Management · Strategy

How do you manage and structure a team?

Shilpa Dadhwal Founder & Director, SQE Labs Inc.

December 2nd, 2016

Here's a question to managers and startup and founders out there, but first a bit of context on my situation:

We are a small team that has recently created. As such, we've been given a fair amount of control over how the team are structured. This involves everything from how we work, how we progress in our careers and how much we are paid. While this is a really nice position to be in, it raises a number of concerns.

In an ideal world, I believe that a flat structure would be best. We are all technical people, working on a series of short (months in length) projects that tend to be self contained. There is no immediate need of a hierarchy. But in this case, how do you define “progression”?, both how people are paid, and their “title” within the group.

To get around this, the obvious answer is a well defined “hierarchy”. Progression and pay are well defined ahead of time and everyone knows how it works. The problem is that we have only just been created, and as such the variance of the pay within the group is big. Initially this isn't an issue - we all agreed to be here for the amount we are paid, but over time it can become an issue: without well defined progression, this issue of separate pay will become an issue and half the group will leave.

Another problem (and a separate one, one that we will also need to address) is that judging the direct merit of each others work is hard. Mostly because the work is a spectrum between “core” work, that is required, and “new features” which can bring in a large profit (or fail), and disentangling the two is hard.

There has to be somewhere in between these two position. And we can't be the first to find ourselves in this position, and I'd like to here from others who have been here: - What worked well? - What worked badly? - What would you have done differently?

Davida Shensky We help small to medium size companies put together a strategy for success and hold you accountable to follow through

December 2nd, 2016

There are many ways to structure a team but it;s understanding how a team works and how each member of the team works together toward the end goal that makes it a success

Tom DiClemente Management Consulting | Interim CEO/COO | Coach

December 2nd, 2016

Hi Shilpa,

The first thing I would like to say is that hierarchy is not an obvious answer. While one direction is to have a team leader, that leader is not usually assigned administrative tasks including things like salary, although he may be the one who takes requests from the team to management.

The other major type of team to consider is a self-managed team, where no single person is the leader. This, though, requires all members of the team to have high emotional intelligence (EQ).

But the first step should be to reconsider the mission, which also depends on what you mean by core work. If core work means work on the engine or framework, then, depending on how many team members can be made available, it would be best to have two separate teams, with the new features team split off. If these two portions of the work need to be closely aligned, not just by goals, you can share a scrum master or other facilitator to assure this happens.

There are many ways to go about this but a next good step to forming the team is to establish the 5R's for the team and its individuals - roles, responsibilities, rules, relationships and results. This keeps everyone on the same path and is also a datum for judging both team and individual contributions.

I don't want to go too long. You can take these basic principles and read more about them and about team formation. But the above are the essentials to getting started and the direction will be clearer once you get past them.

Thanks, Tom

David Austin Relentless problem solver and innovator.

December 4th, 2016

Yes the key is to put in place a system whereby performance is accurately measured and reported and rewarded on a periodic basis.  I agree with Tom that a "well defined hierarchy" is not the obvious answer, but for you and your co-workers and environment / culture may be a best fit.  I've been in very good self directed teams before, and it can be more advantageous but you need both the right structure, system, and team members for that to work.  Heirarchy also has its advantages, but both have costs associated... The cost of hierarchy generally of an administrative can become endemic and harder to address long term.  Startups if nothing else need to remain flexible.

Bennet Bayer Global CMO, Strategy & Tech Exec Ronin ♦ Mobile, Cloud, ICT/IDC, The IoE & Big Data Business

December 4th, 2016

Like my colleagues, many ways to structure.  For me, I like to organize by how the company makes money (product marketing methodology) with empowering team members to make decisions and go faster.  Accountability is key.

Nigel Stonham ROCKst!arist at ROCK st!artist

December 2nd, 2016

i would recommend SEMCO by ricardo semmler and The Happy Manifest by Henry Stewart. and I am happy to add further suggestions myself, in Happiness, Nigel

Nigel Stonham ROCKst!arist at ROCK st!artist

December 2nd, 2016


K. Robbins Head Moose at Moose WorldWide Digital

December 2nd, 2016

How is the output of the team measured?  Do you have a mix of senior and junior folks?  How are you measuring performance?  What are the key motivators for each of the team members (hint: There's always more to it than just money)

Are these engineers?  Designers? Architects?

asif saheb Resolution Expert at Sutherland Global Services

December 2nd, 2016

There should be some cultural activities, games and talent hunt in between which will definitely keep your employees engaged and a star performer should be highlighted and given some internal points or reward. Generally, employees look for  fun at work. However, they don't express it. Try this and see the change. All the best.

Daniel Kranowski Lead Software Engineer / Principal at Business Algorithms

December 6th, 2016

Why do you think the team is going to melt down over discrepancies in payscale, or job titles?  Your core team needs equitable compensation to stay motivated and if you did that wrong, fix it immediately.  If you are a small startup, then job title doesn't matter and all contributors should be willing to wear many hats.  But it sounds like you have a bigger group, with owners and non-owners, where the latter are simply not going to be anywhere near as motivated.  In such a case, the hierarchical manager is clearly you or one of the other driven co-owners.  And instead of worrying that half the group will leave due to a lack of long-term career management, you should worry more that your fledgling company will go bankrupt due to lack of customer focus or botched execution.  Think about the car that's going to hit you immediately, instead of the one miles down the road.  That's your answer to "core work vs new features" as well.