How We Jell at Growthwise [Interview with Steph Hinds]

It’s not easy being accessible. Just ask Steph Hinds. As the Head Ninja at Growthwise, she’s built a successful company by making sure an entire team of accountants, advisors and administrators is consistently approachable and available—at all times, for every client, at virtually any hour and from any location. (Growthwise employees work in a flexible environment and are allowed to take their work with them as they travel.)

It’s not your typical approach to account management, but that’s because Growthwise isn’t your typical accounting firm. The company takes pride in its lack of “average” pen pushing, number crunching, sit–behind–a-desk small business accountants. Steph’s amassed a small army of firebrands who love to learn and aren’t necessarily comfortable with traditional management hierarchies. In fact, a lot of the growth occurring at Growthwise is due to the company’s unconventional approaches to communication and collaboration.

We were curious to hear what the day-to-day looks like at Growthwise, so we chatted with Steph to learn how they do things differently. Here’s what she had to say:

How is the Growthwise team distributed?

We are a very small team of 12. We all work in the one office in Newcastle, Australia, although half of the team works part time and some prefer early mornings while others like late nights. And we are set up so that we can work anywhere in the world, which is great as a lot of the team likes to travel.

What are some of the biggest communication challenges you’ve faced as the company grows?

Most people don’t realize this, but even with 12 people communication becomes a challenge when you are growing. Our workflow is driven by constant deadlines and an enormous amount of information. Sometimes each person on the team can be working on up to 20 clients in one day! We all need to know what’s happening with each client in case someone rings with a question. Additionally, a lot of our work is dependent on someone else finishing something first…which is always fun to try to manage.

So keeping up with who is working on what, and when—not to mention where things stand and whether we will meet our deadlines—is quite the challenge.

And one of the biggest issues we faced a few years ago was communicating about our own business: goals, technical issues, legal changes affecting our clients, updates to software we use and so on.

How have you solved these issues so far?

I’m really happy to say we have solved 95% of our communication issues with the implementation of what we call our three core internal business apps: Karbon, Slack and Jell.

Karbon is our client communication tool and solves our workflow issues beautifully. All of our clients’ details are stored in Karbon. Every job we have to do for our clients is scheduled and assigned to someone on the team. Emails are automatically stored in corresponding client accounts so they’re accessible to everyone, and we use the notes section to summarize phone conversations.

Slack is our internal communication tool. We have a a lot of channels. The most frequently-used one is dedicated to learning. Every time we research a particular issue, learn something new or solve a problem, the information gets added to this channel so the entire team can learn. In addition, we have all of our company social feeds flowing in as well as client blogs so we can easily read and share what they’re saying. We have channels for everything: to introduce new clients when they come on board, to post new ideas, to talk about what to have for lunch and many more.

Jell is our secret weapon. While it’s great to have open communication lines with Slack and client workflow in Karbon, Jell is where the magic happens. We use Jell for four things:

1. Every morning each person posts a quick update of what they are working on that day. This feeds into Slack in our #whats-doing channel and ensures everyone knows what others are working on.

2. At the end of each day we answer four questions in Jell. We rotate these each quarter, but at the moment they are:

  • What didn’t you get done today and why?
  • What are your roadblocks?
  • What could you/did you eliminate, automate or delegate today?
  • What was your biggest frustration?

3. These questions get the entire team focused on constant improvement and enable an enormous amount of collaboration. People will jump in and say things like: “Hey, can you automate this for other clients I’ve been working with?” and “Do you think that will also work over here?”

4. We also use Jell for our company-wide goals each quarter. This is fantastic as everyone can see what we are aiming for and what we are up to. We are all highly driven individuals so we love setting our individual quarterly goals in Jell, as well. I review these each quarter in performance reviews with each person. This works so well for us because it’s all about the team.

What aspects of company culture have you discovered to be key?

Sharing and being passionate about what you do is the key. When we are hiring we look for people who want to participate, who want to learn and who love to share. Everything we do in Slack and Jell is team-oriented, so the collaboration, communication and sharing that happens in our team is amazing. But it only works when it’s encouraged by everyone.

What advice would you give to other fast-growing teams as they learn how to better collaborate and communicate?

The sooner you do this the better. I hate to think how much knowledge-sharing we missed out on in the beginning! It starts from the top and has to be something everyone in the business focuses on.

And most importantly, don’t just explain what you’re doing but also why you’re doing it. I’ve found this is by far the best thing you can do when wanting people to collaborate and communicate more. The more people understand, the more they see the benefit, the better it gets.

Thanks for the excellent insights, Steph! Do you know someone who should be featured in our How We Jell series? Let us know.

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