What if we told you your team could 10x their output without any additional resources?
In 18 weeks, a traditional 30-person marketing team finishes around eight important projects. Acceptable? Sure. However, with a few small adjustments in how they’re structured, leading to substantial changes in how they spend their time, they could easily finish 100(!!!) projects of the same scale without spending a single additional dollar or adding people to the team.
Let us explain.
Here’s a simplified, traditional marketing org:
Reporting to the CMO are six Centers of Excellence (COEs). The leaders of the COEs are in the black stickies. The folks reporting into those leaders are listed on yellow stickies. Each of those individuals works with other folks in the other COEs to get work done, but they report to their COE leader. These COEs are important, but come at an incredible cost.
Here’s how the COE Leaders spend their time (the visualization here was created by John Cutler – each box represents one hour in a 40-hour workweek).
The majority of the manager’s time is spent on meetings about future work and administrative meetings for their COE, the marketing org, the business and 1:1s. None of their time is spent on actively advancing the ball on key projects, unless you count status updates and addressing/surfacing issues that lead to re-work (we don’t count this as advancing the ball).
Let’s look at their direct reports:
The crucial difference between these folks and their managers is the addition of six hours of focused working time (usually broken into smaller bits in the calendar), but there’s also more time spent on status updates, rework and dealing with problems in current projects.
All-in, these individuals are spending around 30% of their time on “maker” activities that are related to growth. 60% of their time is spent on management/admin activities. And around 10% goes to unavoidable losses (like tech/tool issues or taking breaks).
When we ask teams how they’d like to spend their time, they usually give us the opposite kind of allocation: 70% for growth, 20% for admin, 10% for the other stuff.
This undesired overspend on management and administration is driven by the siloed COE structure: work gets done in single-capability teams that have to pass work products back and forth, so status updates, org-related meetings and substantial pre-planning work have to happen before undertaking anything new. This is compounded by the number of discrete projects taken on by each individual and team. For this example, we assume that each individual takes on 4 projects at once and shares these projects equally with others on the team. In practice, we’ve seen that this number is usually substantially greater than 4.
And all of this has a massive impact on productivity.
If we assume a standard project duration of 500 hours, teams with this kind of structure require between ~50 and 100 days to finish that work, or around 10-20 weeks. This means that almost nothing of substantial value gets done within the quarter where it’s planned, so these teams are always working on opportunities that were pre-selected months or years in advance.
The alternative is to forego the COE structure and replace its hierarchy with a series of multidisciplinary teams. For convenience, we’ve used the exact same number of people and types of roles in the example below.
With this new structure, we’re able to afford one more team than before – we no longer have the management “layer,” because we’ve redistributed these folks to the working teams.
We’ve observed that this shift has a massive impact on the nature of the work and how everyone invests their time.
- Reduce the amount of COE, Org, and 1:1 meetings required to get the work done and keep teams on track – to less than half what’s required in a traditional organization
- Reduce switching costs by working on fewer overall projects; by cutting the projects in active progress by 50%, there are less mental shifts throughout the day
- Nearly eliminate the status update work, getting it done within one hour per week
- Reduce rework (and escalations) by 75%
- Substantially reduce the frequency and intensity of future planning sessions
- Take more frequent, meaningful breaks during the day
All of these shifts are enabled and reinforced by the structure, and give each individual the ability to spend 50% of their working week doing deep work on important projects.
These calendars are much more palatable:
This approach yields unbelievable levels of productivity, driven by a focus on the work that matters most for growth. In practice, this initially feels like cheating.
Switching the focus from Management Time to Maker/Growth Time is straightforward and feels relatively linear, but the impact compounds. To show how this works, let’s assume again that each of these “Important Projects” requires 500 hours of focused work to complete. With more than half the week spent focused on only two important projects, it only takes these teams around 8.3 days to finish the work.
At the end of 18 weeks, each of our focused, multidisciplinary teams will have completed twenty 500 hour projects. We have five of these teams, so we’ve shipped 100 important projects. To put this in even finer relief, in the span of eight weeks, one team of six will have done more important work than the entire department used to complete in 18 weeks.
Launching 100 things vs. Launching 8
Imagine for a moment that there are 300 potential projects that either of these teams can take on. These projects vary in terms of their profitability, ranging from a few worth $100 million to many more worth only $50,000. It’s obvious that the team with greater productivity will make more money, but…how much more?
To make a fair comparison between the two teams, we ran a Monte Carlo simulation. This statistical method allows us to model the probability of different outcomes in a process that is unpredictable due to the randomness. The simulation involves running a large number of iterations (e.g., 10,000) and averaging the results. In each iteration, we randomly select projects for each team without replacement, which means that the same project cannot be selected twice.
After running the simulation, we found that on average, the “Traditional” Team’s earnings for a 50-week period amounted to $33 million, while the Multidisciplinary Team’s earnings reached $420 million.
However, this probably understates the potential value of some of these projects. We’ve seen work done by marketing teams drive upward of $750 million in incremental revenue. And if we swap out just one of the $50,000 projects for one worth $750 million, the average outcome for our Multidisciplinary team goes up to well over $1 billion dollars.
Here’s a direct quote we’ve heard from one of our clients: “This billion-dollar brand wouldn’t have even been approved if not for this new way of working.” Don’t kill the big ideas because they take too long to make it through the system. Instead, change the way you work and start stacking checks.
Our question: how long can you wait to find out whether you have a $50k outcome or a $750m outcome?
Learning 100 things vs. Learning 8
On a personal level, think about how much smarter you’d be if you read 100 books in a given timeframe vs. just reading eight.
(Fun fact, it takes around 14 hours to read 500 pages, so in the organizational context that we’re discussing, our Multidisciplinary Team would be putting away 2,100 books per year.)
A finished project doesn’t just yield a business result, it makes everyone involved smarter than they were before the project started. With all the pressure around us, we can’t afford to not get smarter faster than our competitors. Changing to a better structure for focused work will ensure that we get smart about the right stuff – our market and our customers.
But we can quantify this, using the experience curves that we’ve discussed in previous posts. If we use the learning rate from that example, by the end of 18 weeks, both Traditional and Multidisciplinary Teams will be operating at a higher level than they were before.
It seems ridiculous to say that the same people can be 20x better at their jobs just by changing their org structure, but we see this every day in our work. People get better at stuff with repetition, and so do teams. More repetitions: more better. And when those same teams are enabled to focus more on making vs. managing, the efficiency compounds. The structure not only needs to support this, it needs to be designed around making from the ground up.
If you’re reading this far, you probably have a great team and are wishing you had more options for how every employee could grow as fast as they want. This structural shift will be a huge part of your toolkit.
With the multidisciplinary team structure, employees have the opportunity to focus more on their growth and development as professionals. This enables them to hone their skills, learn new ones, and gain invaluable experience in their field. As a result, employees can make significant strides in their careers, not only enhancing their performance but also increasing their value to the organization.
When employees are provided with a working environment that fosters growth, collaboration, and innovation, they become more motivated and engaged in their work. This creates a positive feedback loop, where employees who are growing and developing are more likely to stay with the company and contribute to its success, while the company benefits from a highly skilled, knowledgeable, and motivated workforce.
Adopting a multidisciplinary team structure can have a transformative impact on an organization's productivity, profitability, and overall success. By breaking down silos, fostering collaboration, and empowering employees to focus on deep, meaningful work, companies can unlock tremendous value and unleash the full potential of their teams. This structural shift not only leads to better business outcomes but also supports the personal and professional growth of every team member. It's time to move away from traditional, hierarchical structures and embrace a more agile, flexible, and growth-oriented way of working. The future of work is here, and it's time to adapt or risk being left behind.