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Transforming Team Structures for Strategic Success: From Siloed Hierarchies to Cross-Functional Agile Teams

AgilityHealth Enables You to Scale & Accelerate Your Transformation

In today’s fast-paced business environment, many companies face significant challenges when relying on traditional siloed hierarchical team structures to execute strategic projects and operational tasks. These challenges often include communication barriers, lack of agility, and difficulties in aligning team efforts with broader organizational goals. As a result, modern companies are shifting towards more dynamic and integrated approaches, such as aligning teams on Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and designing "teams of teams" that leverage cross-functional agile teams. This transformation enables organizations to deliver value more effectively and efficiently.

  • Poor Communication: Teams working in silos may struggle to communicate effectively, leading to misunderstandings and misaligned priorities.
  • Lack of Agility: Siloed structures are typically rigid and slow to adapt to changes, making it difficult for organizations to respond quickly to market shifts or new opportunities.
  • Misaligned Goals: Without a cohesive strategy, teams may pursue individual objectives that do not align with the company's broader goals, resulting in inefficiencies and wasted resources.
  • Top Down Decision Making: Traditional structures rely on the top leader to make many of the decisions which slows down productivity of the team.
  • Unresolved Obstacles: Since teams are siloed, they face many challenges and obstacles with no clear owners who are accountable for getting them resolved. There is a reliance on traditional project managers to send emails and run between different departments to get resolution.
  • Slow Delivery: It takes too long to get things done. Dependencies on other groups, waiting for decisions and approvals, funding that is paused or doesn't come on time ..etc

  “Organizations that don’t enable Enterprise Agility now, will be the dinosaurs of tomorrow” - Sally Elatta

To overcome these challenges, modern companies are adopting new operating models that emphasize collaboration, agility, and alignment. A key component of this transformation is the use of OKRs to ensure that all teams are working towards common objectives. Additionally, the concept of "teams of teams" is employed to create a more flexible and responsive organizational structure.: 

Visualizing the Operating Model

Imagine this operating model:

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  • Delivery Teams: At the base, we have cross-functional agile teams, each composed of members with diverse skills and expertise. These teams are dedicated to delivering specific projects or products. They plan on a regular cadence (usually every 2 weeks), meet daily, show their progress and improve sprint over sprint. They are creative, innovative and deliver great results if empowered to do so!
  • Team of Teams: Above the delivery teams, a "team of teams" layer provides guidance, support, and coordination. This group ensures that all sub-teams are aligned and working towards shared outcomes. They plan one quarter ahead of the teams to ensure work meets the definition of 'ready'. They attend the team of teams review to give feedback and ensure we're on track with outcomes and outputs. They support and enable the team and remove obstacles raised so teams have the right people, skills and resources they need to get their job done.
  • Outcome Leadership Team: This layer is responsible for ensuring the desired outcomes have the right focus and being achieved. They make tradeoff decisions, prioritize the highest value investments, manage their spending, report on overall outcome and output performance, measure and improve ways of working across all teams and remove obstacles.
  • Executive Steering Team: At the top, the executive steering team oversees the entire structure, building vision and 3 year strategy, ensuring financials are planned and managed well, helping create the right culture and values, performing market intelligence to stay ahead, making high-level decisions and removing enterprise obstacles to facilitate smooth operations.

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Best Practices for Cross-Functional Agile Team Design

  1. Team Size: Maintain a team size of 7 ± 2 members to ensure effective collaboration and communication.
  2. Role Allocation: Ensure that all necessary roles are filled, with core members dedicated to the team and a few experts from other areas allocated as needed.
  3. Priority Setting: Cross-functional members should receive their priorities from the product owner rather than their direct managers. This dotted line relationship must be respected to avoid conflicts.
  4. Capacity Management: Avoid spreading team members too thin by managing their allocation across multiple teams.
  5. Clear Roles and Expectations: Define specific roles and responsibilities for each team member to ensure clarity and accountability.
  6. Team Charter: Create a team charter that includes norms, working agreements, skill wall, and agreements on meetings and work management tools.
  7. Agile Training: Provide training on agile methodologies, including sprints, daily standups, and obstacle escalation.
  8. Time Allocation: Clearly define the time commitment for each team member (e.g., 100%, 50%, or a specific number of hours per sprint).
  9. Product Owner Role: Choose a product owner who can prioritize, plan sprints, provide clear requirements, and offer timely feedback.
  10. Team Facilitator Role: Select a team facilitator (scrum master) with strong communication, project management, and facilitation skills to remove impediments promptly.
  11. Key Meetings: Conduct regular sprint planning, daily standups, sprint reviews, and retrospectives to maintain progress and continuous improvement. 

Best Practices for Team of Team Leadership Design

  1. Forward Planning: The team of teams should plan ahead, supporting and monitoring the execution of sub-teams to ensure alignment and track progress.
  2. Obstacle Removal: Address obstacles within 48-72 hours to maintain team momentum.
  3. Quarterly Planning: Plan one quarter ahead to ensure that work is ready for execution by the sub-teams.
  4. Key Meetings for Team of Teams: This group should have regular meetings to review progress, align strategies, and address any cross-team issues. These might include:
    • Quarterly Planning Meetings: To set objectives and prepare work for the next quarter.
    • Weekly Syncs: To review ongoing progress and address any immediate concerns.
    • Monthly Reviews: To evaluate overall alignment with strategic goals and adjust plans as needed.n addition to having a vision, healthy leaders demonstrate strategic thinking in decision-making. They assess challenges and opportunities with a long-term perspective, making informed choices that align with the organizational vision. This strategic approach minimizes short-term fixes and contributes to the sustainable growth and success of the business.

Accelerating Alignment and Visibility: The Enterprise Visibility Room

A modern pattern for accelerating alignment and visibility across these layers is the Enterprise Visibility Room. This visual and open room provides transparency on how strategic outcomes are being aligned, owned, and delivered across the team of teams. It showcases how the teams are performing, their upcoming roadmaps, and where they need help. Our Agility platform offers a digital twin version of this room, combining the benefits of physical collaboration and digital tracking.

The monthly 'Walk the Wall' exercise truly accelerates engagement, visibility, and alignment across all levels. This exercise fosters a strong culture of collaboration, knowledge sharing, and joint problem-solving by having team members and leaders physically and virtually review progress, discuss challenges, and celebrate successes.

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In Summary

To disrupt and thrive in current markets, organizations need to create more agile operating models that can accelerate strategy execution and value realization across all levels. By adopting cross-functional agile teams, leveraging teams of teams, and utilizing tools like the Enterprise Visibility Room and Walk the Wall exercises, companies can enhance their agility, improve alignment, and drive better business outcomes.

About AgilityHealth

We're industry thought leaders in accelerating strategy and value realization through designing an effective operating model for high performing teams. We bring deep expertise in implementing outcomes based planning, designing teams of teams, measuring what matters at every level using our digital platform and influencing change with modern ways of working. Contact Us  to learn more and explore how we can accelerate your transformation goals. 


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