I recently wrote about my experience with (units) squads, I have worked in and with three organisations that embraced the smaller, more agile approach to problem-solving and with some of the successes I was asked:
Do I think is this the future of business and org design?
Or was it the future of Marketing?
The easier and quickest answer was no. As businesses are conditioned into much larger less cross-functional outlets, even the largest brands that embraced squads often will be fluid with set-up and actually go back to traditional department-team organisations.
I do, however, believe the smarter, more agile startups have a great opportunity in embracing units and designing a more efficient operating model.
Some of the world’s largest Marketing Departments have the opportunity to build pods and units within their business to concentrate on delivery and consumer happiness, not on internal politics.
Why might they not work?
Units take a lot of c-suite buy-in, huge amounts of deliberate planning and frameworks and there are learnings at every step. It also needs a strong lead fronting each pod who can act as the translator and be the driving force to push an idea from a whiteboard to the end consumer. This is all cross-functional and many teams are engineered against this in recent years.
Why units might work well
So why do I think Marketing Departments might actually improve with SWAT or squads methodology?
- Financial: Most financial teams model based on headcount and salaries, this is often the lead indicator alongside performance (and in some cases revenue per head), when Marketing Departments become larger, they often become bloated, they hire for empire building and to cover every channel not to be tactical and intentional with their Marketing plans. The more you can spread costs and deliver as a department the more trust and buy-in you have from the CFO (who is often the biggest decision maker within the business)
- Headcount high and lows: Many will decide to hire more internal headcount(s) that bring in consultants or agencies because it means they will have a bigger team and that will lead to more importance. Not usually the case and actually most teams become blinkered and we only do it this way (or say we don’t do it that way here)
- Size Matters? – being able to size projects and campaigns more easily and be focused on delivery – delivery is what matters, delivery of projects and campaigns, delivery of results and delivery on promises. Right now many cannot and are not delivering!
- Agile – Marketing is often planned out to the finest of details, however, many teams are default reactive to the latest trends on social media or within the industry and the two approaches clash. In a different system, you can plan for and create units to operate with these in mind. FWIW at some point Marketing leads will remember to create the industry theme or create the theme wave rather than just following trend after trend
- Focus on problem-solving and diving into problems in a way that can bring together many different cross-functional departments
- Communication Excellence – most companies struggle with communication and internal communication is often the most unappreciated skill. Marketers by default have to be able to communication
- Coach: An ability to bring in more coaching and allow others to coach their colleagues and team-mates
- Rebalance: A rebalance of specialists and generalists, a way to build more generalised knowledge and document first approach than a meeting first approach.
- Curiosity – Squads, tribes and SWATs builds curiosity and drives teams to want to compete or learn from each other. Often you will find that curiosity actually opens up many team members to learn new skills and appreciate other disciplines
- Cross-functional by default – within many businesses, there is a ‘them vs us’ mentality as soon as something small changes or in many cases, their priorities are not another team’s priorities and cause friction. By having more cross-functional teams and creating
- Learning – Department leads share responsibility and gain valuable knowledge, IQ, EQ and PQ from how other teams operate and how units can win
- Opportunity to utilise specialists within business units that are often siloed and will want to collaborate
New Fear Unlocked But Remove It
There will be fears around losing headcount and losing control, that is natural. The important foundation of tribes and squads is trust has to come first and the department lead enables more leadership from their department members. It provides a chance for their team to step up and show off their abilities and drive a marketing methodology and influence throughout the business and product feature rollouts that have been lost in the last decade.
In the next five years, we will see a huge shift from traditional office-based work, office based tools and the way we have always done it will be replaced with new methods of work and hybrid is the opportunity for companies to rethink and rebalance some of the worst parts of the office.
The smart Marketing leaders will embrace change and be at the front driving change not trying to keep it as it always was and hiring more and more headcount to do more and have to spray and pray rather than being more intentional and deliberate and showing they know what will shift the business and help the business to grow from a people and a performance perspective.
Growth teams have taken over many businesses, the Chief Customer Office role is becoming a way to join departments together and remove the barriers traditional CMOs lead departments and allow unbundling to occur.
We should encourage Marketing Leaders to own this maturing of the workplace and be at the forefront of internal change leading to much more positive external change.
Want to learn more about units, here is the 30-slide deck