How to manage multidisciplinary squads
How to manage multidisciplinary squads

How to Manage Squads

This is part two of a three-part series on squads. See part one on the value of squads or part three on common challenges in managing squads and how to address them.

Multidisciplinary squads are a great way to drive internal collaboration, bringing together different perspectives and reducing communication overhead… if they’re properly managed. It’s essential to establish a repeatable structure for squad activities — that structure is what makes squads such a useful tool.

Here are some tips on how to manage squads.

A squad playbook

If you’re starting to implement squads within your organization, it’s important that everyone is very clear on how they operate. With that in mind, we recommend creating a squad playbook and sharing it with your entire team.

The playbook becomes a reference point, both for participants and squad leads. It should include an outline of the structure, the responsibilities of squad members, and explanations of how to start and end a squad — all of which we explore in more detail below.

Squad structure

Multidisciplinary squad structure

The structure of a squad is actually very simple. There are three roles:

  • Project owner: Whoever in the organization initiates the squad. This can be any employee who recognizes that a deliverable would benefit from the input and involvement of several different people and teams.
  • Squad lead: The person in charge of the “administrative” aspects of a squad, usually chosen by the project owner. They should be sending out meeting invites, creating a Slack channel, and generally facilitating squad discussions. 
  • Squad members: The team members from different departments who will contribute to the squad. Ideally, every department in your organization should be represented in each squad. 

Despite having a lead, squads aren’t hierarchical. Decision-making should involve the entire group, relying on departmental representatives to share their expertise. So a marketer might make a recommendation for the marketing aspect of a new deliverable, but that recommendation should be discussed as a group before a decision is made on the way forward. 

Squad member responsibilities

Squads are only an effective means of driving internal collaboration if members actually buy in and participate. In addition to actually doing work on the deliverable, every squad member has the responsibility to:

  • Share feedback on all aspects of the deliverable. 
  • Make suggestions on what should/could be done.
  • Support other squad members on their tasks when needed. 
  • Report all relevant squad information back to their department/team. This includes preparing them for launches, consulting relevant stakeholders, and even training the team if necessary. 

If a squad member is not participating — either not speaking up and offering their input, skipping meetings, or missing work deadlines — you should probably find someone else to take their place.

Starting a squad

Once someone has decided that a squad should be created and a squad lead has been appointed, it’s time to kick things off. 

First, speak with departmental or team managers to identify who should be added to the squad. Then open a squad Slack channel. All communication outside of squad meetings should take place in this channel; that way nothing gets lost and people don’t waste time jumping between email and other tools. 

Once that’s done, the project owner will set up an initial meeting with all members. For this initial meeting, make sure you:

  • Establish an agenda in advance
  • Identify your Squad Lead (it’s often the same person as the project owner, but it doesn’t have to be)
  • Choose one person to take notes during the meeting. A new one can be named at every meeting. We also recommend creating a notes template, so they remain consistent throughout the process.
  • Clearly define at least one deliverable for the squad. We recommend setting individual squad member goals as well.
  • Host a pre-mortem to brainstorm what could go wrong
  • Set a target delivery date, and possibly a first milestone 
  • Decide on the meeting recurrence & schedule next meeting
  • After the meeting, share the notes in the Slack squad channel
  • Have the Squad Lead send out invites for all future meetings.

Tips for working in squads

Once the squad has started, there really isn’t much work involved in actually maintaining it. Usually you’ll meet on a weekly basis to review the progress that has been made towards the deliverable and to raise any blockers and determine who is responsible for solving them. Make sure you identify next steps and each person knows what they’re working on in the coming week. 

Here are a few tips that may help you manage squads smoothly. 

  • Limit the duration and recurrence of meetings. You shouldn’t be hosting a meeting if there has been no progress made since the last one. 
  • Limit the usage of laptops. A distracted group leads to missed opportunities and fewer ideas or perspectives. 
  • Don’t buffer your due dates. Instead, communicate risk and confidence levels so everybody knows what to expect.
  • Limit technical talks, or keep them to the end of the meeting. The goal of having every department represented is to have every department participating. If your developers spend a full meeting talking about webhooks, you’ll lose the less technical people in the room. 

Ending a squad

Once your squad has completed the deliverable, you should disband it. It’s only in switching up squads that you ensure the cross-pollination of ideas. Plus, this ensures that squads don’t get set in a certain dynamic, where vocal people have more influence for example. 

Before you disband, however, you’ll want to ask all squad members for feedback. This should first occur in a post-mortem meeting. With the entire squad, go over the end product and gather group input. Then identify anything that may still be required, like bugs that should be fixed or reporting that needs to be implemented. Finally, share the findings of your post-mortem with the wider organization. 

You may also want to gather feedback on an individual level. This can be also done informally, or with a survey. The feedback you receive will help you identify problem areas and improve on future squads.

Managing squads your way

Planning to manage a squad? Not all organizations are the same, and you may want to customize these guidelines to suit your own team and deliverables. Use this as a starting point and customize your squad playbook to make it work for you. 

Let us know how you run your squads in the comments below, or by tweeting us @unitoio.