How to Build a Growth Team

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The concept of growth teams was pioneered and popularized by modern industry leaders like Uber, Facebook, and Airbnb. These companies introduced hybrid practices that involved marketers, engineers, analysts, and product designers collaborating hand in hand to add value to the organization.

Other corporations and startups soon started implementing their own growth teams tasked with solving problems that hamper growth via experimentation and analysis. Their process involves working closely with the sales and marketing departments, rolling in new marketing channels, and filling the gaps in product strategies.

Today, these growth teams assume different responsibilities that often slip through the organizational cracks. Their purpose has changed to offset the drawbacks of having many siloed departments that rarely interact. The benefits that a strong growth team has to offer are too many to pass up: increasing customer acquisition and retention, as well as improving revenue and financial performance.

Why growth teams work

Business growth is a process of increasing various measures of a company’s success. It reinforces either the businesses’ top line/revenue through product sales and service income or bottom line/profitability through trimming operating costs. To drive this kind of growth, companies may be inclined to employ strong-arm tactics, buzz-worthy trends, and unproven technologies.

These strategies do hold the power to provide short-term gains, but they’re not sustainable. One constant that is integral to success is a robust growth team. The tech industry was the first to discover the value of this dedicated internal group, but over time, traditional sectors have discovered its potential as well. They are now actively searching for professionals to take on the fundamental work of building a growth process. The only problem is that there’s no easy formula for assembling a top-tier growth team.  Here’s a framework that will help you create a growth team with the capacity to support your company now and years into the future.

Secure funds

Right off the bat, you’ll face the hurdle of steep competition for experienced team members. Top growth hacking talent is in hot demand and sought after by a slew of companies across industries of every speciality and size. Startups are facing an uphill battle due to limited budgets and a lack of clarity on exactly what a successful growth team needs. Before they start luring talent with vibrant culture, flexible work arrangements, and stylish offices, they must get back to the basics and put solid funding in place. These days, getting a bank loan is becoming an increasingly difficult procedure, and percentage rates of loan application success are declining. That is why many modern startups look beyond traditional sources and tap into alternative platforms like crowdfunding, ICOs, peer-to-peer lending, and other online solutions. It might also be worth checking out unsecured financing options such as 0% loans, revolving lines of credit, term loans, etc.

Combining different sources could end up being a prudent course of action. And in any event, it is highly advisable to explore all these avenues before making the call. And only once funding is sorted out, management is onboard, and you have a liquid budget, can you proceed to define roles in the growth team you want to fill.

Assemble a list of key players

Across industry sectors, established corporations and startups tend to employ the following types of professionals for growth teams:

  • Content marketers

  • Data analysts

  • Vice presidents of marketing

  • Heads of growth

  • Social media/community managers

  • Project managers

  • Product managers

  • Content/copywriters

  • Growth hackers

  • Full stack developers

You should know right away that the lines between these positions are often blurred. One can decide to have multiple roles covered by a single employee or assign a few people to handle the same task set. What is more, growth initiatives often overlap with product and marketing initiatives. This all puts an emphasis on cross-team and cross-department collaboration and underlines the importance of clearly defined roles and responsibilities, as well as broadly communicating them.

In general, most companies start with a group of generalists who take on tasks across different disciplines. They work as a cross-functional team of individuals with complementary skill sets and strong growth orientation. As the company grows and operations become more complex, the roles start getting more specialized. That is when tensions and bottlenecks may emerge, and it’s a good idea to address them promptly. Notice that the list of roles for the growth team presented above is by no means conclusive. Growth teams vary in terms of their structure, shape, and sizes, depending on specific requirements of the industry sector one operates in.

For example, top digital agencies need UX/UI designers that possess high consumer empathy and have a knack for testing and experimenting. Retail companies eagerly look for seasoned product designers with user-centric outlook and marketing specialists with clear channel focus. Financial organizations may decide to form separate divisions to address optimizing payment and financial services.

Organize your Team

After developing roles within the growth team, organizations need to choose an optimal structure for the entire team. Making the right call might appear simple at first because there are only two common models of organizational structure: independent model and a functional model.

The tricky part, however, is weighing their unique pros and cons. The main difference between the models is how they fit into the organizational structure. Independent teams report directly to CEO and are led by a vice president of growth. You can think of them as autonomous growth agencies that operate within the organization and possess high agility and strong feedback loops. In companies like Uber, they also support customers via paid, search, and referral mechanisms.

On the other hand, the function-based model, which brings about a decentralized structure, is championed by companies like Dropbox, Pinterest and Twitter.  Teams organized in this way report to functional heads (such as the vice president of engineering or product), who have full control over growth initiatives. They also balance these initiatives against non-growth initiatives.

In case you are wondering which model is better, I am sorry to disappoint you— the answer isn’t cut and dried. What is clear is that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions here. It all depends on your company, how it operates, and how you plan on aligning resources for a growth team. And regardless of your choice, you have to diligently nurture the culture that will spur the right type of sustainable growth.

In other words, identify key metrics for bolstering growth in each cycle (launch, startup, growth, maturity, and renewal/decline). One thing you want to avoid is focusing on short-term growth and rewarding it within your company culture. Instead, set growth goals that involve a current financial year and are linked to objectives such as improving the turnover by a certain percentage.

Likewise, do not allow pressing priorities like talent acquisition and retention to create problems down the road. Poor recruitment decisions made in a rush can backfire and cripple your growth. So, if you really mean business, never lose sight of how small incremental wins generate ROI and forward your long-term aspirations and strategic plans in the time frame of five or more years.

Set standards and experiment

More often than not, growth teams need to be quick on their feet in order to tackle the experimentation process. As a result, they are inclined to exhibit strong teamwork, quick iteration, rapid learning, and transparency using a clear hierarchy of goals. These objectives often take the form of quarterly OKRs (see template here), but they can be broken down into more manageable roadmaps.

Using these guideposts, a growth team is able to carry out test cycles and sprints. To keep the momentum going, it also helps to have regular meetings, designate the number of tests and experiments, and gauge the quality of their execution. All in all, all team members should have clear expectations and standards of accountability as guiding lights. This framework should empower a group of individuals to transform into something more than just some of its parts.

Ultimately, propelled by such a high-performing team, you as a team leader will lay the foundations for the growth that has three distinctive characteristics: scalable, predictable, and repeatable. You can count on some variability, but that is when operational tweaking and optimizing comes into play. So, remain flexible — growth is never set in stone. It is a living, evolving thing.

Create a strong foundation for growth

Building a growth team is a strong commitment to rapid, sustainable growth that can lead your company on to achievements you might not have imagined. Fortunately, other companies have cleared a path ahead of you so you don’t have to guess your way through the process.

It might be tempting to start recruiting a hotshot team of talent, but a wiser plan is to start by securing funding for the team and carefully selecting what positions are key to achieve optimal growth potential. Once that’s established, then you select new team members with confidence and immediately tell them exactly how they fit into the overall picture.

With stable funding, clear roles, and experienced professionals on deck, you can move ahead to set standards and goals for the team so they can experiment to determine which strategies and models work best to foster growth. With these key elements in place, you can eliminate a lot of guesswork and follow in the steps of leading companies.

Author Bio: Daniel Bishop is a full-time editorial consultant for marketing companies. He started off as a freelance writer on a couple of blogs and in a few years began leading his own team of writers. After becoming an editorial consultant he still likes to go back to his roots and write articles from time to time.

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