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Team Organization

"Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you"

Introduction

As a CTO, you understand the critical role that effective team organization plays in the success of your tech organization. It impacts not only project timelines but also employee satisfaction. By fostering a culture of collaboration and providing team autonomy, you can create an engaged, motivated, and productive team.

Choosing the right team structure based on project scope, team size, and company culture is crucial. This chapter explores different team structures commonly used in tech organizations and how to create one.

Team Organization

Effective team structure is critical for the success of any tech organization. It impacts everything from project timelines to employee satisfaction. Research shows that companies with well-structured teams are more likely to meet their goals and achieve higher productivity levels.

Encourage teams to work together and share knowledge. This can be done through team-building exercises, cross-functional projects, or regular team meetings. Ensure that team members have clear lines of communication with each other and leadership. This can include regular check-ins, project management tools, and open-door policies.

Three main types of team structures are commonly used in tech organizations: functional, cross-functional, and self-managed teams. Specific functions or departments, such as engineering or marketing, organize functional teams. Cross-functional teams bring together members from different functions to work on a project or goal. Self-managed teams have more autonomy and are responsible for managing their own work and decision-making processes.

Functional teams are often efficient and specialized but can lead to silos and a lack of collaboration between teams. Cross-functional teams encourage collaboration and innovation but can be challenging to manage due to differing perspectives and priorities. Self-managed teams require high trust and communication but can be highly effective in achieving goals and promoting employee empowerment.

Functional: A group structured around specific functions or departments within an organization, such as marketing, engineering, or finance. Members of these teams typically have similar skills and expertise, which allows them to focus on specific tasks and responsibilities.

One advantage of functional teams is that they can be highly efficient and specialized, as team members can focus on their specific areas of expertise. However, this can also lead to silos within the organization, where each team operates independently and communication between teams may be limited. Functional teams may need help adapting to changing business needs, as team members may resist taking on new responsibilities outside their area of expertise.

Cross-functional: This is a group of individuals from different departments or areas of expertise who come together to work on a specific project or task. This type of team structure is often used in tech organizations because it allows for diverse skills and perspectives to be brought to the table.

One advantage of cross-functional teams is that they can lead to more innovative solutions and ideas due to the variety of backgrounds and experiences represented. This type of team structure can also lead to communication challenges and conflicts if team members have different priorities or goals. Cross-functional teams need to have clear communication channels and established processes for decision-making.

Self-Managed: A group of individuals who work together to achieve a common goal without needing a traditional manager or supervisor. These teams are responsible for making decisions and managing their own work processes.

One advantage of self-managed teams is that they can be more efficient and effective than traditional teams because they can make decisions quickly and adapt to changing circumstances. One disadvantage is that they may need more expertise or experience to make certain decisions. For example, a self-managed team of software developers may need help with marketing decisions. Self-managed teams can be a great option for organizations looking to empower their employees and foster a culture of innovation.

"Teamwork is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results." - Andrew Carnegie

Right Structure

Choosing the right team structure can be crucial for the success of a project or organization. There are several factors to consider when making this decision, such as the scope of the project, the size of the team, and the company culture. For example, a large project with multiple departments involved may benefit from a cross-functional team structure. In contrast, a smaller project with a specific focus may be better suited for a functional team structure.

Another important factor to consider is the company culture. A self-managed team structure may be the best fit if the organization values collaboration and innovation. On the other hand, if the company has a more traditional hierarchy and values clear lines of authority, a functional team structure may be more appropriate. Considering these factors, you can choose the team structure that will best support your project or organization's goals.

Different team structures require different leadership styles. For example, functional teams may benefit from a directive leadership style, while self-managed teams may require a more hands-off approach. It's important for leaders to be adaptable and flexible in their leadership style to support their team's needs best.

"Great things in business are never done by one person. They're done by a team of people." - Steve Jobs

Team Autonomy

Team autonomy is the ability of a team to make decisions and act independently without constant oversight from a supervisor. Team autonomy is not just a buzzword; it's a proven way to increase productivity, foster better communication, and boost morale. When team members are held accountable for their actions and responsibilities, they are likelier to take ownership of their work and strive for excellence. Providing your team's autonomy requires a strong leadership presence to ensure the team stays on track and achieves its goals.

Businesses that offer autonomy to their employees tend to grow much faster and have a lower turnover rate. This is because employees who are free to make decisions and take ownership of their work are more engaged, motivated, and productive. By giving your team members the autonomy and training to thrive, fostering a culture of camaraderie and collaboration, and challenging the status quo, you can create a team that is engaged, motivated, and productive and achieve success in today's fast-paced business environment.

Productivity: Team autonomy has increased productivity by allowing team members to take ownership of their work and make decisions that align with their strengths and expertise.

Creativity: When employees are allowed to take ownership of their work and make decisions, they are more likely to feel invested in their team's success. This can lead to improved collaboration, communication, and overall team performance.

Ownership: When your team is free to make decisions and take ownership of their work, they feel more invested in the outcome. This leads to a sense of pride, accomplishment, and the drive to work harder and achieve even greater success.

Job Satisfaction: Besides boosting productivity and creativity, team autonomy also leads to higher levels of job satisfaction. When team members are free to work in ways that suit them best, they are more likely to feel fulfilled and engaged in their work. This can lead to lower turnover rates and higher employee retention.

"Control leads to compliance, autonomy leads to engagement".

Autonomy and accountability are closely related. When team members have autonomy, they are free to make decisions and act independently. However, with this autonomy comes the responsibility of being accountable for those decisions and actions. Accountability ensures that team members are held responsible for the outcomes of their work, which in turn promotes a sense of ownership and commitment to the team's goals.

"The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it. - Theodore Roosevelt

Team Size

An optimal development team size is typically between 8 and 10 members. This ensures the team is small enough to promote effective communication and collaboration and large enough to tackle complex projects. However, larger teams can also be successful if they are divided into smaller units with designated team leaders. This approach ensures that each team member has a clearly defined role and responsibilities and promotes accountability and efficient decision-making.

When a team reaches a size of 12 or more, it may be worth considering splitting the team into smaller groups. This can be done based on functional areas, such as front-end and back-end development, or based on the type of work, such as development and testing. By doing so, each team can focus on their specific area of expertise and work more efficiently while still maintaining effective communication and collaboration across the different teams.

"The size of the team shouldn't be more than what one can feed with two pizzas." - Jeff Bezos

One approach to an autonomous team structure that has gained popularity in recent years is the concept of "Two-pizza teams." Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, popularized the idea that teams ought to be small enough that two pizzas could feed them. Every team should be so large that communication and collaboration become difficult.

The benefits of this approach are clear. Small teams are typically more agile, more autonomous, and more accountable. They can make decisions faster and pivot more easily if needed. Additionally, smaller teams foster a stronger sense of camaraderie and trust, which can lead to better collaboration and more innovative ideas.

There are still challenges to managing small teams. As a CTO, you must ensure that each team has the necessary skills and resources to achieve their goals. You may also need creative ways to help teams share knowledge and avoid silos. The key to success with two-pizza teams is finding the right balance. You want teams that are small enough to be agile and collaborative but large enough to be self-sufficient.

Take into account Price's Law: only a small number of individuals in a team are responsible for the majority of the productivity. Generally half of the work is done by the square root of the total team members. For example, if a team has 100 members, only 10 of those members will be responsible for half of the team's productivity. Understanding Price's Law can help you make more informed decisions about allocating resources and delegating tasks to maximize productivity.

By identifying the top performers within a team, they can ensure that those individuals are given the support and resources they need to continue to excel while also recognizing that most of the team may not be as productive and may require additional guidance and support to reach their full potential.

Informal communication among team members decreases when a team size increases beyond a certain point. This can have a negative effect on productivity and can lead to frustration among individuals who feel they need to be heard or effectively communicate their ideas.

Another challenge with larger teams is that some members may "hide" and not contribute as effectively as possible. In a smaller team, it is easier to identify those who need to pull their weight and address the issue. In larger teams, it can be more challenging to determine who may be underperforming or not contributing as effectively as they could. This can lead to a less effective team and hinder progress and success.

When a tech team grows beyond 10–12 members, it's beneficial to split them. The split can be based on functional areas or the type of work. Regular communication between these sub-teams and occasional member rotation can prevent silos and promote skill development.

Direct Report

Connect with your direct reports personally, offering guidance and support where needed. Investing in your tech leads is essential for building a strong and effective team.

  1. Acknowledge: By investing in your team leads, you can help them avoid making rookie mistakes and invest in their management skills. These meetings are your opportunity to take small corrective actions over a short period of time before issues get so big that you wonder if they're fit for the role in the first place.

  2. Connect: Connecting with your tech leads means getting to know them personally. This doesn't mean you need to know every detail of their personal lives, but taking an interest in their hobbies, interests, and families can go a long way in building a strong relationship with them.

  3. Counsel: Create a safe and confidential space where your team leads can address any concerns or struggles they may face. Think of these meetings as mini counseling sessions where you can listen, sympathize, and offer guidance where applicable in mentoring.

  4. Mentor: Unless it's a true emergency, keep these types of meetings. It's easy to think that this time is flexible, but make it a true priority on your calendar. With the right approach, these meetings can be invaluable for building trust, offering mentorship, and helping your team leads grow professionally and personally.

  5. Care: When they feel that you care about them as a person, your team leads are more likely to be open with you about any issues they may be facing, both at work and in their personal lives. This can help you quickly catch potential problems and offer support when needed.

  6. Understand: By getting to know your tech leads on a personal level, you can better understand their strengths and weaknesses, which can help you make better decisions when delegating tasks and responsibilities within your team.

"The best leaders are those most interested in surrounding themselves with people smarter than they are." - John C. Maxwell

Online Tooling

Here are some of the best tools you can use to help with organizational design:

  1. Lucidchart: This easy-to-use tool lets engineering leaders draw charts, diagrams, and guides to help the team understand complex ideas. It makes working together easier.

  2. Miro: This online whiteboard tool is great for brainstorming and planning from far away. It helps the team work together creatively and come up with new ideas.

  3. Microsoft Visio: This powerful diagramming tool helps engineering teams create detailed organizational charts, process flow diagrams, and complex visual guides. With Visio, teams can visualize intricate structures, workflows, and systems in a user-friendly interface.

 

Summary

Effective team organization is of utmost importance in a tech organization. It directly impacts project timelines and employee satisfaction, ultimately contributing to the organization's success. By fostering a culture of collaboration and providing team autonomy, you can create an engaged, motivated, and productive team. Choosing the right team structure based on project scope, team size, and company culture is crucial.

Encouraging teams to work together, share knowledge, and have clear lines of communication is essential in promoting effective team organization. This can be achieved through team-building exercises, cross-functional projects, and regular team meetings. By ensuring that team members have the necessary communication channels and support from leadership, you can enhance collaboration and innovation within the team.

Different team structures are commonly used in tech organizations, including functional, cross-functional, and self-managed teams. Each structure has its advantages and disadvantages. Functional teams are efficient and specialized but may need more collaboration between teams. Cross-functional teams bring together diverse skills and perspectives but can be challenging to manage. Self-managed teams offer autonomy and effectiveness but require high trust and communication.

Factors such as project scope, team size, and company culture must be considered when choosing the right team structure. You can effectively support the project or organization's goals by aligning the team structure with these factors. It is also important for leaders to adapt their leadership styles based on the chosen team structure and the team's needs.

It takes courage and innovation to excel in today's fast-paced business environment. You can create an engaged, motivated, and productive team by embracing effective team organization, fostering a culture of collaboration and autonomy, and empowering your team members. People working together to achieve a common goal make it all great.

Reflections

As a CTO ask yourself the following:

  1. How can you foster a culture of collaboration and autonomy within your tech organization?

  2. What team structure would best support your organization's goals and project needs?

  3. How can you effectively balance team size to ensure effective communication and collaboration while promoting accountability and productivity?

Takeaways

Your takeaways from this chapter:

  1. The importance of effective team organization cannot be overstated. It impacts project timelines, employee satisfaction, and overall success in a tech organization.

  2. Foster a culture of collaboration and provide team autonomy to create an engaged, motivated, and productive team.

  3. Choose the right team structure based on project scope, team size, and company culture. Functional, cross-functional, and self-managed teams each have their advantages and disadvantages.

  4. Encourage teams to work together, share knowledge, and have clear lines of communication with each other and with leadership.

  5. Consider the team size, aiming for an optimal range of 8–10 members to promote effective communication and collaboration.

  6. Split larger teams into smaller units with designated team leaders to ensure clear roles and responsibilities.

  7. Connect with direct reports on a personal level, offering guidance, support, and mentorship to help them grow professionally and personally.

  8. Promote employee autonomy and accountability, allowing them to make decisions and take ownership of their work.

  9. Foster a culture of camaraderie and innovation and challenge the status quo to drive engagement and productivity.

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