During the last two years our company has grown massively, but until this summer our product organization hadn’t evolved with it. What had started as a simple service for galleries to share their artworks online had evolved into a much more sophisticated ecosystem—robust service offerings for museums, art fairs, benefit auctions, and galleries, as well as an editorial platform providing the latest art-world news and stories. Despite the transformation of our business, our organizational structure was out of date.
Our old model divided our product and engineering resources into two big teams: a “user-facing” and a “partner-facing” team. As a result, communication had become increasingly difficult. Few people outside the Product Team itself knew who was responsible for what and who they should talk to, leading to tensions between the Product Team and others.
It was clear that we needed to evolve. Our hockey stick growth during the last two years had left us with some organizational debt that we now needed to repay. We knew that these changes would ideally happen incrementally, with constant learning and adjustment over time, but at this point we needed a larger, more immediate re-think.
Having previously helped organizations restructure and optimize for the next big leap, I was asked to lead the charge on these efforts at Artsy. During my time at the design and innovation firm IDEO, we were often tasked with telling organizations things they already know about themselves but don’t want to admit, and then supporting them through the necessary change.
I had learned that you have to do two things to have change embraced across teams:
Consider every role and perspective in the organization
Every type of role and part of your team will have its own set of needs. When considering a re-organization you need to make sure that you are considering everyone—from different functional teams to managers and individual contributors to tenured and brand-new team members.
This might sound like a high requirement. Surely you would need a lifetime of experience in organizational design to envision something that nuanced and all-encompassing, right?
Well, we’ll let you in on the dirty secret of organizational change. A secret that is equally obvious as it is profound:
Your team already knows the solution.
All the information you need is already there. You just need to draw it out of the team. Which brings us to the second criteria:
Let it come from within
Organizational change that feels handed down from the top, or like it is the brilliant vision of one person, risks rejection by everyone else. It truly needs to be created by the team and for the team.
There are probably many ways of accomplishing this, but we’ll tell you how we did it:
First, ask the right questions
We reached out to the team asking where they felt tensions and identified opportunities for improvements. This wasn’t limited to the Product Team itself, but included everyone who collaborates with it.
The format was a simple survey, a small set of open-ended questions. By reaching out to as many small groups of people as possible (in our case this included art team leads, people who often collaborate with product, engineering leads, our Design Team, our Engineering Team and so forth) with personalized questions for each group, we wanted to make sure that as many people as possible shared their thoughts. (Faceless, generic, team-wide surveys be damned!)
The responses were plentiful. We went through each comment carefully, making note of themes that emerged across teams. Any opportunity for improvement that was relevant mostly within a team or between specific team members were logged to be addressed separately.
Second, create empathy and understanding
Next, we reflected what we heard back to the team. By sharing our learnings in clearly distilled themes supported by quotes from multiple team members we created a shared understanding of what the problems were.
These themes ranged from the high-level to the tactical: