The optimal team will vary depending on market conditions, the stage of the business, the number of people on the team, and many other factors. The optimal solution will change rapidly, depending on the structure of the team, the roles of each person, and even the process for teamwork.
When a business is starting up and has very few people, there is a wide scope for one person to handle and work across specialties, but as the business grows and the number of people increases, it is more effective to build structures and processes that take advantage of specialties. As the optimal solution changes dynamically, a team that is autonomously optimized according to the situation may be ideal for people managers, product managers, and others in roles where they work in teams.
However, it is not often the case that a team becomes autonomous and flexible on its own, and it is up to the manager to create flexibility. So let’s consider how to create flexibility in a team from a manager’s point of view.
Be flexible yourself
It is not only about flexibility, but I think that if you want something for your team, you should first practice it yourself. It is obvious, but it is difficult to keep practicing it, and on the other hand, I think it is the most important thing above all. If you want to create flexibility in a team, you first need to be flexible yourself, changing roles, crossing organizational boundaries, changing work styles, and becoming more flexible than anyone else. Keeping yourself flexible is the starting point and the basic premise for creating team flexibility.
If you are a PM, it would be ideal if you could do everything related to the product, changing your role as needed, from product development to marketing, sales, customer support, and recruiting, as well as other tasks related to the product. Of course, it is not good to hold the tasks yourself when there is someone else who is better at it than you. However, if there is no one else, you should cross all boundaries and do it yourself, and it can be more fun that way. Especially in the case of PM, if you say that is not your job, things will not get done, and you need to take ownership and do something about it, regardless of who does it.
Of course, being too good at something will only be a negative for the team. You must calmly decide for yourself whether you should do it or not, in light of your own abilities. On the other hand, I believe that being as flexible as you can be is a minimum obligation, not only for direct results, but also for the right to be able to implement with the flexibility of the team in mind.
Next, I would like to consider how to create flexibility in a team from a manager’s perspective. In the following, I will focus on things that I may forget if I’m not aware of them.
Appropriately and continuously stop something and keep room
It is important to create rules and processes to improve efficiency. And it does not seem to be too difficult to create rules and processes. Especially when people with experience and skills are gathered together, reasonable rules often seem to occur naturally.
On the other hand, rules and processes are no longer optimal from the moment they are created. Business, market, and team conditions change daily, so today’s optimal solution is often not tomorrow’s optimal solution. Also, if there is a major change, for example, a change in team members or a change in market conditions, the likelihood that the previous rules are no longer optimal becomes higher and higher.
This requires revisiting rules, processes, or team structures at the appropriate time, but it is quite a tough job to restructure something once it has been decided. Naturally, in order to restructure something, not only do you have to start something new, but in many cases you also have to stop something. If you only add new rules or processes without stopping, as may often be the case, you will gradually run out of room and will not be able to take the actions to maintain flexibility that will be described later.
However, it is often difficult to stop something. Because while a rule that is already in place is rarely 100% bad, there are almost always disadvantages to stopping it. Furthermore, it is often very difficult to explain that the advantages are greater than the disadvantages. The magnitude of the disadvantage is easy to explain with examples that are easy to imagine, such as the risks and specific problems that will arise when it is gone. On the other hand, the value that may be in the future, created by stopping something, is very difficult to explain.
Therefore, there is a limit to building 100% consensus to stop something, and above all, it is sometimes difficult to say that something should be stopped due to the difficulty of explaining it, even if many people think it is better to stop it. Therefore, it is necessary for managers to use their authority appropriately to decide to stop something by themselves and carry it out. Of course, it is not at all acceptable to break something meaninglessly, or to break something only to break it and not to rebuild it. Nevertheless, it is often impossible to know whether or not the timing of rebuilding is optimal without seeing the results afterwards, and in the end the manager must make his or her own decision and carry it out.
Of course, stopping something is not only a rule or a process, but also a larger unit, for example, a project. Starting something is of course important and most of all fun, but we need to keep stopping it properly in order not to lose the room.
Create weak ties within the organization
Weak ties are important to develop the room created by stopping something into flexibility. In general, there are two types of connections: weak ties and strong ties. A strong tie is one that is intended to achieve a definite goal, such as a project. Weak ties, on the other hand, are those that do not serve a clear purpose, but rather are those where you know what they do, what they are good at, but you are not working with them on a specific project.
This weak ties are very important to maintain flexibility. If there are no weak ties at all, every time you change something, be it a rule, a process, or a team structure, you have to build the organization’s network from scratch, which is very inefficient. This can dramatically lower the speed of review, and when speed is lowered, you become more cautious about the review itself, missing the right timing and consequently becoming less flexible.
Thus, managers need to build a weak network to prepare for various future patterns as they anticipate them. This weak network provides a strong foundation for continued flexibility into the future.
Of course, this weak network includes not only the connections between the manager and the rest of the people, but also the connections between people who might work together in the future. In addition to the network centered on the manager’s own self, the manager him/herself needs to create a network among the people who might be involved.
However, trying to make weak ties between each person will require a certain amount of time and mental availability. If the work in front of them is too busy, they will not even have time to make weak ties, so you should keep the time to make weak ties while continuing to do something to stop them.
Once an organizational network with many of these weak ties is in place, the structure of the team can be restructured according to the situation.
Update the team structure gradually and frequently
Team structure here refers not only to the structure that appears on the company’s organizational chart, but also to all structures in teamwork, including the team that implements the project and the connections among people and information flows that do not appear on the organizational chart.
When the structure of a team is fixed, work within the team becomes more efficient, but the flow of information and knowledge sharing becomes fixed and less flexible. Once flexibility is reduced, tolerance for change is reduced, and more flexibility is lost.
To avoid this, the team structure needs to be reviewed. Of course, as with reviewing processes, there is no need to review them pointlessly, but it seems to me that a situation in which a review is not necessary is very special, given the numerous factors that can change the optimal solution, such as market conditions, business conditions, increase or decrease in members, and so on.
However, in most cases, even in situations where a review is necessary, both Pros/Cons are present, as in the case of processes. Therefore, instead of expecting the team structure to be reviewed spontaneously, the manager needs to do it him/herself. Naturally, the target of the review will include themselves, as mentioned at the beginning of this post.
If the manager him/herself proactively builds the weak ties I wrote about before, it is natural, but since he/she has his/her own grasp of the weak ties, it is easier to predict the impact of changing the structure of the team in any way, and how to compensate for the negative aspects of it. On the other hand, if you don’t know the weak ties, you don’t know what will happen, and it is very dangerous to leave it up to luck to revise something.
Once a prediction is made, it can be compared to the results of a review, so a learning loop is created, and the accuracy of the prediction is improved. This is my personal experience, but it seems that the more accurate the team’s predictions for the review become, the faster they can execute them, and at the same time, the “areas that cannot be predicted” become clearer, and the cycle of execution > observation of the review becomes smaller and faster.
As a result, we can continue to optimize the situation at any given time, updating little by little, monthly, weekly, or even daily, without having to rely on a single major change in the organization every six months, or spending a great amount of effort adjusting every time the team changes.
And to keep optimizing is a situation of constant change. I think it is a very flexible state of being if it becomes a daily routine to keep changing.
At the end
I have listed four factors to keep the team flexible.
- Be flexible yourself
- Appropriately and continuously stop something and keep room
- Create weak ties within the organization
- Update the team structure gradually and frequently
There are many other basic elements, such as building trust and transparency, but I have written about things that I tend to forget if I am not particularly aware of them.
Of course, as the number of people in an organization increases, it becomes increasingly difficult for a single person to execute everything on his or her own. In such cases, the scope of management should be distributed, but in this case, not only should the scope of management be divided hierarchically, but also a network for management should be created. By constantly creating a network, I believe that it will be possible to expand the organization while minimizing the lack of relationships that can occur when the number of people increases.
That’s all I have to say about the content, but I don’t think I am putting everything into practice at 100% myself at all. In particular, I often tend to be hazy about stopping. On the other hand, looking around me, I feel that managers who can move flexibly as a team in response to changes in the environment seem to naturally put these four things into practice. I would like to try to do this myself at more than 100%.