Yet we also know that without risk there’s rarely reward. Which is why Stefanini is pushing forward with a global roll-out of a bold and unconventional organisational structure, which takes agile working to a whole new level. It’s called Squads.
Originally pioneered by music streaming giants Spotify, as some of their agile working methods became problematic, Squads are small, cross-functional, self-managed teams made up of roughly 6-10 people. They have end-to-end responsibility for their work, which is typically made up of a series of short- and medium-term projects in a specialist area that align with a longer-term mission. So at Stefanini, examples of Squad specialisms are areas like digital intelligence, perhaps looking at things like chatbots or machine learning; digital development, such as IoT or wearable tech; or digital strategy, innovating in areas like user journeys and lean UX and usability testing.
The makeup of each squad is bespoke to the task in hand. But, for example, a Digital Transformation squad could include a – so together they cover the key angles of the digital transformation project. Then we have some ‘floating’ on-demand support teams – including people like a growth hacker, a lean and agile coach, a product manager and a marketing and branding expert – who work sort of like Lego parts, in that they can be connected into the Squad when their expertise is needed and then disconnected again when they have played their part.
Our working spaces have undergone a significant transition too, with a move towards much more open work areas where Squad members have easy access to each other’s computers and several readily-available meeting spaces and brainstorming areas. We’ve also turned lots of the walls into whiteboards, so that keeping track of creative ideas, workflow and recent successes and lessons learned is both easy and instantly visible for the whole Squad.
Now this is by no means an instant process – the move towards working in Squads began in Brazil back in early 2017, and although our Europe and US teams have just finished reorganising themselves in line with the new structure our Asia offices are still only in the beginning stages of the transformation. But what we’ve already discovered is that working in Squads is achieving a brilliant combination of two things that are vital to business success but which often seem opposed to one another – giving people significant freedom and autonomy on the one hand, yet strongly uniting them behind a common goal on the other.
Our Squads allow for – in fact, depend on – an incredibly high level of autonomy. Each Squad has a leader, but it’s not their job to dictate the work of the group – their role is simply to share the particular problem the Squad needs to solve, and it’s then the job of the whole Squad to work together to find the best solution and bring it to life. Although naturally there’s still a wider organisational mission and set of values to follow, each Squad’s work must align with exactly what they make. But, how each Squad makes it happen is entirely up to them. This kind of autonomy is hugely empowering and motivating, and gives people a feeling of collective ownership and a much greater sense of responsibility for the outcomes of the work. Plus the solution-focused nature of the projects gives the whole team a significant transformative purpose, which really brings people together.
Squads are also not just about sharpening our internal processes – this way of working is revolutionising how we help our clients as well. A business coming to us with a key problem to solve or transition to undergo will now be assigned a Squad, on either a project or a retainer basis, which is bespoke in terms of knowledge and speciality. Because the team is already used to working together, and between themselves can enact a solution end-to-end, it makes it easier and faster to meet our clients’ needs – not to mention that this way of working naturally encourages more innovative thinking and therefore smarter solutions.
Ultimately it may be difficult, dangerous and uncertain to introduce a new order of things. But we believe the pay-off is absolutely worthwhile. Because while digital transformation may make use of technology, it starts in the minds of people – so Stefanini is committed to working a way that makes having creative, boundary-pushing and empowered employees as likely as possible.
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