When preparing for the new year, my partners and I look back on what has worked in our company, and what areas we would like to develop. This year we agreed we would put all commercially-oriented people in one big team — with me in charge.
Great, I thought, let me rethink how to make a commercial team in a way hasn’t been done before.
At first, I wanted to organize my teams in a way that didn’t mirror the “Evil Corp”.
I’m not really sure why I was so afraid of this… I guess I’ve seen and heard a lot of stories lately where this has become the situation.
We even have people joining our team from other startups because their old jobs went too corporate, both organization-wise and product-wise. Somewhere along the way, they’d made themselves financially dependent on certain features that made the whole product development slow and sometimes impossible.
How can you change or even remove a feature if 80% of your company earnings comes from this?
Sometimes you have to, but how can I make sure our company doesn’t end up like this?
I set out to create a whole new approach to the commercial sector of our organization. “Creating the user experience” became the core mantra of my mission. I chose dynamic names for our teams like “Growth”, “Engagement”, and “Success”, which would make any modern Silicon Valley executive proud. I did everything I could to avoid the norms of the corporate sales organizational structure….particularly by NOT mentioning the commoner words like “sales” or “support”.
In spite of my best intentions — My whole new approach was just confusing. Really confusing. For the teams inside, for the teams outside, and even for me.
This was because the new plan was not compatible with how we naturally worked. It was not practical for how the teams were already cooperating. Looking at the organizational chart I had created from scratch made for more confusion and chaos than I had anticipated.
So now what? How do I create something that reflects my progressive managerial approach and accomplish my mission of “creating the user experience”?
Should we try one of those floating organizations where everyone works independently? Maybe try out the Holacracy organizational format?
They seemed like progressive approaches, but they still seemed like an over-thought-theoretically-perfect-but practically-you-know-how-it-ends type of thing. Perhaps I was fueled more by my fear of ending up with an old corporate organization chart that screams “BORING!”.
Perhaps this fear was holding me back.
I decided to stop trying to reinvent the organizational wheel, and went all classic… like 100 years old, Evil-corp-silo-classic.
I created three teams: Marketing, Sales and Support.
No “engagement” teams, no growth hackers or sales ninjas. No disruption squads or other poetic names, just a classic commercial organization like they did them 100 years ago. A Marketing team, a Sales team, and a Support team. We have some shared teams as well, but that’s for another post.
…And it works perfectly. Why?
Because of the people. The people I hired to be in these teams are not the traditional marketing, sales and support people. They are not the kind of people looking at a chart thinking “Oh, the awesome idea I just had is unfortunately not a part of my job description. What a shame.” They don’t think in terms of titles, or team names.
This is because they were hired by people who have a vision for the way they want their company to be, and so our culture thrives, even in a classic organizational structure.
My team is made up of growth hackers by heart. They drive engagement because it comes naturally to them. They are the salespeople that don’t give up on a customer before they are truly happy and using our product. They are the support people who know that onboarding people is the number one thing we can do each day. They go the extra mile with every customer to create the positive experience we have designed for them.
Those are the people on my team. That’s our culture. They don’t need a fancy team name to know this. They don’t need the title of “Disruption Wizard” on Linkedin, and that’s the whole point:
Hire the right people instead of naming the right positions.
No matter how classic or corporate an organization you put these people into, this is the way they function. They don’t look at an organizational chart to see who they should talk to, or who they are allowed to talk to. They talk to the ones they need to so our customers can get what they need. They start up a project across teams if that is what makes the most sense.
They involve the right people when needed. They do what it takes, and they know what it takes.
So why didn’t I go for Holocrazy and make everything open? If the people in my team are that good?
Because my approach, while commercially structured, is run very much like a football team. In the beginning, there are some basic rules and agreements. We agree on who plays the defense and who plays the offense. We have a solid foundation for play and make sure that nothing or no one falls through the cracks. We agree upon and hold ourselves to our own accountabilities. We agree that we need to have a certain structure. We want to make sure that we are not missing opportunities or making mistakes that could have been avoided.
We need to make sure that someone plays defense. We need to trust that someone focuses on scoring goals. Then, and only then can we start getting creative. Let the defense switch to offense once in a while since we know that someone else will stay back.
Even the most innovative and productive individuals need guidelines. In fact, they often thrive best when given such. Having nothing and making everything open and floating creates confusion. Some chaos even, which is great when you are brainstorming ideas and trying new things, but not when you are out there on the playing field. That’s my experience.
Therefore, the most simple and easy-to-understand approach works. A marketing, sales and support team with simple guidelines and simple overall accountabilities.
You don’t have to reinvent the organization wheel. You are not going to make a bureaucracy coming right out of the gate — You are a startup. You have a startup mindset.
Using a corporate structure doesn’t make you corporate, so don’t be afraid of learning from the Evil Corps. After all, there’s a reason they got so big.
You’ll need the right tactics, but it’s the people on your team right now that will determine your chances of success. You can have the best intentions, but with the wrong players, you will lose. So focus on developing your team, and let them run with the ball.
Also shared on Medium.
Hi, I'm Brian. I'm co-founder and CRO at Airtame.com, a wireless presentation device for businesses. I share my thoughts and learnings from being a crowdfunded gadget to becoming a leading company in the B2B space.