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How team structure can turn good teams into stellar ones



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Assembling an amazing team requires a combination of instinct, experience, and information. Striking the right mix of personalities, communication styles, interpersonal skills, and competencies is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle, with the ultimate goal of creating a cohesive picture. 

As with any puzzle worth building, it can be challenging to find the right people and determine where they fit within your team. Thankfully, there’s a foundational principle you can apply to your team to make this easier—and that’s team structure. 

Team structure explained 

Team structure determines how work is assigned and coordinated and defines the relationship between leadership, teams, and team members within your organization. It essentially inspires how teams work together, and can have a significant impact on collaboration and productivity.

One of the biggest challenges of teamwork is managing the flow of information and updates. Team structure helps simplify the communication process by creating a clear chain of command and hierarchy of authority and responsibility. 

Approaching team structure strategically can help you improve team relationship dynamics and increase efficiency. There are many different options for organizing your team effectively, depending on the team’s initiatives and the objectives of your organization.

Why is team structure important

The combined brain power, problem-solving skills, and expertise of work groups offer a significant advantage, but integrating individual work into one collective project or outcome can be difficult. 

Team members need to be aware of which tasks they’re responsible for, relevant timelines and deadlines, and the objectives and milestones of a project or team. They also need to understand the reporting relationships within their organization and track the progress of each deliverable. 

Team structure helps clearly define and organize employees’ workflow and ensures each team member is informed, accountable, and aware of their roles and responsibilities. It also streamlines collaboration between different departments when projects or initiatives overlap.

Different types of structure

Which type of team structure you adopt ultimately depends on your organization’s goals. While there are countless organizational structure approaches available, here are some of the most common: 

Hierarchical structure

Commonly seen on org charts, a hierarchical structure can be visualized like a pyramid, with higher-level employees at the top and cascading levels of employees based on degree of authority. It creates a clear reporting structure and illustrates who is responsible for decision-making. 

Circular Structure 

A hierarchical structure may also be visualized as concentric circles, with top-level employees in the middle and lower levels of employees located in each subsequent circle. (This is also known as a circular structure.) This structure supports the flow of communication while clarifying differences in contribution, and works best for small teams, small businesses, and remote organizations. 

Functional structure

The functional structure is a particularly popular option, with teams being grouped together according to their skills or specialties. A visualization of this structure would involve columns consisting of each department from the top-down. Functional structures support the specialization of a specific skill or area of expertise. Marketing teams and product development teams are examples of groupings that may be included in a functional structure.

Matrix structure 

The matrix structure is ideal for team situations where members report to multiple leaders in different departments or divisions. This structure is organized like a grid, with reporting lines from each team member to multiple leaders, and can diversify decision-making responsibilities. The matrix structure can improve communication and collaboration but requires responsive leadership to avoid bottlenecks during approval processes. 

Flat structure 

Although functionally similar to a hierarchical structure, a flat structure has fewer management layers, which results in an interconnected format with less distance between leadership and team members. This is an organic structure without a defined shape, but can be visualized more like a web. A flat structure can increase productivity, create alignment between individuals and teams with common goals, and facilitate communication between cross-functional teams.

Market-focused structure

Organizations that offer services and products to different market sectors may benefit from a market-focused structure, where teams are divided by industry, market, or customer types. A market-focused structure organizes efforts around the specific needs of each market segment and allows for greater specialization. Companies that offer a variety of products or a range of services might opt for a market-based approach. 

Product-focused structure

A product-focused structure is another option for companies that offer a variety of products. This type of structure contains several smaller functional structures, each focusing on a product line. Teams that focus on product development benefit from this organizational structure because it supports ongoing product improvement and reduces the risk associated with failed products (or product-specific issues) since teams are divided and work autonomously. 

Learn more: 

What makes effective team structure

An effective team structure aligns your business strategy with your talent strategy, ensuring you’re assembling the right people for the right organizational goals.

There are four main factors to consider when determining if your team structure is effective: 

  • Is your chosen structure compatible with the size of your team or organization? 
  • Does it clearly establish roles, responsibilities, and reporting structure? 
  • Is there a bottleneck with updates or approvals?
  • Is there confusion about who to contact for information from another department or division? 

The wrong structure can lead to a host of issues, including miscommunication, inefficiency, low morale, interpersonal issues, and, eventually, attrition.

If you’re experiencing communication issues, delays, or dissatisfaction from team members, there’s a chance you’ve outgrown your team structure or that your existing structure isn’t a good fit for the work that you’re doing. 

Planning team structure 

When it comes to choosing an organizational structure for your team, there’s no right or wrong answer. The most effective team structure depends on your company’s goals. Here are four steps to help you plan and implement a new team structure:

1. Think back to your business strategy.

As you think about the different team structures available to you, ignore whatever reporting structure you currently have in place. Take a step back and do some critical thinking about your organization’s needs before you start redesigning your org structure. Your structure should be dictated by your business strategy, and that may require you to revise whatever organizational format currently exists. 

2. Design in terms of roles, not names.

Once you’re ready to design your new structure, eliminate names from the equation and focus on roles instead. Determine the key responsibilities of each role, who each role should report to, and what level of decision-making authority each should have. Also, assess what roles may be missing and what additional teams may be necessary to achieve your company’s objectives. 

3. Bring your people into the mix.

After you’ve selected a team structure that feels like a strong match, decide how your current employees fit into these positions. Make sure you limit the number of reports to any one person to avoid bottlenecks that may cause delays. Decreasing direct reports will help you increase each manager’s (and team’s) efficiency. 

4. Share the new structure across the org.

The last, but arguably most critical, step is to make your team structure chart easily accessible to everyone within your organization. Include the new design in meeting rooms across the office; talk about it during your next all-company meeting, and publish a web-based format for your remote employees. Doing so creates an easy and ever-accessible reference point that improves communication and ensures role clarity. 

Learn more: 

How PI can help design winning team structures

Effective teamwork requires a baseline of trust and communication, and the right team structure supports both. By assessing your existing talent strategy and adopting an improved team structure, you’ll future-proof your business and lay the foundation for continued success.

PI helps you align your talent and business strategies to ensure you’re operating at the top of your game. Use our talent optimization platform to hire top talent, assemble winning teams, improve one-on-one relationships, and boost engagement and retention.

Team structure doesn’t overhaul itself overnight. With PI, you get one step closer to your ideal workplace.

Ashley McCann is a content writer who specializes in the things that matter most to people. She loves travel, the Oxford comma, and those tiny kitchen cooking videos.

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