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Apr 27 2006

Staying Small in a Big Place: Part 1

I love Getting Real. Agility is the key to the web, I am sure of that now more than ever. Small teams can move quickly, lightly, and effectively. But is there room for small teams in large organizations? I sure hope so.

Every day I deal with large, heavy parts of a large University. It’s like herding cats to even get things done, let alone get them done on time. So how do we stay away from that trap? Here’s five quick suggestions. More will come, but this should be a good starting point.

Get Talented People

This should be obvious, and hopefully is already in place. Qualified people help build your reputation, and as a small piece of a large body, your reputation is your currency. Find people who are experts at their work and are like-minded, but diverse in experience. Small teams need talented people.

Know Your Process

Those talented people have to know how to work together. Figure out how best to work with each other, and stick to it. Reevaluate your process often to see where you are falling short, or if your process needs improvement. In a small team, everyone needs to be on the same page, and know exactly on which page they are. You have to know your process.

Simplify the Problem

When encountered with an task, don’t complicate the solution, simplify the problem. If part of your process (or somebody else’s process) is a pain point, before you figure out how to do it more efficiently, see if you can eliminate the need entirely. It’s the classic ‘Treat the illness, not the symptoms’ line, but sometimes it can be difficult to take a step back and evaluate things from a clean perspective. Better perspective can help simplify your problems.

Channel Your Frustration

Dealing with a heavy, unorganized group can be very frustrating. This can lead to complaining, bickering, and lots and lots of talk. Stop complaining about things and fix them. If you can’t, find somebody who can. Find common bonds with other groups. Build like-minded relationships, and you’ll have more weight to solve your problems. Channel your frustration into meaningful solutions.

Eliminate the Bureaucracy

While you may not be able to get away from the dreaded ‘Org Chart,’ you can help avoid the attitudes that often accompany such ‘organization.’ If you happen to be in a position that deals with supervisors outside of your group, be a disconnect for that bureaucracy. Don’t bring in the manager/employee attitude where it’s not necessary. Sure, in that environment you will have levels, managers, directors, etc. But every member of a small team is essential. All have input, and all need to feel ownership of the service, product, or whatever your deliverables happen to be. It’s just easier to eliminate the bureaucracy.

It Is Possible

Your small team can be effective, even if you’re part of a huge organization. And a healthy level of patience is always helpful. Keep up the good work.