One thing that most growth experts can agree on is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to organizing a growth team.
Different companies are at different maturity stages and have different growth motions.
Because of this, the “right” growth team structure and the “best” candidates to hire for the team completely depend on the company.
“Two companies are not created the same. They have different customers, different products, different markets, and different monetization models. Each one of those types of variables is huge.
So it's really difficult to pattern match and get it right. It doesn't stop people from doing it. It just means that they're wrong most of the time when they try to copy and paste from one experience to the other because they're so rarely the same.”
– Adam Fishman
One growth team structure that worked well at your first company could fall completely flat at the next —even if those companies are in the same category or niche. There’s also a tendency to copy successful growth team structures from other tech companies, or to pursue candidates with flashy titles.
As you’re organizing a growth team, you need to think about the specific growth problems facing your company. The way you structure your growth team and the people you hire should be specifically selected to solve these specific challenges.
When organizing a strong growth team, you should think about two layers:
- Structure - We’ll use this term to refer to the way the growth team functions within your broader company.
- Composition - We’ll use this term to refer to the types of people you seek to staff your growth team.
In order to craft a strong growth team, you’ll need to consider both growth team structure and composition. We’ll walk through how to think about both of these layers in this article, but let’s look at team structure first.
This article was inspired by a lesson in our new Growth Leadership program created with Reforge experts Adam Fishman and Elena Verna.
Meet The Contributors
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
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
2 Powerful Growth Team Structures
There are two common growth team structures: centralized and decentralized.
A centralized team is a dedicated growth team consisting of team members committed to exploring and executing growth motions. A centralized growth team structure might look like four individuals who dedicate 100% of their time to improving growth metrics, such as monthly active users.
A decentralized team, also sometimes called an embedded team or a tiger team, is a growth team consisting of team members pulled from other departments within an organization. Each team member also has core work separate from growth work. A decentralized growth team structure might look like a PM, marketer, engineer, and designer working on improving sign-ups for their product.
Choosing the Right Growth Team Structure
As a growth leader, choosing the ideal growth structure is contextual. Neither structure is perfect.
A centralized structure optimizes for velocity, or the speed of experimenting and learning because they have fully dedicated resources.
But this is at the expense of spreading growth culture throughout the organization because the team is separate from others. As a result, there’s very little “sharing” of growth culture with other cross-functional teams.
A decentralized structure optimizes spreading growth culture throughout the organization because teammates are borrowed from other cross-functional teams. That way, they can function as ambassadors for the mindset that fuels growth work.
That increase in cross-functional work comes at the expense of the growth team’s velocity because these teammates have other work that they need to handle. Those teammates can’t focus exclusively on experiments that drive growth like they would on a centralized team.
We can see that each of these team structures prioritizes something different — either velocity or growth culture. Figuring out which team structure is most effective for your team depends on what your team and company need most. That’s also going to change over time. You’ll likely have to adjust your team’s structure as time passes.
Adjusting Your Growth Team Structure
As a growth leader you’ll need to be flexible. Because growth work is ever-changing, your team structure won’t be set in stone.
In fact, it shouldn’t be. You should aim to prioritize what your team and company need most - velocity or growth culture — and structure your team that way.
And keep in mind that what worked last quarter might not work this quarter.
“One of these organizational structures is not what the company needs forever. Companies will move through these stages and will kind of move back and forth depending on some different variables around velocity, around culture, around whether or not you're the bottleneck to progress.
I think we want to understand when we form our teams, is that it's still fluid, it's never fixed and just like growth itself, it's not, it's not rigid, it's not set in stone never to be revisited as you grow. Things will need to change again and you may need to go through this cycle one more time.”
– Adam Fishman
For example while Elena was at SurveyMonkey, she adjusted the growth team structure regularly, depending on the team and company needs.
While she led a centralized growth team, they transitioned into a decentralized structure when necessary. They borrowed select core product pods and integrated them into the team for a couple of quarters, effectively decentralizing it. The product pods contributed to the growth product and then returned to their core product team once the initiative didn’t need their help anymore.
Elena reflects that changing the growth team structure “worked to optimize areas of the product and instill the growth mindset into the rest of the product team.”
It’s tricky to know when you evolve your team’s structure though. As Adam says, “When your team structure is no longer working, the signals may not smack you in the face. They can emerge slowly over time.”
Enroll in the Growth Leadership program to discover the signals that indicate when it’s time to decentralize or centralize your growth team.
Who Should Be on Your Growth Team?
Establishing a team structure that’s conducive to growth is one thing. But even the right structure can fall flat if the team isn’t filled with the right people for your goals and company situation.
And far too often, companies focus on chasing the same candidates, instead of evaluating the profile they need for their objectives and context. A growth practitioner who was successful at one company isn’t guaranteed to be successful at another company.
“Now, the fastest way to fail is take your previous experience and slap it into a new company.”
– Elena Verna
It’s crucial that you understand the types of people your company needs on a growth team if you’re going to do impactful growth work now and in the future. Let’s look at a framework Adam and Elena developed that will help you find the ideal candidates and fill roles on your growth team.
Growth Practitioner Profiles
There are three common profiles that growth practitioners tend to occupy in our Growth Practitioner Profiles framework:
- The Builder
- The Optimizer
- The Innovator
These are each based on individual leadership styles and backgrounds.
First, there’s the Builder. This is a growth generalist focused on broad tactical and execution skills. These are the individuals you want on your team when you need to stand up growth processes and systems from the ground up.
Examples of the Builder profile include:
- Growth Product Manager
- Growth Marketing Manager
Next, we’ve got the Optimizer. This is a growth specialist that holds deep functional knowledge and will allow you to capture every last bit of the improvements out of any given channel, tactic, or loop.
Examples of the Optimizer profile include:
- SEO Specialist
- Paid Marketing Manager
- Pricing PM
Lastly, we’ve got the Innovator. This is a growth visionary. These individuals love ideating about new growth loops, channels, and tactics. They find the right new problems to solve.
Examples of the Innovator profile include:
- VP-level Growth Roles
- “Head of” Growth Positions
Both Adam and Elena would fall into the Innovator profile, because they’re growth leaders who see around corners and understand what their companies need to accelerate growth.
Who Do You Need on Your Growth Team?
Whether you’re new to a company or have been there for years, you probably have a good idea of what will help your company grow.
Of course, you can’t be 100% sure, but you have a strong hunch. Based on your hypotheses, you have an idea of what experiments you’d like to run. This is exactly where you want to be as a growth leader organizing a growth team.
To determine which profiles or roles you need on your team, you’ll first assess the portfolio of experiments that you plan to execute. Start by asking yourself a few questions.
Do you plan to do more optimizations?
This would be simplifying, enhancing, or re-ordering steps in your loops that have lower friction to test and implement.
Examples of optimization work include simplifying visuals in paid marketing ads, enhancing your content and keyword SEO approach, or reordering your onboarding flow.)
If this is the case, you’ll want an Optimizer on your team.
Or, do you plan to do more innovations?
This would be restructuring, adding, or reinventing. Innovations have higher friction to test and implement than optimizations do, but they also have the potential to deliver more value if proved successful.
Examples of innovation work include restructuring part of your product’s activation journey, adding in-product referral mechanisms, or re-inventing your monetization approach by experimenting with free-to-paid conversions, such as trials or tiers.
If this is the case, you’ll want an Innovator on your team.
Or, is it less clear what type of growth work you need to do?
Do you need to execute a wide range of experiments that don’t necessarily have shape yet? You might feel like you need to learn what you don’t know yet. You might not have enough growth systems or processes set up yet at your company to execute experiments, either.
If this is the case, you’ll want a Builder on the team.
Eventually, you’ll probably have all three growth practitioner profiles on your team – but this isn’t required for your growth team to drive impact. Your staffing choices should be based on the type of experiments you plan to execute.
Growth Team Evolution
Of course, the scope of your team’s work will change over time. The people you need to effectively execute will change, too.
In fact, your growth team will go through cycles of different types of teammates as your growth strategy evolves.
Most of the time, you’ll hire a Builder first to lay your team’s foundation and prove a growth model’s validity. If you’re organizing a growth team from scratch, this is almost always the route you’ll take, because you want to build your growth model quickly so you can iterate on it.
If your growth hypothesis is correct and you’re seeing the expected impact in outcome metrics, your next hire is an Optimizer.
But if your growth hypothesis is wrong and you’re not seeing what you expected to see, then you need an Innovator to rebuild your model. From there, you’d wait to see if the new model was working before hiring an Optimizer.
Finding the Right Growth Team Structure
Unfortunately, there isn’t going to be a single growth team structure that works for every company. In fact, you might not even use the same structure for more than a handful of months at your current company.
As your company evolves and grows, your team structure should as well. Otherwise, your growth goals are not going to be met and likely your team will not reach its full potential.
Thankfully, by using the frameworks outlined in this article you will be able to build and rebuild your growth team structure many times, and identify exactly what type of growth person you need to add to the team.
Sign up for the Growth Leadership program to explore how to evolve your growth team structure and composition over time.