Building a brand new team from scratch is no easy feat — especially when it’s in a relatively new domain and function like growth.
But one of the worst things you can do is rush into it without truly thinking about your company goals, the type of growth practitioners you need, and a handful of other important topics.
It doesn’t matter if this is your first growth team or if you have built them at many other companies – taking the time to determine what type of growth team you will need will pay dividends.
Based on our past experiences, you don’t want to look back six months from now and wish you would have taken a little more time to build the right growth team for your company.
Thankfully, we have teamed up with growth experts Adam Fishman and Elena Verna to break down exactly how to build a growth team with our Growth Team Formation Pyramid. In just four equally important steps, they will help you build a growth team from the ground up while highlighting some of the common mistakes that growth leaders make.
So let’s start building!
This article was inspired by a lesson in our Growth Leadership program led by Adam Fishman and Elena Verna.
Meet The Contributors
Elena is currently the Interim Head of Growth at Dropbox, and was previously Head of Growth at Amplitude. She is a growth hobbyist, helping companies build product-led growth models. She is a Program Partner at Reforge, Board Member at Netlify, and Advisor to Clockwise, SimilarWeb, and Veed. Previously, she was SVP of Growth at SurveyMonkey and CMO at Miro.Learn More
As a Product and Growth Executive, Adam Fishman has built some of the fastest-growing B2C and B2B2C companies of the past decade like Patreon and Lyft. He is the author of the FishmanAF Newsletter and the creator and host of the Startup Dad Podcast. He lives in SF Bay Area with his wife, two kids, and retriever Baxter.Learn More
What is a Growth Team?
At its core, a growth team hypothesizes, tests, and refines solutions to improve retention, monetization, and acquisition at a company. They use the scientific method to create a predictable, scalable, and competitively defensible strategy for how the company will grow.
This is different from a marketing team, which is a group focused on promoting a company’s products and brand, and increasing customer acquisition. Marketing teams execute strategies to tell a company’s brand story, target audiences to sell products, and increase customer bases.
While the two sit adjacent in most organizations, they aren’t working on the same things.
Growth teams exist to find new frontiers, their work is inherently ambiguous as they develop and test hypotheses about what drives growth.
Marketing teams generally have a clearer outlook on quarterly or annual goals. These fundamental differences mean that you can’t build a growth team the same way you build a marketing team — though many have tried.
Let’s take a look at two ways that building a growth team is unique.
2 Ways Building a Growth Team is Unique
The approach that you use to staff a growth team is different from the one you’d use to staff a marketing team or any other functional domain at your company. We’ve boiled down two key reasons why:
The people on your growth team and the way you structure it will vary from company to company.
So, even if you’ve been a part of an impactful growth team in the past, there’s no guarantee that the experience will translate. There’s no blueprint for what a growth team should look like to succeed – this varies widely depending on the company’s growth model.
This is in contrast to other functional teams, such as marketing, product, or sales, which have generally the same composition and structure company to company.
“What it means to have a fully built out marketing team or product team is fairly static. But for growth, every team is unique because the growth models and problems to solve will be different.”
You can’t build a growth team to solve problems you don’t know about yet.
Hiring growth practitioners requires a very agile hiring process because as a growth leader you can’t predict hiring plans for the next 12-18 months. You’ll need to test and iterate on your hypotheses before you’ll know who you need to hire to solve problems. You’ll also need to justify investment in every new resource along the way.
This is in contrast to other functional teams, such as marketing, product, or sales, who have a clearer understanding of who they’ll need at the start of a quarter or year.
“There is a lot of slack that exists in traditional marketing and product orgs. Growth orgs have a minimum amount of slack because they go through an iterative staffing process.”
Variations and predictability are two ways that building a growth team differs from building a marketing team, or any other type of team. Because building a growth team presents a unique problem, we’ve worked with Adam and Elena to guide you along the whole process.
4 Steps to Building a Growth Team
Whether you’re new to a company or have been there awhile, you might be tempted to look at what other companies have done to organize a growth team.
It’s pretty common to want to hire people who have had success in growth at big tech companies, hoping that they’ll do the same at your company. But taking that approach is almost always a mistake.
“First of all, one of the things that people so often do when they come into a new growth organization is they just immediately think about, I gotta hire, I gotta fill these seats and they jump right to kind of the end and the reality is there's a lot of different ways to hire and staff your team.”
– Adam Fishman
This brings us back to the two ways building a growth team is different than building anything else – there’s a lot of variation in growth teams, and assembling them is not going to be predictable.
So, where do you start?
At the bottom of the pyramid, The Growth Team Formation Pyramid.
The Growth Team Formation Pyramid is our four-step process that you can use to build an impactful growth team.
The four steps include:
- Assessing team needs
- Deciding team staffing
- Prioritizing team profiles
- Setting up org structure
Because each level of the pyramid builds on top of the one beneath it, let’s walk through them starting with the bottom and working our way up.
Step 1: Assess Growth Team Needs
For your growth team to have a strong foundation, focus first on the work that needs to be done. Not just the skills that you think each growth team member should have.
Start by asking yourself: What’s holding your company back from growing at a faster pace? You likely have a good idea, so you will need to assemble your team with this in mind.
“The first part of the process, the foundation, is assessing what you need on your team. Do that by thinking about the problems that you're trying to solve and not necessarily specific skills that you think you need in the company.”
– Adam Fishman
Step 2: Decide Team Staffing
Once you’ve got a clear understanding of the skills you’ll need on your team, it’s time for you to figure out your approach to staffing.
As you learn and validate assumptions in smaller experiments, you’ll build confidence in a particular growth initiative. As you build confidence that something is working, you’ll want to staff more resources to do that work.
“There's an evolution that you can go through where you start with people who are internal to the company and spending some of their time on an initiative. As that initiative gets to be more successful, you put more dedication and more of those internal resources. Then you augment with external resources, and finally you make external hires where you bring in new expertise into the company. You don't have to follow that path rigidly around staffing but that is a path that you can go through.”
– Adam Fishman
Let’s imagine a hypothetical growth leader named Landon. Landon works for a chain that sells high-end skincare products. He has an initial hypothesis that paid search will increase acquisition, but he isn’t sure and doesn’t want to hire anyone to do this quite yet.
He ends up making a limited media buy for a single search term “sun protection.” And because traffic is directed to an existing webpage, he’s able to do this work by himself. After a few weeks, he notices an increase in traffic, which boosts his confidence that paid search will help his company grow.
But he expected the conversion rate to be higher, so he isn’t completely sold yet. He borrows an engineer and marketing teammate from their respective teams to optimize some landing pages and the checkout flow.
From this, Landon sees increased conversion rates and feels very confident about the initiative. He hires a full-time paid search specialist for ongoing work.
Step 3: Prioritize Team Profiles
The next level in the Growth Team Formation Pyramid focuses on the types of people that you’ll want on your team. Here, you need to determine which profiles your growth team needs to jumpstart growth now and to continue accelerating growth in the future.
To do this, think about individual profiles that potential teammates might occupy. The three common growth practitioner profiles are Builder, Optimizer, and Innovator. These profiles are based on the individual’s leadership style and background.
“You will need to think about those different profiles that you need, the builder, the optimizer, and the innovator. You also need to use the growth competency model to figure out the skills that you need each of those people to have depending on your stage, what your growth model looks like, and how much it needs to change.”
– Adam Fishman
Step 4: Set Up Org Structure
The fourth and final level of the Growth Team Formation Pyramid is to set up team org structure. This means establishing a team structure and organization that most effectively serves the team and your company.
“Finally, you need to think about the organizational structure that is right for your company. Are you just getting started and you need to move super fast? So a centralized growth team is the right way to do that, to minimize sideways decision-making. Or are you becoming a bottleneck to progress? And actually you need a more decentralized structure over time, more distributed growth culture across the company.”
– Adam Fishman
There are two common structures growth leaders use. First, there’s a centralized, independent growth team. Then, there’s a decentralized growth team made of cross-functional members who report to different cross-functional leaders. Both structures have pros and cons, so you’ll need to be in tune with your company to determine the best team structure.
There are a few approaches growth leaders take in organizing their teams, but we’ve identified the two most common.
A team can be organized by specialization, such as channels or product surface area, or it can be organized by KPIs, such as business metrics. While both are doable, organizing your growth team by KPIs may help your team stay agile and adaptable.
For more detail on the 4 steps to building a growth team and how to implement this framework at your company, check out the Growth Leadership program.
Leading Your Growth Team
The most impactful growth teams are built according to the four steps in the Growth Team Formation Pyramid. Following this framework will help you staff a team to address your company’s specific growth challenges.
If building your growth team in four steps seems like it’ll take too long or be too challenging at your company, remember Elena’s favorite phrase: “Growth is an evolution, not a revolution.”
Just like you can’t solve all of your company’s problems in a day, you can’t build an impactful team in a day. You need to learn and understand all of your company’s growth challenges to be successful.
And don’t forget, assembling a team is just part of being a strong growth leader – you also need to guide your teammates to do their best work.
This means removing potential roadblocks and making sure all important stakeholders at your company are on the same page about what growth is and how your team’s work is driving it.
Sign up for the Growth Leadership program to learn how to build cross-functional alignment and help your growth team operate effectively.