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Splitting Your Team Into Two

Motivation
Reorganization
Scaling Team

8 October, 2019

Gaurav Mathur considers the impact his engineers could have on the broader organization by dividing them into two separate teams.

Problem

I was managing a team that was responsible for sending out hundreds of millions of emails per day. In addition to being responsible for this product directly, this system was also a platform that was used by everyone at the company who sent emails. Both these areas, the product and the platform, were managed by me and included 4 engineers and a product manager. As the team grew to 7+ people, it became apparent that some changes needed to be made.

Actions taken

I realized that as the number of engineers grew that it would make the most sense to split the team into two. Although we could definitely run as a single unit, I wanted to ensure that the decisions we were making as a platform - while it had the business case in mind - could also be thought of as more independent. The first thing I did was to coordinate separate stand-up meetings. This was so that people didn't have to sit through the updates of the other team. Everybody still sat together in the same area but they no longer had to listen to information that wasn't relevant to them. Then I moved on to splitting up other areas such as the planning sessions, planning meetings, etc. While implementing these changes I had to justify this upwards. I explained that I was trying to build a platform with a whole platform team, separate from the product. I showcased how highly leverageable the product area was and contended an investment in the detached platform area. It wasn't a hard sell. People understood the reasoning. I was able to convince my manager and our product director. It took us a while to flush out the separate teams. We had to have separate project managers and we hired a separate engineering manager, but eventually, we got there. The transformation was so successful that about six months later the company itself had a broader reorganization where my platform and product teams were able to smoothly transition into their respective orgs.

Lessons learned

  • Take a look at your team in order to gauge whether splitting your team up is the right decision or not. Are people starting to get disengaged during other people's updates? Are your metrics for success drastically diverging? Or are they not cohesive so that they're telling different stories? Conduct a general 'sniff test' to sort these things out before making your final decision.
  • Before splitting up your team confirm that you have the right people in place. You want to be sure that the team can sustain itself and grow after the separation. And if you don't have those people in place then start building a plan of action. For example, I had a very solid tech lead on the platform side although on the product side I had a good number of junior engineers. As a result, I had to spend more of my time coaching the junior engineers and leaning more heavily on my tech lead to guide the platform side of things.
  • When the broader organization did its reorg I felt like my two teams were set up for success. They both had more focus and they both had their own metrics that they were tracking. Although I had to effectively choose between the two, the change made sense holistically and worked out well for the company.

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