Small teams with autonomy reduce the quagmire of bottlenecks and delayed shipping
Co-Founder of WordPress, Founder of Automattic, Investor with Audrey
The 5 to 15-person structure works really well, even inside a much larger group.
The team you are on is your experience of the company.
Build a place that people can stay for decades.
Lesson: Building a Unicorn with Matt Mullenweg
Step #3 Teams: Small teams with autonomy reduce the quagmire of bottlenecks and delayed shipping
One of the things we found as we got bigger and bigger is the structure that we looked like when we were 5 to 15 people. It worked really well, and many versions of that work really well inside Automattic. So the Automattic is 230 people under this sign on the door. It's really a collection of 26 teams. If you're on one of those teams, that's your experience of Automattic.
We try to keep them kind of five to ten people. They're cross functional. So they always have a designer and engineers, sometimes a support person, sometimes a business person, whatever they need to shift things to users as frequently as they want to without waiting on any other team or any other bottleneck. So we try to give the team itself a lot of time to do what it is that their purpose for being is.
We do most conversations via text. I am particularly bad at this. I think just because that's kind of our bias as a company started by engineers and folks who don't like to talk on the phone that much. I wouldn't necessarily put that as something other companies should try to emulate. I think that a voice or video conversation can be much higher bandwidth and just has a lot more nuance and context.
One thing I've been trying to do as a leader is have more in person, video, or voice chats, versus just always being on text all the time. I think the main thing is that I always think in terms of bandwidth. Text is, we'll call it the modem. Voice is maybe the 64K. Video is pretty good, actually. You can get most of the nuance in someone's face or their eyes, and things from that. Then when we're actually here in person, like you and I here right now, there's thousands of inputs happening every single second. All of our senses are engaged, like even smell and things we're not even conscious of. That combination has its time and place.
Many Automatticians have been here for many years now and all the way back to the first four or five are all still here. The intention of the company is to build someplace that people can stay for decades and that’s not always easy.
But by framing every decision we make from how we run HR, to how we do compensation, to how everything in those terms, it's sort of like an optimism thing. I don't assume people are going to leave after two or three years for new options at a different company. I assume I’m going to be working with them 20 years from now, so in the years in between that I want to give them as many resources as possible to be learning, growing, and expanding their skill sets, and optimizing their life, so their work-life balance is where they can give the best to both.
I'm a big believer in Dan Pink's framework for happiness at work. It talks about mastery, autonomy, and purpose as the three aspects that when they're present you can feel fulfilled and happy in your work life, and when they're absent or lacking, you'd be very frustrated. Mastery, the ability to be good at what you do, learn the opportunities, etc. Autonomy, the ability to actually do it; there are no blockers between you and doing a great job. And then purpose, working for something more than just a paycheck; something that you believe in is really important for fulfillment.