Engineer Your Organization: How to Turn Your Talent Pipeline Into a Team Factory

Engineer Your Organization

In my last article, I showed you how to create a talent pipeline full of A-Players. It’s not enough to just hire great people, you have to put them to work in great teams.

During heavy growth phases, we can sometimes spin up multiple new teams each month. We may try to onboard and organize those teams consistently, but more often they form organically, take on their own identity and culture, and mutate significantly from the teams you managed when your company was small.

Being able to quickly spin up effective teams is not only necessary to grow, it’s an existential imperative. After reaching product-market fit, the #1 reason growth stage companies fail is due to mismanaged growth.

We want to be able to spin up new teams very quickly, but minimize the number of mutations. This requires rigorous and consistent onboarding, training, organization, alignment, and measurement. To do this, we need what I call a “Team Factory”.

What is a Team Factory?

Just like a manufacturing assembly line, our goal is to streamline the creation of new widgets (in this case, teams) quickly, efficiently, and consistently at scale. You have to engineer your organization, the same way you would engineer your product, to manufacture new teams.

The Team Factory is made up of these essential aspects:

  • People – What are the roles required on each team? What skills are required for each role?
  • Mission – What is the purpose of this team? What are the team’s main goals?
  • Processes – How should the team get work done? How should they interface with other teams?
  • Tools – What tools should the team use to collaborate and get work done?
  • Best-Practices – How should the work product be created? What is the quality bar?
  • Measurement – How should the team’s performance be measured?

All of this should be rigorously documented, with leaders trained in spinning up teams in the same way. From here, we can dig into the recipe.

YouTube video

The Team Factory Recipe

Now let’s get down to business. Here are the building blocks to create your Team Factory. I recommend creating a documentation hub using Notion or the like, and create pages for each of these sections. Here, you can flesh out the details for your organization.

With any documentation project, I suggest being agile and starting with Loom videos, followed by workflow diagrams built in Miro, and then you can create more robust policies or process documents.

Here are the ten things you need to do to create your Team Factory:

1. Sustainable Budget

First, you need to be able to predict your growth. This could be based off of your growth targets, or use of funds from a new fund raise. Based off the budget, it will tell you how many teams you need to spin up in a given timeframe, which will tell you how close you can personally get to the process. This is important, as the more teams you spin up, the farther away you will be, and the more automated this system needs to become.

2. Robust Talent Pipeline & Recruiting Process

This is the engine that drives the factory. I’ve laid out everything you need for this in my last article.

3. Onboarding & Training

As each person comes on board, they need to quickly come up to speed and understand your:

  • Mission
  • Customers
  • Business
  • Products
  • Culture
  • Team Structure
  • Workflow
  • Tools
  • Ways of Working

I suggest creating a checklist with everything they need to learn, everything they need to do, and everyone they need to know in the first 1/7/14/30/60/90 days.

Here is a good set of milestones for new team members:

  • First day – Be Welcomed
  • First 7 days – Be Introduced
  • First 14 days – Be Trained
  • First 30 days – Be Knowledgeable
  • First 60 days – Be Productive
  • First 90 days – Be Indispensable

Under each milestone, there will be a checklist of tasks, introductions, and trainings to complete. Create a detailed 90 day plan to onboard each and every role on the team.

4. Leadership Development

As your organization scales, you will need to develop new leaders to take on the tactical management that you can no longer handle at scale.

As a leader, you should create a set of leadership principles that you want all of your leaders to adhere to. You should assume each leader has their own style, but should align on a set of core principles.

Here are a few of my favorite principles:

  • You lead by example, whether you intend to or not
  • You get what you tolerate’
  • You get what you measure
  • Delegation without feedback and measurement is just abandoning responsibility
  • Ownership and accountability are taken, not given
  • You can’t create culture, only the environment for it to grow in
  • And so on..

You should also send all new managers to leadership training. They should all be trained consistently on how to motivate and inspire their employees, set and track goals, assess and maintain morale, measure KPIs, manage a budget, etc.

5. Repeatable Processes

For each role and on each team, there should be clearly defined processes for how work gets done. For a designer, this may include how to create a wireframe, or how to use the style guide. For a developer, this may include how to perform code reviews, or how to deploy code to production.

I recommend having a process inventory where every major function of each role is documented. As I mentioned earlier, start with a simple video walking through the process, then a rough drawn workflow diagram, then a more elaborate manual.

6. Standards & Best-Practices

It’s not enough to learn how work gets done, you need to train the team on the standards of the work itself. As much as possible, you want to create consistent standards across all the teams, so that work can be easily handed off between teams, individuals can easily rotate between teams, and to achieve economies of scale.

For all of your senior team members, it should be a major part of their role to define, train, and enforce good standards and best-practices.

7. Team Scorecards, Satisfaction Surveys

Even as you become more distant from the teams, you can’t take your eye completely off the ball. You need consistent performance metrics defined and recorded so that you can observe the performance of each team at a distance. When a team is under-performing, you can lean in to identify what support they need. If you have a high performing outlier, you can dig in to understand what makes them work so well, and share those learnings with the rest of the organization.

In addition to quantitative performance metrics, you should send out regular satisfaction surveys to understand which teams and individuals are not only productive, but happy, motivated, and inspired. Remember, an individual’s performance is as much the responsibility of their leader as themselves.

8. Mission > Vision > Strategy > OKRs

As your company scales, it’s your job to have a crystal clear mission, vision, and strategy for the organization, and every team needs to align to it. I am a big fan of OKRs to roll up individual goals to team goals, team goals to organizational goals, and organizational goals to the highest level company goals.

In your 1-on-1’s, you should be able to tie each individual’s current work directly to the highest level mission. Do this regularly, as it helps them understand the context, purpose, and value of their work.

9. Strong Agile Development Mindset & Methodology

The 12 Agile Principles still hold true to this day. You want to create autonomous teams with all the tools and support they need to get their work done with the minimum amount of inter-dependencies. This will ensure you can rapidly scale up without getting bogged down in blockers and dependency management.

10. Scalable Architecture, DevOps Automation, Cloud Infrastructure, Operations, and Tools

It’s not enough to simply have agile processes, you need the product itself to be agile. By creating an agile technology stack, you will ensure teams can work independently, iterate rapidly, and deliver valuable work to production with a minimum amount of overhead.

Conclusion

Once you’ve stood up your A-Team Talent Pipeline and your Team Factory, you’ll be able to spin up as many new teams as you have the budget for, and can be confident that each one will be just as effective as the last. The key takeaway here is this: as your organization scales, your ability to closely manage it will rapidly diminish, so it’s your job to develop new leaders, and create repeatable, scalable systems that allow your organization to scale effectively.

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