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

Jason Yip
4 min readMay 31, 2021

By “high growth”, I mean in terms of employee count and roughly doubling or more every year. Even at slower growth rates, some of the phenomena I’ll describe may be relevant.

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 only option where some teams are stable is Sink or Swim, and even then, the new teams aren’t stable.

The default culture is not what pre-exists

Newbies outnumber veterans in high growth

The newbies outnumber the veterans in high growth. Default culture is not what pre-exists but whatever new people bring with them. Even with careful selection, it’s unlikely that cultural assumptions match up perfectly.

How not to deal with high growth: presumptive team splitting

Split and Absorb is presumptive team splitting.

Presumptive team splitting is splitting a team before you need to, whether based on subjective anticipation or some kind of quantitative criteria (e.g., teams should have no more than 9 members).

--

--

Jason Yip

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