Building market insight through employee 'guilds'
Today I started on one piece of a plan to transform my organisation.
My company has a problem in which we've never had good market insight. We haven't known our markets in detail, we don't keep track of our market performance, we don't talk to our customers. It sounds bad I know. I've built the organisation's analytics platforms from the ground up and I'm building a system of complete transparency of our markets, group performance; more data than you can shake a stick at.
The question is now that we can see our market position, which markets do you prioritise? How do we really get the market knowledge? The people upstairs wanted to form a top-down strategy, top markets, more priorities on top of priorities, more actions. The company was about ready to employ managers in becoming 'experts' in these priority markets to bring in market insight across the organisation.
What I think the company was forgetting was that all of this market and customer knowledge was always locked away with their employees. I just made a bit of it visible. My organisation has 30 or more science groups with different products, services, capabilities. However, these groups all have overlap in the markets they serve. They have relationships with customers, companies, and decades of knowledge about how everything works. They've never had a voice or support on how to make things better though. The question is how do we access that knowledge and why should our employees work with us?
Spotify's guild system sprang to my mind. What if, instead of giving a central manager dominion over building a market and telling all the groups to follow our lead, we instead formed communities of interest that spanned across groups, centred around markets. We could break down existing silos between groups who didn't know they had common interests, build organisational knowledge of our customers, encourage people to work together and come forward with new ideas on how we can improve our products.
I have the buy-in to give this a shot. I was hoping to ask the similarly linked community of rebels here:
- Do you have non-standard communities in your organisation like these?
- What would really make this idea radical, how could it be more interesting? How could these communities really change the organisation?
- Why might this not work?
What we often encounter in organizations that are extremely customer-focused is that these organizations are structured as so-called 'network of teams' (instead of a hierarchical pyramid) with three distinct kind of teams:
1. Customer teams: this are the teams that are in direct contact with the customers. They represent the voice of the customers within the organization. They are usually organized by product, by markets, or by type of customers – depending to the needs of each specific organization.
2. Production teams: This are the teams that are directly responsible for producing the products or providing the services that are requested by the customers. Their expertise can range from areas like design, technological services, production, and so forth. The way client line teams are divided can vary widely. They can, for example, be divided by functional specialty, by projects, by products, by clients – once again depending to the needs of each specific organization.
3. Support teams - This are the teams that provide support to the customer and production teams. They are usually organized by functions such as IT, administration, legal, HR, finance, and so forth. In the case of smaller organizations, all these functions are grouped into a single team that are then usually identified as support services.
These teams then often engage in regular inter-team and cross-team coordination mechanisms to make sure all teams are aligned with the needs of the customers. They often do this through strict weekly (and monthly) meetings to ensure that all teams are aligned with the demands and wishes of their respective end-customers. These meetings are often made up by the people that are directly involved in fulfilling the needs of the customers. Think of:
- One or more people facilitation the meetings (they do not take part in the actual decision-making)
- Representatives of all the customer teams
- Representatives of all the production teams
- Sometimes, representatives of key suppliers, external partners, or customers are also part of the team.
These coordination teams meets periodically depending on what the operation of the organization demands from them. Usually they are held on a weekly basis, but it can be more frequent or less frequent if the planning demands or allows it.
If this is of interest, please do also check out this rather long article I wrote some time ago about large organizations that organize without middle management for more background information: https://corporate-rebels.com/how-to-organize-a-large-organization-without-middle-management/
If we could tag one apocalyptic rider for adaptive organizations, it would be "traditional performance management." It is old-fashioned performance management that keeps us in a world of humans as resources, as command-and-control takers, with rigid top-down planning, and solid prevention of curious and exploratively-minded cooperation. Its logic is plan – do – check – act.