Teams Should Choose Their Own Tools

Teams Should Choose Their Own Tools | The Enterprise World

A surprisingly radical proposal for better business outcomes

By Brady Brim-DeForest

Bear with me while I make a radical statement: Teams should choose their own tools, even and especially in large organizations. Why? Your teams will move significantly faster with the tools that make sense for their jobs. This leads directly to faster, better outcomes for the business. Consider it an investment.

People often agree with the principle in theory. Yet, over the last years of consulting with large organizations, I’ve seen an incredible amount of pushback in practice. People become obsessed over short-term costs (and “waste”), even if those costs will lead to long-term gains. Letting teams choose their own tools will, in fact, cost a little extra in terms of money and efficiency. It will be a little more trouble to have several non-standardized sets of software. You should still take the short-term hit. What you gain is more important than what you lose.

Why Teams Should Choose Their Own Tools?

Essential Functions First

Large enterprises often optimize for nonessential functions (risk mitigation, mostly) at the expense of essential functions. The more risk-averse the organization, the more this is true. Risk-averse organizations tend to be run by people with financial, legal, or compliance backgrounds. They are more concerned with being safe than with delivering business value.

Teams Should Choose Their Own Tools | The Enterprise World

Organizations can try to unify individual contributors around specific tools as a point of “efficiency” and standardization. Those who want innovation and big outcomes, however, must be able to support highly effective teams organizing themselves for more impact. If the CFO decides whether a creative team is going to use Adobe Photoshop Figma or Sketch based on price, that’s a problem. The CFO is not involved in delivering the essential function that the tool enables. Price is not the only consideration, and in fact, if the cheaper tool fails to deliver business value, the cheaper tool is a problem.

Furthermore, the tool may not actually be cheaper when approached from a broader perspective. If a given tool slows down every designer’s work by 20 percent, for example, your absolute cost of the tool includes the cost of those person-hours, and the slower pace of progress your teams hit—actually, that’s very expensive. Trust your team to understand the tradeoffs, and make the right decision.

A Well-Informed Team Makes Good Decisions

Leaders can be afraid that a large number of tools will lead to incompatibility across teams. They’re also worried about not being able to control the risk of a security breach or a legal or compliance issue. All of these concerns are reasonable, and all can be addressed—by the team. An executive who moves accounting from one platform to another would seek out advice and expertise. The executive would vet the vendor with legal and other risk management functions inside the organization. Provide this same support for individual contributors when making tooling decisions.

Teams Should Choose Their Own Tools | The Enterprise World

If you have a hard limit of $x per team member to spend on tools, or it comes out of the mission budget, tell the team that, and let them figure it out. The team will make the best decision for their situation.

Advocate for Exceptions

The policies in your organization may not allow for non-standardized tooling, and if so, you should try to change that. If you can’t, see if you can work around or bend the rules for your specific teams. Have the conversations. Create a firewall between the standard part of the organization and your team “as an experiment.” Advocate for—and actually create—an environment in which they can operate outside of the standard rules. This requires buy-in. If you need to go smaller to get that buy-in, do so.

A single autonomous team to prove the concept is far better than eight teams that don’t have agency to decide on their tooling. Then, work with your teams to ensure they deliver the right results, to underscore their decision. Once you have proven the concept works, you will be in a position to continue it.

Teams Should Choose Their Own Tools | The Enterprise World

I will reiterate: this is a battle worth fighting. Go to bat for your team, and ensure they have control over the final decision here. Yes, there will be a perceived loss of efficiency. If you have ten tools, you’ll need ten different legal and compliance reviews instead of one. Those represent one-time costs. Every single day that your team is using a tool that’s optimal for the way they work, they see gains in output. Their output is what ultimately drives business value, and a jump in their efficiency is massively impactful on the bottom line.

Instead of optimizing around the efficiency of the back-office function, optimize around the producers. These are the people who are ultimately generating revenue or creating value for the business. When they slow down, the business slows down—and when they work better, the business thrives.

You cannot risk-mitigate your way into innovation—or growth! Allow the people who are producing the value of the business to choose their own tools, and see faster, better outcomes as a result.

For more information or to preorder Smaller is Better: Using Small Autonomous Teams to Drive the Future of Enterprise by Brady Brim-DeForest, please visit Amazon USAmazon UK, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, or your favorite online retailer.

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