Reorg: from Functional Teams to Cross-Functional Squads

2015 has been a year of significant growth for FindHotel. Our staff doubled in size, we went from 10 to 18 people in about 6 months and we started facing the typical issues that every fast-growing company experiences while transitioning to a larger scale: the originally small functional teams (marketing, data, and development) grew larger, and the projects we worked on increasingly required cross-team communication on a daily basis.

This situation led to an environment where information didn’t flow as fast as it used to, standups weren’t as effective and the Too Many Meetings Syndrome (TMMS) started taking its first victims.

Furthermore, we started taking a deeper care of our product, dedicating time and effort to offer a better UX via data analysis and A/B testing (having, therefore, even more people joining in to work on this new challenge).

As we felt this was not a temporary issue, we started searching for effective alternative structures.

The quest for a better structure

Before starting our research, we set a few ground rules:

  • the new structure should allow us to keep scaling while maintaining a smooth communication;
  • loyal to our startup mindset, such structure should be as flat as possible

We then started our search for inspiration and, luckily enough, we found the first piece of the puzzle rather soon: the confirmation of our suspicions regarding the need for a reorg.

This interesting article by Camille Fournier clearly listed the three main reasons to think of a reorg:

  • inefficient communication and collaboration between teams: check
  • adding or removing major products or focus areas: check
  • change in the size or makeup of the team: check

Feeling like we were on the right track, we asked ourselves: “How did great companies deal with the same problem as they were growing?”.

The answer came soon enough by watching an inspiring video about Spotify’s Engineering culture. Among the other things that characterise their working style, the piece highlights a clever way of organising teams. I won’t get into the details of how they do it (watch the video, it really is time well spent), but I want to explain which concepts we borrowed from them and why.

A goal-driven approach

As a hotel metasearch company, we have two core aspects to take care of:

  • the product: building a great comparison website for the best offers of hotel rooms around the world;
  • user acquisition: driving relevant traffic to our website

Each of these activities requires the effort of a cross-functional team made of different roles working together towards the same goal: introducing the squads.

Each squad works independently and determines its own priorities, rituals, and pace to make sure it delivers business value. Among the other roles, a product owner coordinates the squad’s internal activities and sync with the other POs in order to have a solid, realistic global roadmap for the company. This way we can keep a flat structure, while communication is the king once again!


Wait, what about functional communication?

Although squads allow more effective day-to-day interactions, we still think it’s important for peers working in different squads to meet up regularly. This is where chapters come into the picture.

Each chapter (Engineering, Marketing, Data, Product) is responsible for keeping people aligned on relevant topics and share best practices, successes, and failures. Similar to the way squads work, chapters are self-organized and self-paced, setting up their own rituals and activities. For example, developers have a monthly breakfast event: they sit down and discuss the latest achievements and issues while having a nice meal at a lovely brekkie place in Amsterdam.


Wrapping it up

Change doesn’t happen overnight: it takes effort, time, and a lot of willpower to leave the old habits behind and start over with a new approach. Furthermore, occasionally people tend to resist the change if they don’t grasp the benefits immediately.

Luckily for us, everybody has jumped on this particular train with a lot of enthusiasm and, although these are truly the first weeks using our new organization, we can already feel the refreshing wave of a more goal-oriented approach to our work and improved communication. We can’t tell if this structure will still be the same in 6, 12, or 18 months; the biggest takeaway for us has been yet another reminder that “change is the only thing you should always expect” and that often it only takes a little bit of courage and trust in our people to make things better.