Intentional Team Design

Leaders are about empowering people to make impacts. Part of the empowerment comes from having the right people. The right people don’t mean the best people. It is more about the most suitable ones. Now the question is how to define “suitable”?

That is the design. First, I need to define the purpose of a team, which helps select the guiding principles. The purpose of a team is to deliver business value.

To deliver value, there are a few fundamental principles or beliefs.

First, diversity in the team. Diversity can be demographic, experiential, or cognitive. People tend to focus on demographics because that tends to be the most obvious and a bigger gap. For example, my latest hire is Regin. I started with my principal and one other senior. Then I hunted for mid-level. I have full-stack, or pure java backend, or DevOps focused members. So here, when I hire, I need to be aware of the diversity perspective.

Diversity in team make-up matters since it brings diversity in perspectives, leading to better decisions and results.

Second, the culture fit [see my other article about a good team culture]. Culture fit allows the team to be more coherent and focused. Culture is the value and behavior. I want self-motivated individuals who value learning and making impacts. There are other elements like collaborations, customer obsession, etc. But I want to keep it simple. If people are not clear on what impact they are making or what they are learning and don’t want to know, I don’t think they are a good fit.

Culture fit produces job satisfaction and productivity

Third, job fit. A team is a dynamic entity that should evolve with the mission and responsibility. I have got risky strategic projects that require creative thinkers, and I have operation-heavy projects that require a strong sense of responsibility. A different way of looking at this is whether it is better to have homogeneous or cross-functional ones. For an infra team, we don’t need to build UI, and it makes more sense to have a majority of backend engineers. A customer-facing product team should have some UI expertise, hence a heterogeneous skillset and potentially a cross-functional team.

Job fit maximizes the strength of individuals, leading to the maximized impact.

Overall, I believe an optimal team structure is one that produces business impact. To achieve that, we need to focus on diversity, culture fit, and job fit.

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xinxin wang

empower top-notch engineers to solve problems and deliver business value