It’s a lesson I learned pretty quickly at my last job (a design agency): Figuring out how to work with my coworkers was just as important as figuring out how to work with my clients. Every designer, developer and animator had a different approach to the creative process — different instincts and ways of solving problems. As a result, I often tailored my work to suit the styles of particular team members.
Because I collaborated with a different team on every project, I spent a lot of time pivoting from one work style to another. Sometimes I wondered what it would have been like to work with the same team every time. Beyond the time saved during the “orientation” phase of each project — establishing goals, expectations, etc. — I figured being part of a long-term team would come with significant benefits.
Turns out my hunch was right. I just didn’t find out until recently.
At Torrent, our Small Business team relies on a pod structure. What does that mean? Project teams always consist of the same people, no matter the project. Each pod features the same lead, solution analyst and junior analyst. Together, these three handle everything from strategy to the nuts and bolts of a Salesforce build.
Here are four ways this structure brings value to our business.
1. A pod structure helps boost transparency.
When a group of people has the chance to work together on a regular basis, each person will end up with a better look into the entire lifecycle of every project. Take an analyst’s role, for instance: Instead of getting pulled into a project to complete a few tasks before moving on to do the same for another consultant, they’ll be involved from the start. They’ll hear what the client wants directly from the client. In other words, they’ll have the full context behind the work they’re doing. Which, in my experience, makes the job a whole lot easier. At my agency gig, I always felt significantly more prepared when I was able to attend a project’s kickoff meeting and speak directly with the client.
Perhaps more important, however, is the visibility a pod structure provides to team members after their portion of the project is complete. Instead of immediately moving on to a new team and new tasks, they’ll be able to see how their work was received and how it helped move the project forward. If they need to iterate and make some changes, they’ll know why — and be able to take action right away.
2. A pod structure creates learning and growth opportunities.
No matter the business, a pod is going to have a leader. And ideally, the other members of the pod are interested in becoming leaders one day too. They want to learn through experience and observe what it takes to advance their careers. With a fixed pod structure, those aspiring to move up have access to consistent coaching from a single mentor. Given that growth is such a long term process, this kind of steady relationship is key. Leader and learner will be able to work together to set goals, track results and engineer real progress. Someone who is working with a different team lead every day is much less likely to grow strategically.
3. A pod structure encourages consistency.
Consistency is comfortable, right? When we more or less know what to expect at work, we spend less time worrying about the unknown and more time generating creative solutions to the problems that it’s our responsibility to solve.
A pod structure helps build this consistency. When the same team gets to work together week after week, they learn what to expect from one another — everything from quality of work to communication styles. Instead of learning how to collaborate with new teammates, pod members can dedicate themselves to producing great work. This is especially important when the client does change from week to week. That’s enough change to deal with right there.
4. A pod structure helps employees prioritize the most important work.
Let’s say an analyst has three tasks to complete: Each one for a different project and a different leader. Each one has been deemed “important.” Which task do they tackle first?
Here’s another scenario: The analyst has three tasks to complete for three different projects, but they’re all overseen by a single leader. The leader tells the analyst how to order the tasks and why.
Which scenario is better for a business, do you think?
A single, consistent team has the ability to look at all of their projects and prioritize work based on who the client is, what work needs to be done and what deadlines might be looming. In a way, they’re comparing apples to apples. But for employees working on a number of different teams, this kind of holistic project view is much harder. (What’s more important: an apple or an orange?).
Ultimately, of course, our Small Business team uses a pod structure because they believe it’s the best way to serve their customers. Transparency, growth, consistency, prioritization — these things don’t only benefit members of the internal team. They help make each project a success. They help make sure customers are happy.
If you want to learn more about how a pod structure could help you company, let us know. We’d love to tell you about our experience.