Is the Spotify model killing your gains?

Such a clickbait headline, right? I know… But for me, this is a personal matter as I have dealt with many orgs that try to apply the Spotify model for an unknown reason.

The first question I ask is: Why? The answer is most of the time: We are scaling, so we need structure. This is a great answer by the way: The problem is clear, there is a need and willingness for action. But the path in between creates more problems.

Let’s continue with the conversation.

Me: Alright, so you need structure. Do you have something in place right now?
CTO: We have some level of structure of course. We have mid-level management. But I believe we need more.

Translation: We did not need something so far and things are working more or less. Now that we are growing, we believe something that is popular will help us.

Me: Alright. That is cool. So, what are the dynamics of your teams? How do they communicate? Do your teams consist of people that like to work on different projects or do they like to work on one specific problem at all times? How do they collaborate?
CTO: Everyone is collaborating all the time. We have various meetings where people come together and exchange ideas.

Translation: I don’t know what you are talking about. Of course, our teams are collaborating, it is not rocket science.

Me: Excellent. Then, in terms of driving topics further, how would you rate your people/teams? Meaning, are they able to prioritize between teams, or do they have to get prior approval from stakeholders?
CTO: Of course, they can come up with their own priorities as long as they align with company goals. The rest should be handled by POs.

Translation: I don’t know. I am pretty sure it will work out.

Me: Fair enough. What is the end goal that you are trying to achieve by applying the Spotify model?
CTO: Giving our teams/people a structure that would help them scale-up and better collaborate.

Translation: It worked for Spotify, should work for us as well, i don't see a problem.

Now the problem part. The Spotify model is a great model in theory. But it requires people that are:

  • Able to speak to each other
  • Able to drive topics independently
  • Able to take responsibility and deal with failures
  • aware that there will be support
  • aware that their organization is ready to assist them
  • professionals, seriously.

Also, organizations that are:

  • well-aligned around goals
  • aware priorities do not shift every single day
  • aware decision making is a great power and comes with responsibilities
  • aware heroism saves the day and steals tomorrow

and maybe many more.

Yes, the Spotify model is inspiring. You can get ideas from it. But it requires lots of effort and learning. It is not a solution that just works. If you are still scaling up, if your people are still in the norming phase, it will just not work and definitely hurt the people and productivity.

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