Giving Away Your Legos

Another good piece from Molly Graham (of A Counterintuitive System of Startup Compensation) covering another counterintuitive facet of scaling a company:

‘Give Away Your Legos’ and Other Commandments for Scaling Startups

People tend to be defensive about the responsibilities they own in a company. It’s natural that they struggle with giving those responsibilities to new employees and trusting that they’ll do a good a job as they did. And yet, giving away responsibility is exactly what we need them to do in order to effectively scale the company. As Molly puts it: “giving away responsibility — giving away the part of the Lego tower you started building — is the only way to move on to building bigger and better things”. More people does not mean less work for the people already there, it means the company can do more as a whole.

Her advice to managers is to be proactive in communicating about this challenge. Acknowledge that this feeling of defensiveness around giving away responsibility is completely normal, but getting beyond this initial, emotional reaction is exactly what the company needs them to do, in order to be successful. Focusing on the bright, new, shiny Lego tower that you need them to build next, is also a good idea.

Molly argues that the true scaling chaos happens approximately when the company has 30-750 people (every company is a bit different). Beyond that, the scaling challenges manifest themselves mostly on a departmental level, rather than a corporate level. She identified three distinct growth phases in which scaling presents different challenges:

  • 30 – 50 people: communication, which has been almost effortless until that point, becomes exponentially more challenging. The best solution here is to start putting things down on paper: mission, values, philosophies, etc. and being particularly mindful about over-communicating them.
  • 50-200 people: this is the most critical phase in the shaping of the company culture. Thought and focus must be directed to building the systems that’ll take the values off the paper and make them real. One of the hardest and most important aspects of this is pruning the talent pool – letting go of the people who are not a good culture fit to the culture we’re trying to create. It should only take a couple of months to assess whether someone is a good culture fit. And if the answer is “no” – action must be taken quickly.
  • 200-750 people: At this point, the personality and habits of the organization are pretty much molded. The focus now shifts to scaling and preserving them as more people join. Onboarding, training and other business practices are key. Any desired cultural change at this point will be challenging, and must be undertaken deliberately, assuming a lot of work will have to be done by the CEO and leadership team in order to make it happen.



Giving Away Your Legos

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