation allows a project- or client-centric mindset with easy osmosis of ideas. Valve talked about the great idea of desks with wheels in their employee handbook, allowing team members to physically co-locate when working on a particular project. At NATIVE VML, we employ similar methods.

Our client teams are co-located around the brand they work on to ensure the team chats to each other. We also create project areas dedicated to specific projects for the team to work together for the duration of the project. These are not new ideas by any means, but they work well in limiting the silo effect.

Google Docs

google-docs-logos

Google Docs has changed the way our teams work. Put simply, Google Docs is a free Microsoft Office replacement on steroids. Google Docs replaces Word, Google Sheets replaces Excel, and Google Slides replaces PowerPoint. Whilst there is a host of features and benefits to using Google Docs, the main bonus is the ability to collaboratively edit a document.

This makes collaboration a breeze. At NATIVE VML, we use this to collate campaign data from multiple agencies simultaneously, without the hassle of email trails and versioning. From here, we link the sheet to templatised slides that we have created, which will automatically show your results in graph format. This removes a ton of hassle from the reporting task and also allows you to create easy real- time dashboards for clients to track campaign progress. Definitely the most powerful tool in this pack.

Town Halls

Town Halls have been around for centuries, but tech start-ups have embraced them in recent years as a great way of getting everyone up to speed on company developments, as well as allowing a forum for team members to voice concerns.

Additionally, they are great for culture development, as they allow a space for rituals to develop in the company. Trello runs their town halls via video chat to ensure that the entire distributed team can be involved. They also use the space to celebrate their wins and the people in their team.

At NATIVE VML we use the time to update the team on the business performance, showcase campaigns going live, and celebrate team member’s achievements both in and out of the workplace. When done right, town halls can be viewed as a fun event rather than a hindrance to getting on with work.

InVision

invision-logos

InVision is a great tool for prototyping, as well as to simplify feedback and approvals on design work. It allows designers to easily share mock-ups with the team and client, where they can provide inline feedback directly on the design. This keeps all feedback and approvals on a centralised system (once again removing email trails and versioning issues).

The app also ensures your work is presented in as beautiful a manner as possible. If you are doing a lot of app prototyping or design work, InVision is a no-brainer. Check out more features here and here.

Related: 11 Skills That Will Make You Super Successful

Wins Boards

At NATIVE VML, we use a physical wins board in our office to have an always-visible proof of success for the team. It’s a great way to show progress and ensure we keep focused on the positive. We have a designated slot in our town halls to celebrate our wins by putting printed copies of congrats from clients up on our wins board (probably the only time I ever use printed paper!). Highly recommended, and easy to setup.

Trello

trello-logo

Last, but not least, is Trello. Trello is all about visibility and accountability. It is based on the Kanban system, which allows you to easily organise and visualise progress on projects. It also shows who is accountable, and how they are progressing with their tasks. The Kanban method can be used physically on any wall with a few post-its, but as I am paper-averse, I prefer using the online method. Enter Trello.

At NATIVE VML, we use Trello to run our always on Social media work, as well as our campaigns. As an internal system, it allows our project managers to keep track of a large quantity of work with ease. Combining the Trello system with morning stand-up scrums allows us to easily see where the bottlenecks in the work are, and how we can fix those to focus on getting work done fast.

Those are my top seven tools for communication! I hope they help you out. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions – find me on Twitter @levonrivers.

Levon Rivers is currently Special Projects Director at NATIVE VML. He studied a BCOM at Wits and has an MBA from GIBS. He has been in the digital industry for 10 years - running large teams; developing products, apps, and major websites; as well as running award-winning creative campaigns. Levon is passionate about exploration - in business, tech and travel. Key projects include Standard Bank's #TODAY campaign, the bookly app, NATIVEOS CMS, the Kit-Kat Chocnology campaign, and the Isuzu Trail View campaign. He is committed to changing the world for the better, using his passion for technology to improve people’s lives.

Leading

What A Grade 1 Sticker Business Taught Me About Business

It’s the very fundamentals that are frequently overlooked amid ambition and “blue sky thinking” – yet, these remain the most crucial element of any business.

Grant Field

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When I was a kid, my father believed that instead of getting pocket money, my brothers and I should learn how to make money. Stickers were the school craze when I was in Grade 1, and we wanted a collection for ourselves, so Dad said if we wanted to buy the stickers, we needed to make the money. So, logically, we started a sticker trading business. Dad gave us the start-up money and took us through the basics of business.

We had a cash float for purchases, and learnt about cost price, mark-up and selling price – very basic accounting. We kept recycling that money, making extra and using it to buy more stickers. Then we worked out that if we increased the mark-up, we’d make a bigger profit – so why not make the mark-up as big as possible? The obvious happened. Our prices were too high, and we lost customers.

Valuable business lesson learnt, we came back down to a mark-up that other kids were willing to pay for.

More lessons to learn

Then people came to us and asked if they could take a sticker today and pay us tomorrow. We saw no reason not to trust them. Guess what? They didn’t pay us back. We had bad debt on our hands. When we sold out of stickers, we had cash-flow issues and couldn’t buy more stock. Dad was there to help us out, though, so we received another capital injection to get back off the ground. And this time, if we did extend credit, we loaded it for the privilege of “buy now, pay later” – another lesson learnt.

We ran a proper ledger for the business, tracking our inventory, sales and profit. Even if our “bank” account was a piggy bank, we had a clear record of what was going on. When I look back on it, none of what I learnt was irrelevant.

Today, I run a leading financial services company with billions of rand running through our bank accounts. Even though the finances of the business are run on a much larger scale, the principles of business – those basic principles that we learnt trading stickers – still power our company. And when I see entrepreneurial ventures failing, or when friends come to me for advice because their business is struggling, it’s almost always because they haven’t got these basics right.

Related: Successful SA Entreps Share Their Most Valuable Business Advice Ever Received

Clarity

One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt is that if you don’t fully understand how the money is being made, walk away. Whether you are dealing with stickers or financial services, the business principles should be straightforward: money coming in, money going out, and profitability.

Every day, I look at an Excel statement of my company’s forty bank accounts. Every day, I look at the cashflow, and unusual big-ticket items get a note so I know what’s going on. It’s just like that Grade 1 business, only on a bigger scale.

Entrepreneur, thwarted

Once the other kids saw the success of our sticker business, they started to want to get in on the action, so they came to market with their own competing products. At first, we were able to innovate as the competition squeezed our margins and started to impact on our profits. Eventually, the whole situation got completely out of hand and the school banned sticker trading for profit.

While I didn’t become a sticker magnate, the lessons I learnt in Grade 1 remain central to every business I am involved with – get the basics right.

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Leading

How To Handle A Director Who Always Says No

Diverse opinions on a board is a good thing — but is it boosting your business, or hindering growth and decisions?

Carl Bates

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Do you have that director on your board who always says ‘no’? Regardless of what the issue is, regardless of the context, who raises it or whether or not it is indeed a good idea, their response is either a simple ‘no’ or an elongated perspective on why they disagree? It can even feel at times that they are actively working against the company and against the board. Although they obviously do not see it that way.

Experienced directors will have multiple war stories related to this subject. Aspiring directors should be aware of how to approach these situations when they arise and how to avoid becoming the subject of such stories.

Develop a culture of trust, candour and professionalism

A board’s conduct must be characterised by trust, respect, candour, professionalism, accountability, diligence and commitment. It is the board’s collective responsibility to build this culture and to engage with one another in a productive and effective way.

Dissent should be welcomed when it is constructive and engaging. The idea of being the ‘devil’s advocate’ for the sake of it however, is not the best way to approach this. Dissent should be based on a real belief that the issue has not been fully debated or creates a real challenge for the company going forward.

If you have a director who genuinely believes a different path is right for the company, hear them out and engage in the discussion. In my experience, this often opens up an issue or changes a detail that when taken as part of the whole, improves the decision-making outcome for the board and the company.

Related: Contributing In The Boardroom

Remove the politics from the boardroom

At the heart of this issue is often politics. Politics between directors, who are also shareholders or executives. Politics between the ‘new guard’ and the ‘old.’ Regardless of the genesis, politics really do not have a place in the boardroom and directors who engage in it should be called out by the chairman or another senior director.

In local government I have heard stories of councillors who always vote ‘no,’ so that whenever something goes wrong, they can say “I told you so,” and show the public why they should be re-elected. But that is indeed politics. The boardroom is a very different space. It is private and discussions should be confidential.

Board rotation, a simple solution

While the removal of an errant director should never just be left to resolve itself, there is a simple solution that can support the easy removal of the most difficult directors. The challenge is that it requires forward planning prior to the appointment of any new director.

Directors should only ever be appointed for a predefined term, with automatic rotation at the end of that term. This does not stop you from reappointing a director for a further period. It is, however, always easier to ask someone to consider a further term than it is to tell them that their time has come and they should resign from the board.

Having a predefined term for a director essentially ensures an automatic resignation period. A simple rotation policy for directors is not just good governance, it is a practical step you can take to provide a way out of a sticky relationship.

Ultimately the board as a whole must address issues that detract from the board fulfilling its function as and when they arise. A rotation policy might provide an effective backstop. A high-performance board is one that will tackle the issue head-on.

Read next: How Diversity Drives Board Performance

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Leading

The Power Pose: Using Body Language To Lead

Use the way you move and stand and interact with others to become a better entrepreneur and leader.

Howard Feldman

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In 2012, the power pose became a global sensation. A Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy hit a staggering 46 million views and became the second most popular Ted Talk in history. The premise was simple – hold a powerful pose and it will not only affect the way you behave but it will even change your body chemistry. Since the talk, the power pose has met with heavy criticism and been labelled as nothing more than pseudoscience. Fortunately for believers, they were proven right. Amy Cuddy released further research this year and it fundamentally proves that this bold stance works exactly how she said it did back in 2012.

The power pose isn’t something that you’d adopt in a meeting or around the office but the science behind it shows how important it is to pay attention to your body language as it can fundamentally change how you are perceived.

Notice how you are noticed

People spend a lot of time reading one another’s body language and the way a person stands or holds their hands or moves can influence how others see them. It’s very natural to judge someone else’s posture, but what about the way they are judging yours? Few people look at how their body language is affecting the way people engage with them.

Related: [Quiz] How Good Are You At Reading Others In Business?

So, what are you supposed to do?

Fake it until you make it

Want to know how can you adapt to become a better leader? You can fake it.

The power pose isn’t the only way to change your mood. Research has shown that whether you laugh naturally or put on a smile and make yourself laugh, your body still releases the same levels of serotonin.

Whether you are really laughing or just pretending to laugh doesn’t matter – they both have the same impact on your demeanour.

Change how others see you

Think about the pose that every athlete adopts when they win a race or achieve something that’s been physically taxing. They hold their hands outstretched in the air. Even blind athletes hold the same pose. It’s big, it’s bold and it’s a physical manifestation of success.

Now consider the defensive pose. The tight hunched shoulders or inward curve of the spine. These poses immediately make a person look nervous, afraid and lacking in confidence. Like the porcupine curling in on itself for protection.

The same ideas apply to daily business life. While the power pose and the athlete pose are not necessarily a team activity, ensuring that you hold your body upright and with confidence means that you’re conveying an attitude of strength. You come across as confident and capable and positive. You are ready to take on anything and overcome the odds.

By contrast, if you are hunched and withdrawn, you come across as nervous and lacking in confidence and these are not the qualities you want associated with you as an entrepreneur and a leader.

Related: (Slideshow) 5 TED Talks That May Change Your Perspective on Life

Body language for entrepreneurs

  • Shake hands like a hero. The way you shake hands with someone is very significant in terms of establishing equality. Be even, be firm but don’t pull people towards you or turn their hands under your own. This makes them feel like you are trying to establish dominance.
  • Create an atmosphere of openness. Maintain eye contact, say hello to people with warmth while holding a strong posture. A warm and open greeting is essential to establishing trust.
  • Do the power pose for two minutes before any meeting or interview. This will get those chemicals stirring and make you feel confident and in charge.

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