Team building and the pursuit of happiness: Why change?

Part 1 – Why change?

How do you structure a creative digital agency to generate the best work and brightest ideas?

In the first of two posts we take a look at why we decided to fundamentally change the structure of White October to a teams-based agency. In Part 2 we look at how we made the change happen.

We firmly believe that a good start is to build multi-discipline teams, with each handling their own projects from brief to delivery.  This way, we create an environment in which everyone involved can contribute and feels valued.  We all develop a sense of ownership and mutual understanding.

So the whole agency is working together to make the change from grouping around role (all dev’s together, all PM’s together etc) to a teams based structure. Here’s how it’s going, and what we’ve achieved so far.

Such fundamental change requires an environment for collaboration, exchange of ideas and learning from each other. The resources and support functions are firmly in place, and the right thing to do becomes the easy thing to do.

We’re talking about an environment where it is easier to work in a good way than in a bad way.

At White October we are achieving this by creating teams made up of designers, developers, account and project managers.  Each team handles its own projects from start to finish, working collaboratively and learning from a shared experience.

How it used to be

Our account folk, project managers, creatives and developers were in teams based on role in so far as they sat together. This created silos mostly reporting into PM’s or the management team. The brief would go from account team to the creatives and then onto the developers, who would end up building what the creatives had designed, with no input at the concept stage.

Creatives and developers might work on many different client projects at the same time, often on components of the same project.  There would be little exchange of knowledge, nor a sense of context for the overall vision. Once a project was delivered, everyone moved on – often splitting up teams that are just starting to learn to work together and losing what they’d learnt.

It’s no wonder that creatives and developers tended to feel commoditised. Their jobs were like making jigsaw pieces without ever knowing what the finished picture was to look like.

Changing structure

White October is a 28-strong digital agency which is growing fast in a competitive market. To say we rely on the capabilities of our teams is an understatement. Our people are our business. They’re the ones which move us forward, keep us ahead of the game, and make our clients happy.

Our multi-disciplinary team in action - everyone can contribute and add value.

Our multi-disciplinary team in action – everyone can contribute and add value.

While we have never had a rigid management structure, we did have separate design and development teams. One of the biggest hazards of this was ‘brief drift:’ the client’s original vision would somehow get lost in translation as the project moved from team to team.

Hence our move to build teams which manage and deliver their own projects.

In Part 2 we talk about how we are making the change happen and how the teams approach worked in a recent client project.  

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