Small Teams with Clear Interfaces

Once we have values (Individuality and Interconnection), a mission that derives from these values (At Home in the World), and a strategy that is derived from our Step-by-Step and Unfolding processes, we now have the question of how to organize people.

As an organization grows, the number of potential interactions grows in proportion to the square of the number of people. This can lead to lack of clarity, bureaucracy, and conflict.

A natural way to do this is to form clusters, where the connections within each cluster are densely connected, but between each cluster are sparsely connected. This pattern is quite common in nature (see Small World Networks). In business, Amazon is well-known for its organizational principle of two-pizza teams — organizing around product teams that can be fed for dinner by no more than two pizzas. In traditional management hierarchies, most have fanouts of 8-15 people, based on the number of people an individual manager can effectively lead.

Within a team, the density of communication is very high. Between teams, the density of communication is lower, and as such it’s important for the relationship between teams, and the nature of their interaction, to be clear. To the extent possible, it’s helpful for each team to be both autonomous (within the context of the Advice process), and accountable. One of the clearest ways to create accountability is through financial accountability: a team exists because it is needed by other teams, and those other teams express that need by paying for its services. In other words, each team can effectively be its own mini-company.

While in most cases, having these teams actually be mini-companies adds more overhead than practicable, it is possible to maintain the spirit of this, by organizing around small teams, having the small teams specify who their clients are, and have resource allocation to the team be decided based on the expressed needs of its clients.

Therefore:

Create small teams that can act relatively autonomously. Organize them as if they were small service companies, with clearly specified (internal or external) clients. Capital allocation for a team will come from the expressed needs of the clients, framed by the mission of the company. Wherever possible, the budget for a team should come directly from the budgets of its clients.

Each team should specify their purpose (what their mission is), their accountabilities (how they achieve their mission), who they accept as clients, and a link to their project list and prioritization (Role Interface). Encourage people to be on more than one team (but not too many), consistent with the idea that a team is primarily a coherent collection of roles rather than a discrete collection of people (Separating Role from Soul, Nested Realms). Allow each team to prioritize clients and projects through a Best and Highest Use exercise and the Advice process.

Allow clients to choose between internal teams and external service providers on a project-by-project basis, also through a Best and Highest Use exercise and the advice process. When it’s appropriate, feel free to spin out teams to be their own companies (for example, each development can be its own LLC), so that Mosaic resembles an ecosystem rather than a single organism. In either case, blur the difference between teams external to the organization and teams internal to the organization.

Published May 5, 2019