Nick Kewney

Software Architect & Product Builder

Scaling Change in Start-ups

Another look at the product side of the scaling journey. This time, we’re talking about the best time to formalise your practices to ensure your team can contribute equally to strategic business initiatives, from product decisions to improving processes.

In this article, we’re focusing in on team collaboration, and when it makes sense to spin off groups within the business to solve specific challenges, rather than the tenacious early-days mantra of “Get Things Done”.

Caveat: Before I dive in, it’s ironic that I’m writing this post, as I can be more of a “lone-wolf innovator”, and prone to selling my ideas in after the proof of concept is finalised, but let’s skim over that minor detail for now for the greater good! After all, innovation is a team sport.

“I enjoy working as part of a team” – arguably up there with the most used phrases on CVs since the year zero. It also features somewhere, either explicitly or implied, in most modern day company values.

We are in this together. This is a team effort. We always look out for one another. We have empathy, we know we’re all human, and know we can’t do any of this alone.

WeWork Core Values

Most people work well with others in their own discipline, but what drives forward any growing business, or any business for that matter, is effective communication between teams to solve complex business challenges & inhibitors to growth.

Inter-disciplinary teams play an essential part in shaping any product-led business and encouraging this type of team formation is an effective way to bring people together to help solve challenges, whilst maintaining “business as usual” across the rest of the company as this happens.

Working Groups in a Product Business

So what does a traditional “working group” look like in a growing business?

One of my reasons for exploring this topic is finding that occasionally in smaller teams, closeness and communications are taken for granted. You speak every day, and it feels like everyone’s on the same page. However, when the business becomes more structurally complex and changes are made informally, it’s natural for people to be excluded, or feel that they weren’t “bought in” to the change, so a more consultative, formal process is much more effective to ensure change is brought in collaboratively.

Cue working groups, which are essentially teams of employees from multiple disciplines assembled to solve a specific process or functional problem. Probably what you’re doing now, but a more structured.

The types of tasks carried out by these groups often involve:

  • Analysing specific business problems.
  • Solutioning & brainstorming solutions.
  • Making recommendations & getting buy in.
  • Instructing or executing the changes. 

Working groups’ results can add a lot of value to your start-ups process and encourages engagement in the broader business by teams who were becoming disconnected or distanced from the heartbeat due to rapid growth. What’s more, the anti-ad-hoc (triple hyphenated) nature of a working group ensures that it’s clear why team members are part of the group, ensuring others don’t feel alienated. Working groups often involve SME (subject matter expert) input, which can help build up other team members’ knowledge. 

Overall, the working group is an interdisciplinary experts’ team that can contribute to the company or product’s success 🎉

Aren’t “Working Groups” Old Fashioned?

Let’s look at the reasons below to understand better why working groups are essential in unlocking scaling in your change management process. 

Team Sport

As your team & business grows, it becomes evident that some things don’t scale well or never worked at all, and that can include bringing in change itself. When I lived in the U.S.A., I consulted for a change management company in Houston, TX with the tagline “Change is guaranteed. How will you manage it?”, and the answer defines any business leader.

From identification to resolution, the process will require expertise from various functions, including engineering, designing, finance, sales, marketing, consultation, management. Therefore, it makes sense that experts with this expertise come together to form a working group to solve problems, identify solutions and collectively make solutions accordingly on a regular and continuous basis.

Furthermore, working groups can provide a powerful platform for these interdisciplinary discussions while ensuring all project perspectives are accounted for and heard in the best possible way. 

Step Up Your Product

The biggest hurdle for a founder still working in a growing start-up is figuring out when to let go. After all, you’ve poured over hiring a fantastic team, which you’ll only be hindering if you’re constantly dictating the business’s direction. As a founder, your job is to set the company’s vision and let your teams take you there with the execution.

Bringing together different people from your teams isn’t as easy as it seems, especially as your company grows. Establishing group leaders, making sure everyone is heard, and handling conflict are all issues you’ll probably encounter, but at least the group is formally structured and there’s a little less chaos than if the task was completed ad-hoc.

Enhanced Creativity

When you are going to set up a successful working group, you will increase creativity. Like a brainstorming session, experts working in a group will share their ideas, which will positively impact the project’s creativity. 

With discussions on ideas & suggestions for process improvements, group members will build off these new ideas to create something amazing. Even though a problem might seem impossible to resolve initially, it becomes obvious that incremental steps towards a solution and opening up the discussion pushes it closer to a solution.

Tips for Success

  • Firstly, understand the disciplines that will benefit the project. From operations to support and development, getting the right mix is key to success. 
  • Next up, choose an expert from each discipline possessing the right skills and knowledge to put their perspectives, thoughts, and suggestions forth within their discipline to get work done from.
  • Define a defined goal for your working group. Keep in mind that these goals can vary at each step of the project. So be clear with these. 
  • Ensure that your chosen experts have understood your goals clearly, along with the group’s responsibilities. Define the chances, sources, rules, and other important aspects of the project to make things clearer for them. 
  • To keep the workflow efficient, make sure somebody does the day-to-day stuff like establishing an agenda and making people stick to it. We all know that when you get creatives on a call, conversations can go on forever, so keep this controlled!

Final Thoughts

Bear in mind that in order to make your working groups more successful and creative, you need to give the team ample time to discuss and resolve the problems. We made early days mistakes such as deriving what we, as leaders, felt were solutions way too early in the process. Letting the group run for an extended period will enable them to make more unique and informed decisions to improve the business.

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