Back to resources

Scaling a Small Team with a Strong Foundation

Building A Team
Internal Communication
Collaboration
Hiring
Prioritization

4 February, 2022

Stuart Osborne
Stuart Osborne

Senior Director, GPU Engineering at Arm

Stuart Osborne, Senior Director, GPU HW Engineering at Arm, shares his insights on growing teams from small units to large entities through detailed hiring practices and establishing a shared direction.

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.

Discover Plato

Scale your coaching effort for your engineering and product teams
Develop yourself to become a stronger engineering / product leader


Related stories

Leaving Room to Say Things Suck — Leadership Lessons from “Ted Lasso”

17 August

A major sign of trust, comfortability, and vulnerability is for someone you lead to be able to say something sucks.

Building A Team
Company Culture
Leadership
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
John Hartley

John Hartley

Senior Engineering Manager at Curology

How to Maintain Happiness: The Underrated Aspect of Creating Team Dynamic

2 August

Jonathan Ducharme, Engineering Manager at AlleyCorp Nord, encourages the importance of a workplace environment that cultivates mental wellness.

Personal Growth
Company Culture
Leadership
Internal Communication
Psychological Safety
Jonathan Ducharme

Jonathan Ducharme

Engineering Manager at AlleyCorp Nord

How to Organize, Manage, and Grow Your Team

12 July

Vineet Puranik, Senior Engineering Manager at DocuSign, discusses the impact of roadmaps, organization, and proper management for your teams to procure growth.

Managing Expectations
Delegate
Collaboration
Roadmap
Strategy
Vineet Puranik

Vineet Puranik

Senior Engineering Manager at DocuSign

(Re)Organizing Your Teams Using Domain-Driven Design

12 July

A proposal for how to create an org structure that will deliver software systems that you want, not ones you get stuck with.

Alignment
Architecture
Scaling Team
Building A Team
Internal Communication
Reorganization
Ram Singh

Ram Singh

CTO at REAL Engagement & Loyalty

Leading A (Distributed) Team? Foster "Above the Line" Behaviors.

12 July

No online tool will address your team's ability to connect, collaborate, and deliver results if the individuals don't bring the right mindset to work.

Changing A Company
Building A Team
Company Culture
Leadership
Ownership
Ram Singh

Ram Singh

CTO at REAL Engagement & Loyalty