Success of a company is often a double-edged sword for technology teams. Enthusiastic customers, positive sales numbers and increased opportunity generally mean only one thing for a CTO—the need to scale.
For start-ups, determining how and when to scale can be a challenge. Just when you hire your first set of developers and build the product, you’re faced with the need to grow your team and ensure that technology can accommodate an expanding number of users.
Resource management is also key—and technology and process, in addition to people, can help you to scale wisely without having to rebuild your product. After managing the challenge of scaling at a number of companies, I’ve narrowed it down to three elements of scaling to keep in mind when it comes to people.
Flat structures vs. well-defined units
As you grow, your goal as a leader should be to create just enough process and structure that enables people to complete projects independently—but not so much that you lose oversight. Here at Cloud9, we’ve gone from a flat structure on the development team to small stable teams, each with a defined leader.
As the team grew, we realized a flat structure became challenging to manage. It was similar to going to a networking event and trying to talk with everyone in the room at the same time—it became too overwhelming to focus on the tasks at hand. Smaller teams helped me manage better and helped everyone focus and communicate better.
When your start-up enters a growth stage, team alignment is also important. Everyone needs to be on the same page about the mission, even if they don’t all agree on how to get there. Getting others to buy into your mindset is so important. I encourage engineers to make suggestions for changes that they could brag about to their friends and family.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of encouraging innovation from within. It empowers teams by reinforcing the belief that everyone should be moving fast and making an impact. That impact is what takes a team from zero to 60 when it comes to growth.
Part of scaling is also finding out what behaviors can be defined as valuable to the organization and encouraging those behaviors to spread throughout. The best way to do this is to make people feel accountable for the success of your start-up’s growth. When teams have structure and a mission, and individuals are properly recognized for accomplishments, you can create a sense of ownership that reinforces itself and can spread across employees.
Adam Pisoni, founder of Yammer, exemplified a lot of these concepts when it came to preparing his organization and employees for scaling. While growing his company, one of his engineers brought up the idea of Conway’s Law, which says: Companies create products and services that are a reflection of themselves—the way they’re organized, communicate and work. Establishing roles, defining a clear mission and creating accountability can help your team be productive while maintaining ownership and focus on building great products.
Putting the pieces together—poised for growth
With the right amount of structure, alignment and accountability, your organization will have the right foundation to not only scale, but to go faster and maintain agility as your company grows. Even if you’re not sure where to start, there are a lot of great takeaways that you can learn from companies that have scaled successfully, such as Google and Facebook, and you can incorporate them into your own team.