Recently, we have been assessing our Developments teams’ processes. We diagramed, simplified, and improved them. Overall, I noticed that we were doing very well to start with, especially within certain teams. We spent most of our time polishing and improving, but I felt we were missing something. The team had not been operating as effectively as I knew it could, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was not working.
Finally, yesterday, one question brought the main issue forward. I noticed that the way one of the teams was structured seemed disorganized. As we started diving into the problem, we noticed that the structure of the team was not set and had emerged organically. I tend to stop and listen whenever something emerges organically because there is much wisdom in it.
I tried to learn what worked best from what each person was doing. The team was organized by location and by function, and it seemed that the team needed both focuses. So, I started to play around with that idea and wondered how I could combine them.
The way to combine function and location is through a matrix organization. But would it work for us? At Celaque, we are organized company-wide by function, which meant that within one of our departments, we would have a matrix. I drew it anyways because I wanted to see what that would mean and how it might work.
When I started to draw the matrix and explain it, the manager and I tested the assumptions. The more we talked about it, the more it made sense. So, on one side of the matrix, we would have the function, and on the other side, we would have the location. In practice, we were going to have one person in charge of the location who would interact with each of the functional experts to make sure everything was being worked on as needed. You can learn more about matrices in Your Company’s Structure and How to Establish the Best Organization.
We applied it first to the team that seemed disorganized, but the real breakthrough came when we applied it to the entire department. It was the idea we had been looking for: the matrix would help us run each of our projects more smoothly. The matrix could also be resilient and would provide each of our team members with plenty of opportunities to switch roles and learn more.
The most important point in this lesson is that a company’s structure is the basis for everything that is layered above – processes, information technology, and metrics. We must first have a structure, and from there, we can design processes. In this case, because we are changing the team’s structure, we are going to have to go back over our processes to see what needs to be changed so that they work in conjunction with our new structure.
We would not have gotten to this structure if we had not been working on the team’s processes for a few months now. Building a company is an iterative process and takes patience. Sometimes the answer is not obvious – we must study it, try it out, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, we get the solution. It’s important to highlight that the solution did not come out of nowhere – we invested the time to get to the answer.
A company’s structure is often unseen, yet it is the skeleton that holds everything together and gives a company its shape. What is your company’s structure? How can you improve it?