November 11, 2020

The impact of management teams as a decision-making group, in startups and enterprise

Ambitious companies form management teams at every level above you, sometimes including you. Management teams meet periodically and have private chat rooms. They discuss customers, product and organizational direction. Sometimes discussions are well documented and periodically public. Sometimes decisions are poorly telegraphed out.

Management teams do no inherent harm in a company with customers; employees outside of the management team can unearth customer usage data to discover meaningful places to contribute. For example, graphing historic server logs to discover slowest requests, figure out why and how to fix. Or even just paying attention to the most frequent questions sales asks and finding ways to clarify. (All of this under the assumption that even when there is solid product direction, good employees tend to have extra time at work and want to make good use of it.)

For the first few years even in a well-funded startup with solid founders, there are few customers. Even under a solid product team, the product direction is not yet completely clear. The management team includes founders and non-engineering executives. As a decision making group they are opaque. Employees outside the management team face a barrier in finding ways to meaningful contribute. Ambitious, dedicated folks outside the team leave.

So what?

It is not clear to me how the natural (and not inherently bad) concept of management teams attracts and retains ambitious, dedicated non-founders at small companies. Maybe disenfranchisement is not important, or even necessary.

Or maybe management teams as a decision-making group are too easily a substitute for developing a grassroots culture of collaboration and trust between marketing, sales, product and development.