Over-Engineering Your Organization

Due to the motives and momentum that currently abound in the tech industry, most companies are in a constant state of growth. Every manager and exec has added “We’re hiring” to their LinkedIn tagline. With all this hiring going on, a very common pitfall I see for tech executives is to do Premature Organization.

No one does it due to bad intentions. Mostly, I see this as a result of trying to provide early hires with incentives to join, and so they are given titles (or promised ones).

However, You do not need three team leads to manage eight engineers. It doesn’t make sense to have a bunch of “directors” that barely have a single team reporting to them, not to mention managers. And, in general, one shouldn’t promote someone to be a manager before that person has… people to manage.

When you create too much structure too soon, you risk introducing several kinds of issues:

  • Acceleration of the Peter principle, raising people fast to their level of incompetence.
  • Solidifying wrong structure: re-orgs are not as easy to do as refactoring a piece of code. You know that you only have so much org capital for such moves before people get demotivated. Making a wrong decision can result in you being stuck with it for too long.
  • Introducing politics: Once you “allocate land” to all these new knights in your kingdom, you immediately start turf wars and silos. Someone says issue X isn’t their responsibility. Someone else gets angry because their team isn’t growing as fast as others. Politics are even worse with phantom managers, who don’t really have a team and so feel the need to meddle with things.
  • Harder to hire: When you’re suffering from premature organization, it is harder to hire stars later as they see they will be managed by people who don’t fit their position, or that too many of your teams are too small to warrant interest.

Instead, my advice is to err on the side of adding structure later rather than earlier. Aim for teams of at least four people at the inception of the team. Let teams be created naturally, forking off of bigger teams. Don’t provide titles before you have a clear need for them. Create autonomous, cross-functional teams instead of homogenous teams. And don’t be afraid to cull needless structure: if a team or a manager doesn’t make sense after a few months, it’s ok to make changes.

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