The top 3 points you should have paid attention to in the Spotify Engineering Culture videos that aren’t Squads, Chapters, Tribes, Guilds

Jason Yip
5 min readFeb 6, 2022

Most of the time when someone mentions the “Spotify Model”, they only talk about structure: Squads, Chapters, Tribes, Guilds.

When it comes to product development culture, structure is the last thing you should be worried about, not the first.

Without even looking at specific contexts, I bet that there are other points in the two videos (part 1, part 2) that are way more important for most organisations. The top three that come to mind are:

  1. Aligned autonomy;
  2. Creating trust-at-scale (across boundaries);
  3. Decoupling (to enable autonomy)

Aligned autonomy

From part 1,

Alignment and autonomy are not two ends on a scale but two dimensions on a 2x2 matrix.

Alignment vs autonomy in a 2x2 matrix
Alignment vs Autonomy (picture extracted from part 1, drawn by Henrik Kniberg)

Low alignment, low autonomy means no communication of the problem that needs to be solved AND people are just told to shut-up and follow orders.

High alignment, low autonomy means effective communication of the problem to be solved BUT people are still told exactly how to solve the problem.

Low alignment, high autonomy means no communication of the problem to be solved AND people just do whatever they feel like… which ends up creating Frankenstein, incoherent products.

What we generally want instead is high alignment, high autonomy, also known as aligned autonomy:

  • Leaders communicate what problem needs to be solved and why;
  • Teams collaborate to find the best solution.

NOTE: The concept of Aligned Autonomy comes from The Art of Action, which applies “mission command” to the business context.

There are two parts to aligned autonomy:

  1. (alignment) A clearly expressed product strategy;
  2. (autonomy) Empowered Product Teams (aka Squads)

Clearly expressed product strategy

There are many different ways to express a product strategy. The specific format…

Jason Yip

Senior Manager Product Engineering at Grainger. Extreme Programming, Agile, Lean guy. Ex-Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl