George Moore is the chief technology officer for Cengage Learning, an education company focused on digital tools to improve learning in the K–12, professional and library markets. The company is based in Boston and has an office in San Francisco, with company sales in more than 125 countries around the world.
I spent the first part of my career at startups, and then the company I was with was acquired by Thomson Reuters. I was excited to find myself in the middle of a huge multinational company. We had been doing everything on a shoestring budget, a classic garage-type atmosphere and product that we had grown to an okay size.
When we were acquired by a big company, I got really excited about the functions of project management [and] QA. We had some success in the five years I was there. And the mistake that I made was to embrace these functions, figuring that because [the team members performing them] had those skills, they'd automatically produce the best results. I found that the teams struggled. We weren't all working toward the same objective.
We had recently developed a product, and it was a great market. We knew we had the skills to bring that product to market, and we brought the team together, but over two years they kept missing their date, delaying the release of the product and kept missing a huge market opportunity. When I look back on it, everybody was trying to do their jobs really well, and no one was working on the overall view of how to get it all done.
We were very siloed, which was great for creating better talent within the organization, but when those skilled people are on the field together, they all have to react to the market and listen to their customers.
You don't actually do your job until you're part of a team.
I think the biggest lesson is that although every individual on a team needs to have a grip on the craft, it's more important for us all to understand what the goal is. It's a balance, but you don't actually do your job until you're part of a team. We win or lose together, so it doesn't really matter what department name is written on your paycheck; it's about how you are moving the whole team ahead.
Anytime we go to build a new product or a big set of functionality, we create what we call a 'one team.' One teams have a single leader, and everybody assigned to that team has an H.R. [title] that corresponds to their function, but they have accountability to the team. Their incentive plan is tied to the success of that team. We try to co-locate them and put them all together. Everything's about the team.
I think small organizations do this naturally. When there's only one person for every function, the team is the company, and so the company has one objective. It's important to adjust in a bigger organization because it's harder to see those clear lines. The objectives of the company can get watered down when you're a multinational company with hundreds of people. The larger the company, the more you have to clarify a team's objective.
Cengage Learning is on Twitter: @CengageLearning.
Photo courtesy of George Moore