Why you don’t need silos to scale a startup

Falling down

My esteemed colleague here at SuccessfulWorkplace wrote a piece about using frameworks to help build business processes for startups when they begin to scale up operations.

In the post Tom states that;

To make the successful transition to the next stage of growth, companies need to formalize management, communications and processes.

To a certain extent this is true, a structure does need to be put in place so it’s not just a giant free for all but the trouble I have is that these frameworks are all based and benchmarked on traditionally older companies and right now we are in a wave of innovation where some or all of these guidelines no longer fit.

Take Instagram for example, it has 13 employees, Twitter has 900, and Facebook 3,000. Somewhere in there hierarchy is bound to exist but they didn’t go out and reach for an off-the-shelf model, they grew organically and with it the retention of that flexible communication structure and culture they all started with.

Tribal knowledge, tribal tools

Tom adds that “the tribal knowledge that worked so well last year, no longer works when as more and more new people are added.” but take a look at the tools we have available; tibbr, Jive, Yammer, Chatter, Box, Huddle, Sparqlight, Sendgine, Asana, Podio, the list is endless and it has become a bit of a quest to harness that tribal knowledge and spirit with this collection of lightweight and agile software than constrain it all within building traditional silos all over again.

For some people we are now in uncharted territory and it’s scary. Frameworks offer guidelines and a means to cherry-pick which processes are the right ones to use and build around but what it doesn’t mean is that a startup is required to structure itself and how it operates and communicates around it. How often have you heard in larger organizations when asking for help that “it’s not in my budget”, or “it’s not in my objectives”.

Horizontal vs. Vertical

Startups are flatter by nature but they can still scale as a horizontal. Lateral structures have been written about before, for example, by IRG:

The term lateral communication can be used interchangeably as horizontal communication. In his text entitled “Organizational Communication,” Michael J. Papa defines horizontal communication as “the flow of messages across functional areas at a given level of an organization”.

With this system people at the same level are permitted “to communicate directly without going through several levels of organization”. Given this elasticity, members within an organization have an easier time with “problem solving, information sharing across different work groups, and task coordination between departments or project teams.

Indeed, as far back as 1999 Gabe Newell and the original Valve team worked very much in this way when creating their Half-Life hit.

The people involved were tired of working in isolation and were energized by the [Cabal] collaborative process, and the resulting designs had a consistent level of polish and depth that hadn’t been seen before.

Internally, once the success of the Cabal process was obvious, mini-Cabals were formed to come up with answers to a variety of design problems. These mini-Cabals would typically include people most effected by the decision, as well as try to include people completely outside the problem being addressed in order to keep a fresh perspective on things. We also kept membership in the initial Cabal somewhat flexible and we quickly started to rotate people through the process every month or so, always including a few people from the last time, and always making sure we had a cross section of the company. This helped to prevent burn out, and ensured that everyone involved in the process had experience using the results of Cabal decisions.

21st century boy

This isn’t to say that the Process Classification Framework discussed in Tom’s post isn’t relevant. Of course it is. Processes are an integral part of business and there’s no escaping that. But it’s how you decide to structure around that framework that will make or break now.

We are living in the 21st century with 21st century tools. Don’t wrap your startup in 18th century structure.


Tags: , , , ,

Categories: Benchmarking, Frameworks, Future of work, Startups

Author:Theo Priestley

"I had more creative ideas from Theo in 6 months than I have had in 6 years from most people." Theo Priestley is one of the most recognised independent technology industry influencers and evangelists, ranking in the Top 100 thought leaders across Virtual/ Augmented Reality, FinTech, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Internet of Things and future trends. Theo has written insights for Forbes, Wired, The European Magazine, Venturebeat to name a few, and has been interviewed for many online publications including the BBC on his thoughts on technology and the future. A regular paid keynote speaker and panelist at conferences and events, Theo is engaged for his forthright views and isn't afraid to challenge conventional thinking and the marketing hype surrounding the industry when presenting, never pulling punches to get the message across on how technology can be applied to improve business and the customer experience. He has also successfully organised and run TEDx and Ignite events. Highly active across social networks, he sits in the Top 1% for social media engagement on Kred and Klout and is constantly sharing articles and his analysis that he feels his audience would be interested in. Theo is also active in the startup community, mentoring within UK and US accelerators and sits on a number of advisory boards. Former VP and Chief Technology Evangelist at a Top 25 European enterprise software company with a career spanning both innovation strategy and delivery of software and business change in Financial Services, and as an independent technology industry analyst. Follow Theo on Twitter @tprstly or connect here directly for constant insights on tech and marketing trends. • Top 1% Influencer on Kred (915) • Top 1% Influencer on Klout (70+) • 12,000+ Followers on LinkedIn • 13,000+ Followers on Twitter • Recognised Top Influencer in AI, Virtual/ Augmented Reality, Fintech, IOT and Wearable Tech, Big Data and Analytics.

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5 Comments on “Why you don’t need silos to scale a startup”

  1. Great article! I couldn’t agree more. I’d love to share some of my own experience in taking Big (global) companies through a transition from boxes to solutions. How the patterns and behaviors latter in my career proved to be true in another global company.

    In between these two global companies I worked in several industries working directly with the C-Level executives on a rapid growth and transformation from selling boxes to solutions. Evidence of these solutions are found in most of the high tech companies in silicon valley. Executive or Corporate Briefing centers, network operating centers, training rooms and auditoriums. SGI and NASA simulation rooms.

    Another start up in R&D phase, series B financing. A company led by a small group of McKinsey graduate students with PhD’s and a portfolio of patents over 100 deep.
    Something to do with lasers and fiber optics with low power and long haul transmissions. In this case, we have yet to understand the infrastructures we need to leverage the companies core breakthrough in long haul networks.

    When you apply the same framework to an organization starting up in the innovation lane, the results were absolutely perfect. Speed and Agility!

    Let me know if you’d like to hear more in the form of an analogy. The highway a framework for business and enterprise architecture.

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