9 Ways Great Companies Organize Their Teams For Success

Having a great idea isn't enough to build a great company, says Kevin O’Connor, cofounder of DoubleClick and CEO of FindTheBest. What it really takes is teams of talented people, organized in ways that truly let them shine.

Businesses exist for one simple reason: to solve a big problem. At the core of every great product or service is an unfulfilled need that reaches a big enough market. But it’s not enough to have a great idea that solves a big problem; behind each successful company stands a flexible team that can efficiently turn a vision into a growing business. The 9 tips below will help you organize your team for success.

Management Type: Market Trumps Functional Trumps Matrix.
All organizational structures are evil; but when you have to, align your organization around markets. Aligning employees around markets with a flattened organizational structure increases efficiency, removes gridlock, eliminates conflicting priorities and speeds up the decision-making process in an industry where you’re constantly racing against the clock. (A great example of matrix-style management can be seen when Peter Gibbons messes up his TPS reports in Office Space.)

Empower People to Make Decisions.
Too often, decisions move up the management chain to people who have the least amount of knowledge to make the best decision. Big decisions shouldn’t always be made by management. If you have a smart team, you should empower each person to make decisions that apply to their own groups and roles. In addition to speeding up decisions and helping shape current team members into future managers, this will also instill a sense of ownership throughout your entire team.

Strategic Planning Should Focus on Solutions.
After co-founding several companies, I realized that “strategic planning”—when the management team sits down to figure out where the company should be going—is often a major waste of time and takes the focus away from where your energy should be spent—building a great product. You should be strategically thinking about what problems to solve, not about revenue projections, profits or other forecasts. If you build a great product that solves a big problem, the numbers will follow.

Build Consensus and A Sense of Ownership Through BPT.
The quickest and most efficient way to solve a problem and come up with the best solution is through what I call the Brainstorm Prioritization Technique (BPT). If you have a smart team, they’ll be able to come up with the right answers. BPT will draw out all possible answers, weed out any bad or unfeasible options, build consensus within your team and save time. So how does BPT work? Just follow these five steps:

  1. Figure out which team-members should be involved in the brainstorming process based on the problem you’re trying to solve. Try to limit the group to 10; groups that are too big can be difficult to manage.
  2. After you’ve assembled the right group of people, clearly state the specific problem you’re trying to solve and allow everyone to shout out possible solutions without taking the time to analyze each option. Write down all the ideas for everyone to see.
  3. When you have come up with a good number of possible solutions—anywhere from twenty to 100 ideas—divide the number of possible solutions by three. That will be the number of votes each team-member has.
  4. Once everyone has had a chance to analyze the options, the BPT leader should read each idea out loud, take a vote and write the number of votes next to the corresponding ideas. Typically, only a few ideas will receive the most overwhelming number of votes. If more than three or four options garner a lot of votes, eliminate the low scoring options and repeat the BPT.
  5. When you have three to four good solutions, research and test each option to figure out which one is most feasible and effective.

Once you’ve completed the BPT, you’ll have achieved the Nirvana of management: knowing which top one or two things to focus on, and consensus around those ideas.

Embrace Self Interest.
In the end, people will always do what’s in their self-interest; rather than fight it, help your employees align their own self-interest with organizational-interests. Allow your team-members to move into new groups and to align themselves with their own self-interests within the company, and reward managers for moving great people out of their groups when they see a better fit.

Forget About Skills When Hiring.
You can always teach skills, but you can’t teach smart. Don’t hire someone based on their current skills; hire people who have raw intelligence and are competitive athletes who will learn quickly on the job. Some of the smartest people I’ve hired have come from schools that don’t show up at the top of any college-ratings list. At the end of the day, the most interesting problems are the ones that nobody’s ever faced before—especially in a startup—so you need to hire people who can think outside the box and come up with unique solutions to complex problems.

Seniority Is Evil.
Hires, fires and promotions should never be determined by seniority; instead, these decisions should only be based on merit. A lot of times you’ll see people who have a sense of entitlement just because they’ve worked somewhere the longest, even though newer members of a team might be the ones coming up with the best ideas or working the hardest. I always tell my team at FindTheBest that I have to earn my job as CEO everyday; if they show that they’re better than me as CEO, then they can have my job.

Don’t Let Customers Dictate the Solution.
When you organize around your market, hence your customer, you’ll be in a better position to see their pain points. Let your customers dictate the problem, but never the solution. Customers sometimes see problems that you don’t because you’re oftentimes too ingrained in the product. When it comes to the solution, however, there’s nobody better (or at least there shouldn’t be anyone better) than your own team to come up with the best answer.

The Most Obvious Solution is Often Overlooked.
As I mention in my book, The Map of Innovation: Creating Something Out of Nothing, it’s the obvious answers that are frequently overlooked. Too often, people aren’t satisfied with obvious solutions, or think that simple solutions can’t be good ones, when in fact they can be the least costly and most effective.

—Kevin O’Connor, cofounder of DoubleClick, is the founder and CEO of FindTheBest, an unbiased data-driven comparison engine.

[Image: Flickr user Jerich Abon]

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3 Comments

  • Mcarrick

    Interesting article. My favorite item is this one: Forget About Skills When Hiring. 

  • James K. Lewis, M.A., CCNL

    When does the CEO truly have to make tough decisions within known variables that can't be openly discussed"? 
    What if what the BPT comes up with ideas that are outside parameters? 
    I wouldn't task a BPT to decide what staff positions to cut or if we change to a co-pay premium for family medical, but I would to discuss how to cut expenses in their sphere of responsibility, or what programs would be appropriate to amend or close. 

  • Amber King

    Empower People to Make Decisions. Often times we leave all decision making to managers. Empowering the team to decide will make them more responsible. They are the also know what is best for their team since they do the work everyday.