Considering the challenges faced by numerous organisations in achieving their digital objectives and goals, we look beyond the technology to the people at the heart of driving measurable change. In this blog post, our Principal Systems Engineer, Kristian Jones dives into how improving organisational team structure can optimise business practices and deliver continuous and sustainable results.
Conway’s law, often referenced in software development environments, holds valuable insights that extend beyond system design to various organisations and their team constructs. Understanding the correlation between organisational structure and solution development is essential for successful outcomes.
"Organizations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organisations"
In-depth, Conway suggests that solutions built in misalignment with organisational structures are prone to issues. For instance, consider whether your team members have appropriate access to perform critical tasks for project success, or are they relying on another team to carry out those tasks? An issue could arise if your team lacks access to crucial tasks necessary for project success. Let’s say you have three teams working on different project components. In this case, the integration of these individual components may be desired. However, alternatively, a solution to mitigate this issue would be to apply the “inverse Conway maneuver,” which involves reshaping teams to align with the desired architecture. Some organisations have even physically separated teams to achieve the required architecture.
Powerful teams are cohesive units, with individuals collaborating effectively to achieve desired outcomes. Teams typically progress through Bruce Tuckman’s five stages:
Any changes to a team without due consideration of integration and alignment to common goals can lead to a decline in output. Optimising team output requires keeping teams in the performing stage for as long as possible.
Team size is also debated, with effective teams often consisting of 7-9 individuals*, allowing for efficient communication paths, Amazon identifies the ideal team size ‘small enough to be fed by two pizzas’! Typically larger teams increase the complexity of acting as a cohesive unit.
Image credit: Yoan-thirion
Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais* outline four main types of teams within organisations:
Each team type typically interacts with other in different ways such as:
Many organisations overlook the significance of enabling efficient communication within and across teams, often relying on unwritten rules for collaboration. To mitigate this, the concept of Team APIs has emerged.
Team APIs refer to documented interfaces that teams establish, outlining how they should collaborate. Inspired by technical APIs, which facilitate computer communication, Team APIs contain crucial information about team composition, services provided, relevant SLAs, communication methods, and more. By implementing Team APIs, teams can minimise friction, clarify communication expectations, and enhance overall effectiveness.
Accelerating Team Performance
Implementing changes however, should be approached with caution, especially if teams are already in the performing stage of development, the impact is likely a temporary reduction in performance.
The Lippitt/Knoster model is effective in highlighting the importance of aligning teams with a shared vision and provides a framework to recommend the following practical strategies to optimise team interactions and size;
However, do consider the impact of these changes on your organisation’s architecture;
Implications for Organisational Architecture:
As organisations strive to meet digital business goals, compromise becomes essential. By prioritising continuous and sustainable delivery, teams are empowered to excel where it matters the most. Establishing effective communication paths within teams and reducing inter-team communication can optimise efficiency and drive successful outcomes. With cautious implementation and a clear vision, organisations can navigate change while maintaining high-performing teams.
*Teams Topologies’, Matthew Skelton and Manuel Pais