Startup Lessons: From Silo to Service

The Problem

Until recently, Ubiqua operated in a traditional organizational structure. The type with functional departments and department leaders. After the team grew from 5 to 10, it became more and more difficult to operate in these functional silos. Essentially, each individual ran his own independent operation. We all had our own to-do lists, our own way of doing things, and our own way of defining our priorities. This led to poor accountability, poor alignment on company priorities, and poor effectiveness as a team.

So we agreed that we needed a change.

The Change

Starting last week, Ubiqua is operating in a team-based structure. What we’ve done is essentially merged departments together to work in 3 pods. One pod is dedicated to Growth, one to Product, and one to Client Operations. The goal is to have teams of individuals focused on the three cores of our business, while minimizing the communication and coordination required between the separate teams.

Change in Action

Changing the way we work and the way we think has definitely not been an easy endeavor. It’s been awkward at first; as we push ourselves to think and collaborate in ways different to those we are used to. But in the end, the gains in collaboration and effectivity will be worth it.

In order to effectively transition into our new operating system, key shifts in behavior and thinking will be necessary:

  • From individual priorities to high-impact opportunities
  • From individual execution to team collaboration
  • From individual tools to common systems and processes

Rather than individual planning, where each person makes a laundry list of “stuff they need to get done this week”, we’re moving to team planning, where we brainstorm together a list of “opportunities to tackle together”. The idea is to move to a state whereby we can all plan at a more strategic level, and work towards common goals together. As a team, we can then delegate tasks effectively amongst the various team members. This approach empowers us with a macro-perspective of the work to be done, allowing us to directs our efforts to the highest-impact opportunities for our team.

Rather than individual execution we’ll be ‘pair programming’ many of our tasks. We want to avoid the “Oracle Syndrome”, whereby one of us is an expert on a topic and no one else has any clue about it. In order to do so, we’ll tackle projects and initiatives together; giving us more space for feedback and discussion of the tasks at hand. We know it’ll seem at first like the team is doing less; but we believe it’ll allow us to do less things better. The long-term rewards are that each of our team members will have been exposed to a broader base of experiences on which we can all build expertise and continue collaborating together.

Finally, rather than personal work tools, “built for yourself in mind”; we now have to build tools for  the “collective team”. For example, simplified tools and frameworks have allowed us to unify the language of our everyday work. Dashboards that are explicit and rich in detail have increased the visibility on progress and team priorities. The biggest benefit is that the team structure has made it much easier to hold ourselves accountable to each other, and gain the support necessary to achieve our team’s priorities.

Watching out For

As with any chance, we must be aware of the implications of our new structure. To ensure we continue operating effectively as a company, we must:

Ensure it is easy to tap into the expertise of other teams. We want people to feel comfortable interacting and sharing their thoughts and opinions with members of the overall organization.

Don’t let teams become silos. Enable cross-functional communication.

Be on the lookout for resistance. It’s human nature to become accustomed to a certain way of doing things and build a comfort zone. Pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones is what will continuously keep our minds sharp, flexible and make us adept at dealing with change.

Don’t let people revert to the status quo. Embrace change and discomfort.

Finally, we must empower individuals within teams with ownership. Groupthink is the enemy of creativity. Individuals must be given opportunities to experiment, make mistakes, and openly share their opinions.

Don’t let the team structure create barriers for individual growth.

These are a few of the shifts we’re going through together as we strive to increase our effectiveness as a team. The goal of our new operating system is to empower our organization to build a better product for our users, and deliver a better service for our customers.

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