3 Organisational structure changes to strengthen your startup’s tech team

Hiring experienced technologists is difficult. Many are happy in their current positions, and the others are inundated with offers. With software developer employment projected to grow 17% by 2024 — 10% faster than the average occupational growth rate in the US — it’s incumbent upon employers to ensure they stand out from the crowd.

The right organizational structure and workplace culture will help them do just that. There are three principles to enact:

1. Introduce small standalone teams to encapsulate dependencies

According to Conway’s Law, any organization that designs a new system “will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure.” These structures often introduce unwieldy dependencies between teams, inhibiting productivity and limiting the control that technologists have over solutions.

Top talent can’t thrive in such environments. Good software architecture exhibits loose coupling and high cohesion, and organizational structures based on these principles empower developers to make meaningful technical decisions without suffocating under the weight of bureaucracy.

Zaid Masud is one of our principal architects at Lifion, and he recognized the importance of this structure when decomposing a monolithic application into discrete, well-defined services with clear business purposes. We created cross-functional teams that take full-stack ownership of each area, minimizing cross-team dependencies and boosting our productivity. We haven’t looked back since.

2. Hire managers who are technologists first and leaders second

Great technologists are driven to hone their craft, and hiring managers with the technological and leadership skills to enable improvement are attractive to talented technologists. Managers who are strong technologists themselves can provide new insights for team member growth; an understanding of the costs, risks, and tradeoffs in technical decision-making; and a shared love of the craft.

This shared devotion goes a long way toward fostering a trusting, understanding, and mutually respectful organisational culture. John Marcantonio, one of our application architects, sees an example of this dynamic at Airbnb. The lodging website has a culture of engineering that ensures fluid responsibilities and career advancement opportunities.

Airbnb’s focus on that culture goes beyond its core product offering. The company’s co-founder and CTO, Nathan Blecharczyk, studied computer science at Harvard and is a computer programmer and coder. He embodies Eliot Horowitz’s conviction that technology managers must focus some of their time on technological engagement. With such a committed innovator in charge, it’s little wonder that Airbnb has achieved so much success so quickly.

3. Foster a culture that promotes creativity, bottom-up decision-making, and proactivity

An organisational culture is a company’s backbone. It guides how employees think, act, and feel. Ideally, it should generate a shared sense of purpose. The best will encourage creativity and innovation and give employees the freedom to experiment with bottom-up decision-making.

Some of the greatest success stories of the digital age have embodied this culture. Google, Twitter, and Amazon catch the eye of Srdjan Strbanovic, another of our principal architects. In each of these companies, he sees a deliberate approach to innovation at every level of the organization. He also sees the deployment of creative thinking to attack problems both big and small.

We try to follow this lead at Lifion by promoting openness and embracing new challenges. Authority usually congregates at the top of an organization, but we’ve made organizational changes to offer greater autonomy to our teams and to help them act quickly and decisively at the lowest level possible.

Technologists need that freedom and trust in their working environment. They need camaraderie, too. They don’t want to be thrown into an organizational quagmire in which decisions are made at the top by managers who lack technological expertise and teams don’t work together toward personal and technological development.

Companies must ditch old-fashioned hierarchical approaches to attract the top talent in a crowded marketplace. Are you doing enough to promote the right culture?

Amit Maimon


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