James Hayes
James Hayes

Company restructure using a sorting hat

At Aginic, we’ve been organised into cross functional teams (or squads) for a few years now. It has helped us navigate through some turbulent times whilst staying closely connected and delivering great outcomes for our clients. However, having grown rapidly in the past 6 months, we decided it was time to spruce up our squad model and even allocations of who was in each squad. 

Given that this change would affect everyone’s working life, we wanted it to be designed and implemented from the ground up rather than a top down mandate. The Exec team created some success criteria and test cases, but stayed away from dictating answers or solutions except when asked for input.

To create the change, we asked for volunteers to join a ‘way of working guild’ from across Aginic to represent the views of all Aginic-ers in improving how we operate, including (but not limited to) our squad system. This group met regularly using online collaboration tools like Miro to flesh out the problem space, identify areas we wanted to focus on driving improvements and come up with new and better ideas for our way of working. 

The above image is a snapshot from the Miro board that our ‘Way of working guild’ used for many online workshops to collaborate and generate ideas. 

This was no small task. The guild happened to coincide with one of the busiest times in Aginic’s history and I think to many it felt like re-designing a plane whilst in mid-flight. The emphasis was on incremental change and a continuous improvement rather than expecting a ‘big bang’ solution to everything.

The changes

Along with identifying a great backlog of organisational improvements that we can steadily work through, the group has done an incredible job of defining fundamental changes to our operating model.

The most significant has been to strengthen the role of chapters (or crafts) at Aginic. From now on chapters play a bigger role in supporting career development, guiding feedback and (perhaps most significantly) what projects people work on. Alongside this we’ve clarified a number of key leadership roles, including those of Squad Leads and our Chapter ‘Chairs’. 

Finally, the group also pointed to the need to refresh our squad allocations, as Aginic has grown by over 30% in the past 6 months, we’d ended up with some pretty massive teams – way beyond the ‘two pizza test’ made famous by Fred Brooks. 

As anyone working in sticky, stable teams knows – it’s pretty hard to say goodbye to your awesome existing team. So the question was, how do we fairly, openly reformat our squads in the most Aginic way possible? The answer, of course, was a Sorting ceremony!

You did what now?

One of our brilliant Chapter Chairs, Sammy Scott, designed and built a ‘sorting hat algorithm’ that would determine the new squad for every team member. The sorting hat needed to ensure diversity of skills and experiences in every squad and also build the new squads around our newly appointed Squad Leads.

(Incidentally, the sorting hat algorithm has since taken on a life of its own as an internal coding challenge. It’s safe to say the next time we do this, the tool we’ll use will be a whole lot more comprehensive!)

Finally and most importantly we ran the sorting hat ceremony together, complete with our own sorting hats (see photo below). I did my best Dumbledore impression and we celebrated each person’s squad allocation with a round of applause.

The outcomes

This ground up transformation is still going for us. We’re morphing into continuous improvement and are keeping a close eye on our qualitative and quantitative metrics to make sure we’re on track. But so far it feels like a great success, we have a better way of working, greater clarity and shiny new squads.

The process we used probably isn’t for everyone, you have to at least be familiar with Harry Potter for a start, but we think it offers a fun and engaging way for any organisation looking to spruce up their squads, clean up their chapters and organise their OKRs.

Get in touch with James Hayes

James is an experienced agile coach and delivery manager with an impressive track record of helping teams and organisations across the world find pragmatic ways of improving the way they deliver for their customers. James is able to help people quickly make improvements in a fail safe way and keep the momentum of change up over the long term.

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