Why it’s difficult to build teams in high growth organisations

Two reasons why building teams in high growth is difficult: can’t assume stable teams, can’t rely on cultural osmosis.

In high growth, the odds are the teams won’t be stable

There are several options to accommodate new people:

Sink or Swim; Split and Absorb; Absorb and Split
  1. Sink or Swim. Keep the older teams as-is and add the new people to brand new teams. This keeps teams stable and likely ensures that all new teams will struggle;
  2. Split and Absorb. Split up the older teams (aka not stable) and absorb new people in the new teams. This means there’s a mix of veterans and newbies;
  3. Absorb and Split. Add new people to existing teams. This will eventually lead to the teams becoming too large (aka not stable) and splitting (also not stable).

The default culture is not what pre-exists

Newbies outnumber veterans in high growth

How not to deal with high growth: presumptive team splitting

Split and Absorb is presumptive team splitting.

Premature split → Unclear mission, missing skills → Fill time with low-value work → Boredom → Disengagement, quitting

How to deal with high growth: structure follows strategy, organic org design, deliberate culture

Structure should be stable where strategy is stable; structure should be flexible where strategy is volatile

Absorb and Split

I prefer the Absorb and Split pattern. I’ve talked about this before as “refactoring organisations”:

  1. Add new people to existing teams.
  2. Let the seams appear naturally, that is, watch the communication flow and interaction patterns, especially the dynamics of meetings. Eventually, you’ll notice sub-groups appearing and certain rituals getting clunkier;
  3. Start nudging things closer, that is, separate rhythms (aka cadences) and events;
  4. And eventually formalise the split. By this time, it’s mostly just an acknowledgement and non-event.

Deliberate culture or random strategic problems

If you are not deliberate about culture, especially basic underlying assumptions, but also reinforcing with espoused beliefs and artefacts, you will have random strategic problems.

  1. Artifacts;
  2. Espoused beliefs and values;
  3. Basic underlying assumptions.
  1. Accept the strategic diagnosis;
  2. Accept the strategic guiding policies;
  3. See the main strategic actions as coherent and sensible.

Occupy the culture space with role models, systems, symbols

Default culture in high growth organisations becomes whatever new people bring with them… unless you are much more deliberate in occupying that space.

How should I behave? Role models, systems, symbols
  1. Role modeling: Influential, powerful people “walking the talk”, “practicing what they preach”;
  2. Systems: structure, policies, tools to reinforce desired behaviour;
  3. Symbols: concrete representations of organisational mythology (e.g., slogans, stories, value statements, etc.). Symbols are useful when role modeling and systems are aligned; they remind us of hypocrisy and generate cynicism when role modeling and systems are not aligned.



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Jason Yip

Jason Yip

Staff Agile Coach at Spotify, ex-ThoughtWorks, ex-CruiseControl