Being on the same page

Anyone who has been a corporate professional for any amount of time has surely heard this phrase bring an end to so many meetings. While this ‘same page’ is a great candidate for a buzzword bingo game that can be played at boring meetings, it is actually rather crucial for most companies’ existence. The only way that any company, or any team, will work with efficiency is if every member of the team is pulling in the same direction towards a common goal. The problem however, unlike in say a sport like volleyball, where the both the team’s goal and the individual roles are clearly laid out, is not something that is easy to solve.

When it comes to any sort of product development, or engineering work, there is some amount of work that is serial in nature, and there is some amount of work that is parallel in nature. To borrow a phrase used by a colleague of mine, various ‘joint pains’ crop up when parts of work are handed over from one team member to the other, or when pieces developed in parallel are being put together. In these sorts of scenarios, it is very easy to lose sight of what the overarching goal of the work that the team is doing is, and result in a shoddy product or service.

A measure, that I will in this article christen Same Page Number, may be of use to startups, especially those startups that have started scaling to become larger companies. Same Page Number is the cost incurred by a company per day in activities and resources, that just ensure that all employees always have all the information and the visibility that they need to act as a coherent unit. In larger companies, the Same Page Number is by necessity a large number. They will invest in building programme management organisations, they will invest in multiple tools that allow collaboration, often across geographies and time zones.

In the early days of a startup, the Same Page Number can be very close to zero. The founders and the early employees can all act like a volleyball team, with everyone knowing what they need to know at the right time. As for tools, the startup can easily get by with the free versions of all of them.

But as a startup starts growing larger, usually a couple of years into its existence, especially if those first two years have been great in terms of scaling up, the Same Page Number can start climbing very rapidly. Or if it is kept down essentially by just not doing anything to keep teams coherent, then whatever product or service that the startup is building starts to suffer, and does so rather drastically. There have been many fast-growing startups that had to shut shop, for they could not figure out how to maintain the quality of their product/service when they were doing it at scale. And this is often because they artificially kept the Same Page Number low.

The right thing for growing startups to do will be to keep the Same Page Number low by taking proactive steps, as opposed to doing nothing. What these steps are will vary from company to company. For some, it may be splitting teams into smaller pods that can be run independently. For some, it may be comprehensively defining workflows that can be run without supervision. For some, it may just be hiring that one person whose focus is entirely on managing information flow, to achieve efficient output. But the moment their startup seems to be on a growth path, it is imperative for the founders to figure out what their strategy will be to keep the Same Page Number low; else, all that spectacular growth may very quickly hit a deadly roadblock that takes everyone to the last page of that startup’s story.

The author heads product at a mid-sized startup in the real estate space

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