As the company grows quickly (currently ~80% YoY, which means growing to 10x in four years...) this unlocks new opportunities for everyone: New projects, new management responsibilities, new challenges, new opportunities. Personally, I don’t love tackling the same challenges this year as I did two years previously, so I really relish this environment. I do understand there are many of us who enjoy knowing exactly what they will be doing 5-10 years from now. Neither is correct or incorrect, though different companies will suit those different natures more complementarily.
If you think that every ~9 months we have doubled the size of our team for the past three years, it’s extraordinary how much our responsibilities need to shift to keep up with the growth of the company. The skills and habits that allowed us to be successful two years ago are certainly not the same skills and habits that will allows us to be successful two years from now! This does pose challenges, as I’ve written about before. See the ‘Give Away Your Legos’ article for details...
What this also means is that we have opportunities to increase levels of specialization for those on the team who wish to move their careers more aggressively in a certain direction. On a team of 5-10, it is often super challenging to be specialized. With a team of 30, you have no choice but to be more specialized. With a team of 50, even more so. I have heard multiple clamors from partners that they wish to focus more on certain areas of their works than others – I hear you loud and clear. So let’s pull hard together on these oars and get us to the point where that is possible for you.
With that said, there are two areas of potential misconceptions around team expansion and growth that I’d like to identify:
The first misconception is that you can become more and more specialized and simultaneously manage more and more people.
Unfortunately, these two activities are generally the antithesis of each other. Management generally means that you are spreading your expertise across multiple people’s activities – they will naturally be more specialized than you because they are ‘closer to the action.’ That’s not to say it’s impossible to be a specialized manager, but by the nature of the role, it’s unlikely. You may know more about something or have more experience in a field than someone who you are managing, but to be more specialized is hard. For every hour you spend on management-related activities, that’s an hour you are not spending on whatever specialized field you are trading off that time with.
Fukuko and I have been speaking about this and asking ourselves the question, “How can we create an environment that is both conducive to those who wish to pursue a more specialized and focused career of individual contribution and also those who wish to be more administratively or managerially-focused?” Again, one is not good and one is not bad. A great team needs both! You can’t be the Chief if there aren’t any Indians. I personally believe that everyone should at least try or be exposed to a management role so they can see if it’s something that they want to pursue further. That’s a key reason why Management Academy is part of the LL Academy Series. If it’s not for you, so be it! You can rock your key contributions to the team.
The second misconception is that team growth means less work for everyone.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure this is the case. I do believe that more people allow for more specialized work, if you want it. I do believe that more people allow for greater management experience, if you want it. And I do believe that more people allows for us as an organization to achieve more, if we want it.
What more people on the team allows us to do is to grow in the ways we want! For those who want to pursue key individual contributions, you may focus or specialize more directly on those areas and for those who want to pursue more administrative or managerial careers, greater team growth allows focus on that.
Regarding individual contributors, the specialization argument is self-explanatory, I hope, but there is also another key element of team growth that allows for growth in professional skill sets of individual contributors – the Brain Trust effect. The idea that you are now surrounded by more and more intelligent, motivated, and like-minded people as yourself should and often does allow greater creativity and problem-solving than if you were left to your own devices. Even if you are delivering results by yourself, that does not mean that the methods used to achieve those results must always be your own. I have learned an incredible amount from our team about both what to do and what not to do. I find myself (eerily, sometimes) echoing turns of phrase of other LL partners, mimicking body language, and even finding myself thinking, “What would [NAME] think about this?” These are all unique benefits from the team’s expansion and learning from others around you.
What team growth means is growth for everyone, no matter what your focus may be.
It’s an exciting time to be adding new partners to the team. We’ve averaged about one new partner per month in 2017. I don’t see us slowing down in 2018.
How do you want to grow? Is it as a domain expert? A general manager? Where do your strengths suit you? What do you enjoy most about your work at LearningLeaders? The least?
Only you can really know how you want to grow; a growing team can provide the platform to support you.