Scaling a Small Team with a Strong Foundation

Stuart Osborne

Senior Director, GPU Engineering at Arm


Technical Challenges Related to Growth

I’ve spent much of my career growing relatively small teams out to large orgs. A group of ten individuals has many different challenges than a team of a hundred. As teams grow, the culture begins to change, making the hiring process increasingly complex. Technical challenges arise as teams get larger, as well as their responsibilities.

Steps to Scale a Small Team

Establishing a Strong Foundation:

Building a team always begins with the initial framework. In the past, I’ve started by starting a team with five to ten members, either freshly hired or already a part of the organization. It’s essential to find good beginning hires to plant a strong foundation for a team.

As my teams have grown, it’s been necessary for me to step further back, meaning I need to have complete trust in the people I’ve hired. Motivation and drive are two of the essential characteristics when determining if candidates are fit for the role of being the first hire on a team. While technical knowledge is essential, the behavioral characteristics of teammates play a large part in the success of that team.

It’s worth putting the time and effort into hiring to set the bar for the rest of the team. I’ve noticed that I can’t afford to get a hiring decision wrong with small teams, as it’s usually costly to the entire team.

Finding a Shared Direction:

Hand and hand with hiring lies setting a shared direction for the team. The direction needs to be defined at a high level while having enough clarity to be understood and achieve alignment even as the team grows.

In the early stages of development, it’s interesting to define the aims of a team. Differences in priorities and quality expectations will exist between a team-building prototypes for demonstrating features of a product, versus trying to create something for mass production. In each example, the quality of work differentiates, as some teams need to value speed rather than perfection.

Driving the Size of a Team:

After teams complete their first successes, it is ideal to begin creating multi-year roadmaps and allowing teams to build multiple products within a year. The technical challenges become complex and vast during this transition, and I recommend that leaders assign technical experts across the specific departments.

During this transition, leaders should look for team members who specialize in defined areas and build out specific departments within the larger organization. However, there is a delicate balance, as teams that become too large may lose the benefits of being located in a core location.

As teams have grown, they tend to end up being broken into multiple subteams but still must function together as one team with a common goal. Separating larger teams into smaller departments has become more challenging while remaining aligned on a single goal. Communication and teamwork then become central to success, so developing or hiring leaders with the right skills is essential. A key aspect of this challenge is simply hiring the right individuals. Those that are Your leaders must be highly well-motivated and driven but able to engage well with others, work flexibly, seeing opportunities to collaborate and succeed together.

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Stuart Osborne

Senior Director, GPU Engineering at Arm

Leadership DevelopmentOrganizational StrategyCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementTechnical ExpertiseCareer GrowthSkill DevelopmentIndividual Contributor RolesLeadership & StrategyTeam & Project Management

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