This post is a part of a series about startup culture on how to define, build for the long-term success and scale of a company. In the last post, I talked about what I think is the most critical cultural trait - Bias for Action. This time, I want to talk about the three different characteristics of teams in a company and why it is important to strike a good balance.
This is a simile that I heard/read a few years back and resonated with me. Depending on the stage of the company and product, you need a team with different characteristics. There are three types — Commando, Army & Police. This is not specific to the engineering teams but applicable to all functions.
Commando — Small force of talented folks who can quickly explore, adopt, execute and win over (solve) the problem. When you are uncertain about the terrain, execution needs to be rapid and hackish. This team will figure out the PMF for the business but would end up creating product & technical debt.
Army — Better organized a larger (comparatively) team to build, test, scale further by refining and optimizing the features and metrics. This team will scale the business by expanding on second-layer opportunities and can take the business to be a market leader.
Police — Well-organized large team to maintain, improve the reliability, optimize, and reduce the debt created by previous teams. Once the product is stable or the market is conquered, it is necessary to stay alert and do not let the competitors get better.
You need all three personas in a company to fuel the growth, conquer the market and maintain the market status. it is critical to deploy the right talent at the right place. For example, a team member with a commando mindset will feel the velocity to be slow at a structured company and will leave due to boredom and in another case, a Police mindset engineer will find the chaotic startup as unstructured and messy.
As a leader, the most critical thing is to manage the transitions and interactions between these teams. Most of the successful CEOs are Generals in the Army who can efficiently understand and bridge the three teams.
Note: This write-up is based on “On the beach” chapter in book Accidental Empire by Robert X. Cringely.