Digital HR Summit: Squads, Tribes and Chapters

We’ve had a few sessions today on new digital organisation designs. Several of these have been based on Spotify’s model of squads, tribes and chapters.

To an extent, this is a good thing. As Gerard Penning from Shell (above) challenged us this morning, traditional organisations designs don’t support design thinking, lean or agile, ie today’s digital world, that well.
Some things to note however.
  • Traditional designs (primarily functions) don’t support digital approaches but they don’t stop it – you just need to put something else in place to help this, eg adding a project dimension in a matrix, changing / splitting the role of line managers, etc. Often the traditional design will still be the best fit.
  • If it’s not the right design you should try to develop your own, not copy someone else’s. It doesn’t work. Those organisations which copied Dave Ulrich’s three legged stool for HR without thinking about it know this point well. You may just want to implement agile / scrum as you’ve seen elsewhere but don’t scale it up that way. Don’t think Tribes, think process areas.
  • Spotify’s model included Guilds (communities) too. This is really important! Squads / teams without communities wear people out and reduce not increase the organisation’s humanity (eg Amazon), which is another really important requirement today.

More information on this in The Social Organization.

Please note I may be being unfair. Philips in particular sound like they’re doing some great work, including job sculpting. And they did speak about having a network structure and their groups not knowing what they will be doing upfront (which may have been the guilds).

I also liked Bayer’s suggestions on integrating organisational and other digital changes.

I was slightly less positive about Vodafone which suggested that cross-tribe co-ordinators aren’t needed any more. That’s certainly lean, and I know Spotify have a similar model, relying on cadence rather than structure to co-ordinate their work, but this may not be very innovative.

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I graduated from Imperial College, London in 1987 and joined Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) as a systems development consultant. After ten years in IT, change and then HR consulting, I joined Ernst & Young as an HR Director, working firstly in the UK, and then, based in Moscow, covering the former USSR.More recently, I have worked as Head of HR Consulting for Penna and Director of Human Capital Consulting for Buck Consultants (the HR consultancy owned by ACS).

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