Growing on purpose

How do you scale a fast-growing business without compromising a culture based on genuine, human relationships?

When I look around, I see a smorgasbord of industry awards, social posts and web banners: it seems that almost every tech business is the ‘fastest-growing’ these days. But it makes me ponder – is fastest always “bestest”? I’m not so sure. Are we trying to set a land-speed record here? In my experience, unfettered growth for growth’s sake usually means it’s only a matter of time before the cracks start to appear. And that’s rarely a good experience for clients or employees.

In his 2014 book Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux argued that if you focus on prioritising values and purpose (of the organisation and its people), over chasing growth for growth’s sake, that growth will inevitably come and when it does it will be way more sustainable (and bonus points, you will be more successful in the long run).

At Ingenuity Partners, our approach to growth starts with a fundamental belief:

Find good people, then find good work for those people to do. Growth will come as a result of those two things.
It seems obvious, doesn’t it? But too often growth strategies start with something like ‘we need to grow by X amount, so we need to take on this many projects, which means we need to find this many people’. And then you’re just chasing your tail – which means quality will eventually and inevitably take a hit.

Intentional structures for growth

Having grown to 50 people at Ingenuity, we needed to formalise the way our organisational structure had naturally evolved – so we could be more intentional with future growth. This hasn’t been a structural change as much as a process of writing things down, however it did help us identify one new element that will reinforce the relationships that are core to our business.

Broadly, our business has three team structures in place, and each serve different functions.

First we have Squads: the teams that form around specific projects. Any individual might belong to one squad, or several. The work here is defined and has a beginning and end.

We also have Chapters, which focus on honing our craft. There’s a Developers Chapter, a Business Analysts Chapter, an Architecture Chapter and so on. People can also join multiple Chapters – a developer might be interested to learn more about how the Architectural function operates for example. So this also provides opportunities to cross-train talent.

A new starter might find a mentor within their Chapter to give them guidance on their skills development, outside their day-to-day role on a project team. And everyone has the chance to share knowledge and access professional development within their Chapters – they might collaborate on a quick start guide, for example.

Finally, we have Clans. This is the new element, and it is what ensures a strong and genuine sense of belonging as we continue to grow. Clans bring all types of Ingenuity folk together – across ages, tenures, experiences and genders. It’s the place for support and social connections, and where new starters will feel welcome from day one.

Our values underpin this structure, and ensure we all feel empowered to ‘show up’ – to bring our true selves to work, and contribute something significant and unique. This aligns to the ‘wholeness’ Laloux describes in his book as one of the characteristics of ‘teal organisations’ – a more human-centred organisational structure where there is also a high degree of self-management.

I see that wholeness as a ‘full circle’ way of working. When people can be themselves in a community that prioritises personal growth, they can be amazing.

 

Re-thinking traditional roles

We don’t just have good people at Ingenuity: we have stars. So a lot of the traditional ways of managing are either unnecessary, or downright demeaning.

Let’s take the annual performance review as one example. No one enjoys them – especially not when they involve putting people in boxes, or grading behaviours nine months after a project wrapped up. We’re still working out how that might play out as we continue to test these structures, but it’s likely to bring together 360-degree perspectives from across the Squads, Chapters and Clans. Ultimately, we asked ourselves “what are we really trying to do here?”, before realising that the annual reviews are really an opportunity to reflect, celebrate and guide. We’re on this journey together, and do we both wish to continue that journey?

Similarly, we don’t tie rewards to things that are out of an individual’s control – such as utilisation rates. Those are important things for leaders to keep an eye on, but if someone has low utilisation it’s on us to find more good work for them to do.

This all comes back to what is core to our business: relationships. It’s how we hire, how we find clients, and how we retain our talent and our customers. It’s not about running a business as a machine – because when you set the levers and turn the cogs, people will get chewed up in the process.

 

Responsiveness, at scale

It’s still early days for us with a more intentional structure, but the business case is sound – because we already have many examples of how this approach has made a difference for our clients.

In one example, we were working with a customer who suddenly went through a massive global divestment, effectively splitting in two across almost every time zone.

Without waiting to be asked, our team simply rearranged its workflow to best accommodate the new structure and keep the project moving. Our culture made us ready to adapt to ongoing uncertainty and change, for people to step up and step in, without requiring traditional management.

I also find this structure more rewarding personally. Whether they are new graduates or super-experienced strategists, everyone wants to feel supported to do their best work. And ultimately, I want our people to be able to fly – to be self-sufficient and able to do more than I, or any one person here, can do. That’s what ensures our talent stays with us.

In the current market, where change is a constant and tech layoffs continue to make headlines, finding good people and finding good work for them remains our growth strategy. Because this is the key to enabling steady, deliberate, sustainable growth – and a fulfilling work environment for all.

To learn more about working with Ingenuity Partners, visit our careers page or learn more about our services.