Meet the Winners
We’re thrilled to introduce you to the winners of the Beyond Bureaucracy Challenge—the second phase of the HBR/McKinsey M-Prize for Management Innovation.
Managing Beyond the Organizational Hierarchy with Communities and Social Networks at Electronic Arts
From bureaucratic, divided, passive and exhausted to productive, creative, autonomous, and happy
To increase employee satisfaction, build trust and retain talent during a post-product cycle reorganization (reorg), the Microsoft Lync Test team offered its employees the freedom to choose what they wanted to work on during the next product cycle. Rather than managers dictating the assignments, they just coached and the employees decided. The result? A WeOrg.
The WeOrg experiment encompassed 85 people in the Microsoft Lync Test team and involved four organizational levels: Director, Manager, Lead and Individual Contributor. While perhaps less efficient than a manager-directed reorganization, the more collaborative WeOrg process resulted in higher employee satisfaction and lower attrition within the Lync Test team. The perceived shift from “you manage me” to “we manage me” made employees feel more like collaborators in the reorganization effort and this helped to bond the Test team and increase organizational trust.
Microsoft is a leading software manufacturer that was founded in 1975 and has experienced tremendous revenue growth in its 36 year history. As a company, Microsoft and its employees value integrity, honesty, openness, personal excellence, constructive self-criticism, continual self-improvement, and mutual respect.1
Microsoft Lync 2010 launched in December 2010 and offers instant messaging and presence, audio video and web conferencing, mobility, enterprise voice and group chat in the fast growing unified communications market. Microsoft Lync is used extensively within Microsoft to support distributed communication and collaboration between employees located in Microsoft facilities, at home and around the world. As a business, Microsoft Lync has earned 25 percent year-over-year revenue growth. For more information about Lync 2010 in the marketplace, you can reference this blog post.
Microsoft Lync 2010 Desktop Client
Microsoft Lync for Windows Phone
The Microsoft Lync product team is currently 6 years old. The team consists of Directors, Team Managers, Team Leads and Individual Contributors (IC’s) working in software engineering roles such as program management, development, test, design and user experience. Given the complexity of the Lync product and the ramp-up time required to work on it, we depend on having a team of highly skilled and experienced software engineers. Because of this, it is recognized that talent retention is very important to the current and future success of the Microsoft Lync product.
The WeOrg approach to the reorganization was an experiment performed within the Microsoft Lync Test team. The organizational structure of the 85 person Test team includes four Lync Feature Test teams and one centralized Engineering Services team.
According to historian Alfred Chandler, structure follows strategy2. When Microsoft product teams get to the end of a development cycle, the product strategy for the next version combined with staffing changes often result in a modified organizational structure and a redistribution of team roles and responsibilities. The typical reorg is defined and directed by organization management.
These product team reorgs also cause employees to reassess what they will work on next. While many employees just start planning and preparing for the next product version, some employees seek to change jobs within the team or move to a different team.
Given the complexity of the Microsoft Lync unified communications product, it was very important to retain the employee talent with the hard-earned technical skills and knowledge necessary to create the next version of the Lync product. With the overall economy slowly recovering in early 2010, other companies and Microsoft organizations were hiring and this was making competition for talent an emerging concern. Consequently, the Lync Test team wanted to conduct the reorg in a way that increased employee satisfaction, built trust, and retained the talent needed at all levels of the Test organization.
You have the freedom to choose your actions, but you don't have the freedom to choose the consequences of your actions.
Although the timeframe for this story starts in late October 2010, most of the activity occurred from the end of January through mid-February 2011.
On October 27, 2010, Microsoft Lync 2010 was released and preparation for the next version began in earnest. The product strategy for the next version necessitated reorganization so the Lync Test Director and the Test Managers began to contemplate the question “How can we keep employees satisfied with the Lync Test Team and retain their knowledge and experience for testing the next version of the complex Microsoft Lync product?” This contemplation led to considering non-traditional approaches for conducting a Test team reorg.
The strategy that evolved was to collaboratively involve everyone in the reorg process and allow that dynamic to build trust, stress the freedom to choose, and change the effort from a traditional management-directed reorg into an employee-driven “WeOrg”. As conceived, the WeOrg process would follow the sequence shown in Figure 1.
Strategy Phase – Determine the Desired Organization
At Microsoft, a Software Test team verifies and validates that product functionality successfully achieves target software specifications. As a result, the product strategy for the next version of Microsoft Lync drove the Lync Test team organizational strategy. As an initial step, the Test Director and Test Managers worked together to define the overall organizational structure required to support the next product cycle.
In addition to redefining the scope and focus of the four Feature Test teams, the need to establish a shared Engineering Services team was also identified. The purpose of the Engineering Services team was to support shared engineering tasks, common team needs and provide an engineering interface into the larger Lync and Office organizations. The creation of the Engineering Services team provided additional development opportunities and career directions within the Lync Test team and this acted as a catalyst for employee movement throughout the WeOrg process.
The process of defining the Lync Test team organizational strategy was completed in November 2010 and the resulting five Test teams became the starting point for the WeOrg.
WeOrg Phase 1: Test Managers
The Lync Test team organizational strategy provided the structure and in early January 2011, the four existing Test Managers discussed and collaboratively decided, along with input from the Test Director, which of the four teams each would manage. By that time, the Test Director had also hired the Test Manager for the new Engineering Services team. This collaborative process resulted in some shuffling of roles, responsibilities and duties amongst the five Test Managers.
What made the WeOrg unique was the active collaboration between the Test Managers to define their responsibilities for the next Microsoft Lync product cycle. The Test Director acted more as a coach and mentor than someone that dictated who would do what in the new Lync Test organizational structure. This allowed the Test Managers to feel like their preferences were considered and their choices aligned more with their career aspirations. From the Test Manager’s perspective, it wasn’t a reorg dictated by another person (the Test Director) it was a collaborative reorg that included everyone involved and this transformed it into a WeOrg.
WeOrg Phase 2: Test Leads
Once the Test Managers had made a team choice, their next decision involved defining the structure of the team and the number and roles of the required Test Leads. Once the Test Lead roles were identified, the Test Managers needed to recruit individuals to fill those roles. The pool of potential Test Leads consisted of both the existing Test Leads and very senior Individual Contributors (IC’s) capable of filling that role. In Microsoft, a Senior IC is a person with significant knowledge and experience, but no formal supervisory responsibilities.
In a sense, the potential Test Leads became free-agents looking for an optimal position much like a sports star. However, unlike the sports analogy, Test Managers could not offer differentiating monetary compensation. Nevertheless, they still could offer the following to interest prospective Test Leads:
- Opportunity of career growth in strategic and high profile positions.
- Opportunity to work on new technologies at the forefront of the next generation Microsoft Lync product. Gaining this knowledge and experience would likely lead to more career opportunities in the future.
- Opportunity to work with a particular Test Manager.
Awareness of the available Test Lead positions was facilitated by two-way communication between the Test Managers and interested Test Leads. In many cases, prospective Test Leads contacted the Test Managers directly, but in some cases Test Managers reached out to specific Test Leads.
Armed with information from these discussions, each potential Test Lead was free to choose where they wanted to work and which positions to pursue. When factoring in the different options described by the Test Managers, the only “sure thing” was the Test Manager and the technology.
The freedom to choose was appreciated by Test Leads, but that choice also led to some indecision and that delayed filling out all of the Test Lead positions. This led to some confusion within the WeOrg process and ultimately increased the time required for this phase. Nevertheless, eventually all of the Test Lead positions were filled. As with the Test Managers, from the Test Lead’s perspective, it wasn’t a reorg and job assignment dictated by another person (the Test Manager), it was a free agent process that collaboratively included everyone involved and this transformed it into a WeOrg.
WeOrg Phase 3: Test Individual Contributors (IC’s)
In early January 2011, the IC’s on the Lync Test team became more aware that a post-product cycle reorganization was underway.
The initial feeling was that of “Oh it's a reorg again. Wonder where we'll end up?” Mostly all of us thought 'I hope I don't lose my favorite feature, or I won't be doing something I like or I’ll get a manager I don't know'. For sure, nobody was excited that a reorg was happening.
To start the WeOrg process, on January 27, 2011, the Test Director held an “Any Hands” meeting (a team-wide meeting where attendance is optional). During that meeting, the Test Director outlined the structure of the five individual Lync Test teams, what they would work on and the technologies they would use. It was also stated that “people would be able to join any team that they wanted.” This was a novel approach for the IC’s and there was some doubt that the power to join any team was truly in their hands. The initial plan was to give the IC’s a few weeks to make their decision.
Until the Any Hands meeting, the discussions were around, "I want to do this, but let’s see what I get". I don't think people had taken the “You can choose” all that seriously. After the meeting though, it became clearer that they were really serious about accommodating everyone’s choices (!!).
To describe their Lync Test team and the work it would be doing, each Test Manager organized a voluntary informational meeting that prospective IC’s could attend if they were interested in that team. This provided the opportunity for IC’s to ask questions and increase their understanding about each Test team. In addition to these group information meetings, individual awareness about a Test team was facilitated by in-person discussions with the Test Manager and Test Leads.
While the IC’s were contemplating their options, the Test Director, Test Managers, Test Leads and even some Senior IC’s served as coaches and mentors as they made their decisions. These discussions occurred frequently during the WeOrg process and helped to explain business needs, where individual strengths would flourish or struggle, etc. One Test Manager reported meeting with over 20 people at least once and sometimes multiple times to help answer these questions.
The coaching and mentoring sometimes nudged IC’s in a specific direction, but the stated goal of the WeOrg was not to force or require anyone to make a specific choice. As an example, in some cases IC’s had previously stated career goals, but were making choices that contrasted with them. The coaching and mentoring helped make sure they understood the potential ramifications on their career aspirations and this led to some reconsideration of the choices being made.
Throughout these discussions, the Test Managers informally kept track of the people interested in their team, but no electronic job boards or any other formal mechanisms like that were used. During the WeOrg process, the Test Managers had some idea about the specific roles they needed, but the specific tasks for each role were not defined and assigned until after the Test team sizes and members were determined.
Slowly, the realization set in that the freedom to choose a Test team was being given to each IC and excitement started to build within the Test team.
The next couple of days, we saw marked changes in the way people were approaching the subject. Now it was about 'What have you decided' rather than 'What did you get’?
Individual Contributors considered a variety of factors when making their decision of where to work and what to do:
- Technology – Known and comfortable vs. New and challenging, …
- Relationships - Familiar Manager/Lead/Co-workers, A fresh start with new people, …
- Money – Awareness of strategic directions, what the team values and how that influences potential rewards
- Career – Gain visibility within the organization, career direction, ...
Since the Test teams and the technology they would be working on were known early on, those IC’s seeking a specific technology or product feature had already decided which team to join. Likewise, the IC’s who were seeking to work with a particular Test Manager or Test Lead were able to make their team choice as well. In many cases, these IC’s balanced both of these factors in making their decision. The remaining IC’s were primarily people seeking career growth and as such they chose the strategic and potentially understaffed teams where they could contribute the most value. From a career perspective, these teams provided additional opportunity for the IC’s because they offered a better chance to become a star performer. Also, understaffed teams accomplishing more with less tend to do better than overstaffed teams during the performance appraisal process.
In some cases, IC’s wanted to continue working with their current Test Leads and chose to follow them. Not only did this help make the decision for a number of IC’s, but the IC’s desire to stay with a Test Lead was one of the factors in the Test Leads favor when bargaining with the Test Managers during their WeOrg free-agency.
Concerned about leading the Lync Test team through the organizational transition, on January 28, 2011, the Test Director sent an email to leaders within the Lync Test team describing key considerations that should be made during the process. Specifically, the leaders were encouraged to consider the broader team needs and do what they thought was right for customers, the business, the team, its culture and their own personal career goals. Reference the attached document titled “New Org Leading through the Transition” to read the full email.
As noted in the Test Lead phase, there were some delays in finalizing the five Lync Test teams because a few Test Leads had vacillated on their decisions at the last minute. Understandably, this created some concern amongst the IC’s and especially those interested in the affected Test teams.
In the last couple of days though, I saw people getting a little anxious about why we hadn't heard yet about the final teams. I think we were worried about the indecision. People wondered if things are being reconsidered and what was causing the delay. At least for some people who were sure of what their choice was, it was a little unnerving to wait and wonder if decisions will change and if they had to go through it again.
Recognizing there were concerns building from the delays in finalizing the reorganization and a perceived imbalance in the Lync Test teams, on Saturday February 5, 2011, the Test Director sent an email updating the current status of the WeOrg process. While the initial WeOrg decisions resulted in a roughly balanced Test team based on the original organizational strategy, the status update referenced the remaining imbalances and provided additional information on product investment considerations to entice voluntary decision changes by some IC’s. Reference the attached document titled “Delay and Imbalance” to read the full email.
But after your email on Saturday, people will definitely be more assured. I like that the decisions are transparent and we are not changing the rules once we find the distribution is not as even as we want it to be, but we are working through it to find the best possible solution.
Overall, from the IC’s perspective the entire process was unexpected and novel because it wasn’t simply a reorg with jobs assigned by management. On the contrary, it was truly a collaborative reorg process that involved everyone in the team and for IC’s this definitely transformed it into a WeOrg.
WeOrg Phase 4: Validation
During the Validation Phase, the Test Director and the Test Managers reviewed the results of the WeOrg to make sure the team was ready for testing the next version of Microsoft Lync. In a few instances, minor adjustments were made on the work distribution within the team. For example, the Engineering Services team was a bit overstaffed so they took on some of the test automation work that might have fallen to one of the Feature Test teams.
Wrapping up the WeOrg Story
As people first hear about the WeOrg story, they often wonder if we were worried about everyone running to the one or two teams with the coolest manager or technology. If fact, since we had never tried this before, we were concerned about this and quickly realized it could be a risk. However, we also knew that while the surface-level benefits of those Test teams were obvious, the longer term career opportunities offered by the other Test teams were huge. We also knew that economics tells us that if rewards are distributed equally, and resources are not, those in lower-resourced areas get more reward. Once people realized that (or it was pointed out to them through coaching), they considered the bigger picture and some, but not all, voluntarily spread out across the Lync Test team. This is how people were enticed to relinquish their first choice and move to help balance the team without being directed. In retrospect, one aspect of the process that we could have done better was to analyze and understand the team differences ahead of time and then make that information available for people to consider earlier in the WeOrg.
While we wanted to make sure everyone had the same data in making their decision, the overriding goal was employee freedom of choice. What we found was that with the freedom to choose, employees “voted with their feet” for team investments they thought were good and against investments they thought looked risky. As people made strategic bets with their career by choosing future technology growth areas, we noticed that the cool projects with the most future benefit were also the areas that attracted the most interest. Initially, this led to being staffed more in areas that didn’t map to the immediate business needs. However, pressured by the spirit of the WeOrg and not wanting to cave in and mandate, we felt that while these staffing levels were different than what we would have directed, we decided to just “go with it” because it was symbolic and a referendum on our strategy. As it turned out, the “crowd” was right and the heavier resource investments in those areas prepared us better for the future. We found that along with improved employee satisfaction, organizational trust and talent retention, the strategic insights gained from employee self-selection were a key benefit of the WeOrg approach.
Was all of this uncomfortable for the Test Director at the time? Yes, absolutely. However, after looking back on the benefits derived from the WeOrg process a year later, the question “Would we do a WeOrg again?” now generates an even more emphatic answer, Yes, ABSOLUTEY!
A final “post-mortem” survey was conducted within the Lync Test team to see what everyone thought about the “WeOrg process”. Because the survey was anonymous, we do not know who provided specific responses and why. Key results from the 35 responses we did receive:
When making their decision, employees felt the key factors were the colleagues they would work with, their passion for the technology focus in the team, future career options and the ability to work with a specific Test Manager and/or Test Lead.
In total the experience was amazing. I moved from being skeptical about the whole effort, to becoming a lover/supporter of this effort.
Overall it is a wonderful approach. This gives engineers the opportunity to work on different features/functionality/manager rather than getting stuck to one feature/manager forever. This works positively in terms of longer retention too as people move teams as they look for change from normal. I would suggest that this should be done for each product release - and more than a few people would really be interested in it.
Challenge: The Lync Test team WeOrg process took longer to complete than the rest of the Product Team. With the freedom to choose, people sought to gather a lot of information to make an informed choice. Their efforts to determine current reorg status and meet with Test Managers and Test Leads to gather additional details took a lot of time and energy. In the end, this extra effort created a feeling of uncertainty in the process and contributed to delays in making final decisions.
1) Establish a dedicated time period (ex. one week) that IC’s can use to meet with Test Managers and Test Leads and learn more about their team and the opportunities in it. During this time period, both Test Managers and Test Leads would keep their schedule open for these meetings and IC’s would not have scheduled work items due during these days.
2) Publish information that can help people make choices and create a consolidated reorg status update from all Test Managers that provides transparency into the current state of each team.
3) Establish a “Decision Date” that everyone on the team would adhere to when making their final decision.
4) Minimize required meetings during this time period.
Challenge: In the new organizational structure, there were not enough Test Lead positions to accommodate all the Test Leads in the old organization. This required at least one Test Lead to assume a different role as an Individual Contributor.
Solution: Leverage the knowledge and experience gained from being a Test Lead and position them as a senior IC that can guide and mentor the more junior IC’s across all the teams.
Challenge: Most of the Test Leads were determined before the Any Hands meeting, but a few Test Lead roles weren’t filled until after the IC’s started deciding where they wanted to work. This created some confusion for a couple teams because some IC’s had already chosen a team based on the Test Manager, Test Lead or technology.
1) Before Test Leads are confirmed, Test Managers would let IC’s know what they look for in a Test Lead so the IC’s know what to expect.
2) Once the Test Lead positions are filled, the Test Manager would confirm that the IC’s are still comfortable with their earlier decision and give them the opportunity to reconsider if they are not.
3) In general, require that Test Managers decide first, Test Leads decide next and then let the IC’s decide based on a known management organization.
Challenge: People typically follow Managers, technologies, product features and people like themselves so this can result in imbalance and a lack of diversity within the Lync Team. Since employees were given the freedom to choose, it then becomes more difficult to encourage a re-balancing of the team via choice and not decree.
1) Test Managers and Test Leads coach and mentor IC’s about their choices and the advantages and opportunities available in the other teams that need more people.
2) Explain to IC’s the value and benefit of diversity in high-performing teams.
3) Encourage people to voluntarily move and help re-balance the team.
Challenge: After everyone has made their choices, there could be an uneven distribution of high-performing employees across the Test teams. If this happens, the Test teams with fewer high-performers will become easier for more average employees to excel. In contrast, the Test teams with a significant percentage of high-performers would become increasingly difficult places to excel and this could discourage the high-performers and result in higher attrition.
1) Test Managers have the responsibility for coaching IC’s on the relative distribution across all teams and insure they are aware of the potential influence this distribution can have on annual performance reviews.
2) Test Managers mentor Test Leads and IC’s to make an informed choice.
Challenge: Each Team held an informational meeting to describe their focus and the opportunities available in that team. Some teams were better at presenting this information than others and appealing to the interest of IC’s. However, this didn’t mean that the other teams were not interesting places to work, just that the style and content of the presentation clouded and eventually biased the decisions of IC’s.
Solution: Have people that are neutral and unbiased present the information about the team. Prior to the presentation, each Test team would review and approve all of the content.
Benefit: Not many people get the opportunity to choose where they work and what they do and this is one of the reasons why people leave a team and join another. Introducing the freedom to choose into the reorg process has the potential to maximize retention by discouraging people from leaving the team. This becomes a win-win situation where employees build productive, rewarding careers within the team and the organization retains the technical talent it needs to accomplish its goals.
Benefit: People “vote with their feet” for team investments they think are good and against investments that look risky. In other words, cool projects with the most future benefit were the areas that attracted people. The strategic insights gained from employee self-selection helped influence heavier team investments in those areas, preparing us better for the future.
Benefit: Test Managers spent time evangelizing their team and themselves to the rest of the group – and were also positioned to answer tough questions about team or technology weaknesses. In this process, they highlighted the different aspects of the work, what they expected from everyone, and how the team would impact the Microsoft Lync business as a whole. In the same way, the WeOrg gave employees the opportunity to market themselves to other people on the team. This two-way marketing and awareness helped to bond the team.
Benefit: Open and honest discussions between Test Managers , Test Leads and IC’s helped to develop greater respect for roles, responsibilities and the type of work performed.
Benefit: Open communication between team members in which they express their opinions on technology, leadership, features and past experiences has helped bond colleagues and introduce new people.
Benefit: People tend to join a team looking for career growth, technical skills, rewards, etc. – and this process forced the Manager/Employee conversation before they joined the team. Too frequently, these discussions never happen, or if they do, it’s only during performance evaluations, when it’s too late.
Benefit: There are a variety of reasons why an employee may not perform well. One of them is because they are working in an area which does not utilize all of their core strengths. This reorg gave those employees the opportunity for a new start with a team that can maximize their potential.
Benefit: If a person wants to prepare for another type of job in the future, the WeOrg provides an opportunity to discuss this with others and plan the interim moves to achieve that goal. This could mean working with new technology, interaction with colleagues such as designers and user experience specialists, etc.
Benefit: Employees were given enough time to thoroughly investigate their options and the freedom to make their own informed choices. Because it was a conscious decision, this self-organizing also helped generate a sense of accountability and self-responsibility within the team.
We believe the concepts embodied by the WeOrg experiment have general applicability in many organizational situations. At its essence is shifting the reorganization focus from a strictly top-down directed approach to a more collaborative approach in which everyone has input. While management roles and responsibilities remain the same, the manager’s role expands into guiding the reorganization through coaching and mentoring. From the employee’s perspective, expanding the collaboration introduces aspects of self-selection and this transforms the employee’s perception of the process from “You manage me” to “We manage me”. As we have found, there are many positive benefits that occur throughout the organization from these transformations.
To aid others in considering the adoption of a WeOrg approach, we offer these lessons learned. To help clarify the descriptions, the Lync team role names are used and those should be adapted to fit other organizational structures.
Leverage Your Product or Service Strategy
Use your product and service strategy to define the requirements of your organizational structure. For example, the technology requirements of your product could influence the number of teams you need to create. The structure of the organization you define becomes the basis for the WeOrg.
Determine Your Desired Organization
Formulate a “desired organization” from best guesses of who might fill what roles in the new organization. The input should come from both management and senior-level employees in the organization. It should also come from understanding the organization and the career goals of the people in it. The outcome is an initial understanding of what is likely to happen, but not necessarily what will happen.
The first draft should be a very high level conceptual organization consisting only of team names. If there are general rules of thumb for ratios of roles per organization, use that information to define an expected organizational structure without assigning names. Continuously update this expected organizational view as new information comes to light. For example, as individuals make tentative choices, keep track of those by filling in the draft organizational structure.
Fill in the Team Managers
The Team Director and the existing Team Managers can start defining the desired organization and this provides enough information to work out their expected job responsibilities. Team Managers should collaborate with each other to establish their roles in the new organization. The Team Director should coach and mentor that collaborative process.
Depending on the desired organizational structure, there may be more Team Managers than teams or more teams than Team Managers. Like any reorg, this needs to be worked out. The difference is that it is worked out collaboratively
At this point, the prospective Team Leads and potentially the entire team can be informed of the organizational structure defined by the product strategy along with the Manager of each team.
Fill in the Team Leads
The Team Managers should each determine how many Team Leads are needed for their expected team size. The number of Team Leads should be communicated to all candidates so people can submit their names for consideration.
The Team Leads are drafted from those who put themselves up for consideration. Typically, there are more candidates than Team Lead positions, so the people that were not chosen should be considered for coaching and mentoring as future Team Lead candidates. Also, those not chosen should be considered for special leadership-oriented Individual Contributor job assignments as they arise.
Fill in the Individual Contributors (IC’s)
At this point, all of the organizational variables are known to everyone with the exception of which IC’s will be on the teams. To make their decisions, IC’s should talk with their current and potential future Test Managers and Test Leads to learn more about the opportunities available. IC’s should also seek out mentors and talk amongst themselves to help make their decisions and determine where they want to work.
It May Not be a Sequential Process
Although ideally all Team Managers would first be identified, then all Team Leads would next be identified and then finally all IC’s would be identified, it may not turn out this way. It takes some time for people to make their decisions and some vacillations may occur throughout the WeOrg process. These changes can be partially mitigated by imposing decision timeframes. To help keep the WeOrg efficient, team management can mentor people in their decision making process to facilitate their final choices.
Constrain the Uncertainty if Necessary
The uncertainty of decisions may feel a bit chaotic at times, but let people’s decision making process run its course. However, this process should be constrained if necessary (ex. IC’s have two weeks to review the opportunities and make their choices)
Don’t Compromise the Trust
If people are told they will have the freedom to choose, management should not use any positional power to put people into teams. Even the hint of forcing people can be detrimental to the final organizational trust and should be avoided. Management will need to give up the illusion of control and trust that everything will work out. That will be uncomfortable for some managers.
Management still Manages
This doesn’t mean that management does nothing while individuals make their decisions. The management team should be constantly evaluating the known decision trends and asking “what-if” questions. For example, “What if Team A ends up understaffed when compared to the desired organization?” Management can make sure that new head count goes to that team, it can eliminate some work from that team, and it can use other teams to help, and so on. It is the responsibility of management to make the WeOrg work to everyone’s benefit
More Work for Managers, but Better for the Team
Team Managers felt the WeOrg process was more work for them because it required informational meetings and frequent coaching and mentoring discussions. However, the Team Managers also felt that the extra effort was worth it for the team as a whole because employees were more satisfied with the results and the effort helped bond the team in the process.
Watch Where the Crowd Goes
With the freedom to choose, employee self-selection patterns can provide insights into what the “crowd” feels are the future business and technology growth areas. The coolest projects with the most future benefit and the best career opportunities will tend to attract the most interest from employees.
Knowledge, Experience and Qualifications are Still Constraints
Organizational levels and roles typically identify people with comparable knowledge, experience and qualifications. This will constrain the realistic choices that are available in a WeOrg. For example, while an Individual Contributor may choose to be a Team Manager, they likely will lack the knowledge, experience and qualifications for that organizational level and role. However, if a Team Lead chooses to be a Lead in another team, they will likely have the background to realistically make that decision. If choices are unrealistic because they target opportunities in different levels, roles or areas of the organization, this can provide the starting point for career planning. For example, even though a Tester may aspire to be a Developer, they may be lacking some of the knowledge, experience and qualifications required for that job. Career planning and training can help overcome that gap.
- Employees felt like the whole WeOrg process was an awesome experience even though it was being tried for the first time. They appreciated that it was as open, honest and collaborative as possible.
- Employees liked the idea of choosing which Team they wanted to work on because it made them feel like their opinion matters.
- Employees liked the ability to choose which Manager and Lead they wanted to work with. They made those choices based on who they had confidence in and who had their best interest at heart.
- After spending time in a team, people become familiar with each other and sometimes take things for granted. This effort made people feel more wanted and reduced that concern. This was a big plus.
- Conflicting decision criteria can delay decision-making. For example, an IC may be interested in a particular Test team, but the Test Lead they wanted to work for has decided to work in a different team. Resolving the dilemma of “should I work on something I believe is the future of Lync and Microsoft, or should I follow my current Test Lead?” can lead to vacillation and delay.
- An imbalance between teams can generate fear that some people will be forced to move into another team.
- Distribute opportunities and rewards equally across the team.
- After making it clear to IC’s that their preferences would be accommodated, people also felt it was OK for management to acknowledge that business needs should come first.
- Employee retention was notably higher than in other reorgs, positioning the Test team for higher productivity and morale in future releases.
- Most people will not be as anxious when the next reorg comes around and they may even look forward to it!
The WeOrg reorg concept has been discussed, but never implemented prior to this experiment. The “innovation” here was actually successfully doing the WeOrg at a larger scale – which kind of evolved as we progressed – it was not a deliberate plan to go as big as we did.
Thank you to Shwetha, Anand, Sira, Jacky and Joshua for your help with this story.
2 Chandler, A.D. Jr. (1962) Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the American Industrial Enterprise, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press
Great story! I have found It both entertaining and insightful. Thanks!
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