Team organisation by capabilities

TL;DR: team must match information- and command flow.

Team organisation is a conscious effort

Early in my career at Accenture a management class discussed methods for building teams by aligning team capabilities with their mission statements. Which is a bloated way of saying “we made sure we had the right skills for the job”. Back in the days I valued the workplace culture’s “can do” mentality which was a lot about both qualitatively and quantitatively building the right capabilities in a structured and methodical way.

The bad way: thinking only about hierarchies

A common representation of leadership organisation is the hierarchical command structure which assumes a strict instruction flow from the customer (or subject matter expert) through a leader to the workers in a team.

Hierarchical organisation

The hierarchical command structure omits knowledge generation and information flow, which are important parts of most human endeavours, so it doesn’t depict reality very accurately.

Better: information- and command flow

No models depict reality accurately, but the command/information quadrants do a bit better by including information processing. The horizontal axis is about information generation and information consumption, while the vertical axis is about instruction generation and instruction consumption.

Command/information diagram

Based on this diagram, there are four broad areas of responsibility:

Workers consume information and instructions. In a hypothetical 3D diagram there would be a 3rd dimension labelled “value” on which the Workers are the only heavy contributors. Workers interface with the rest of the organisation and the real world and output value into that. The worker is the most essential role which directly accomplishes the team’s goals with all other roles being supportive towards that end.

Analysts produce information and consume instructions and thus are the eyes and ears of the team in the organisation. In many information-heavy organisations the distinction between the Analyst role and the Worker role is not explicit, rather it can often be same person having both roles. An important aspect of the Analyst’s job is reading data, reducing data, increasing its quality and matching information density to the conventions used by Leaders and Workers.

Leaders consume information generated by Analysts and produce instructions for Workers, and by doing that provide structure and guidance to the team. Leaders execute administrative tasks necessary for the day-to-day operations in a team, coach and grow people and organise information flow and instruction flow within the team and towards the rest of the organisation.

Visionaries produce information and produce instructions and usually are domain experts. Visionaries often are customers, subject matter experts, specialists and upper management. Visionaries have a multi-dimensional view of the organisation that exceeds the team’s mission scope and often they have an an integral role in formulating the mission statement.

Teams should evaluate both the command- and the information flow quantitatively and qualitatively. Some questions I found useful for navigating the command/information continuum are: is the type and amount of information generated sufficient to fuel the decision making process? Is the information- and command flow process properly modelled and implemented? Do workers receive the right amount and granularity of information and instructions? Are there bottlenecks in either the command- or information flow which throttle production?

Final thoughts

The command/information diagram helps mapping existing capabilities in project execution to actual needs and is a great tool for spotting bottlenecks or over-provisioned skills. A team maximises value production when the flow from data to information to instructions is unimpeded, which requires placing the right capacities in each quadrant of the diagram. Placing people in the right role that matches their characters, needs and goals is thus hugely important in resource planning and people development, but is an entirely different topic which I didn’t touch upon.

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