The latest TechNation report identifies the Bristol and Bath region as the home of high growth businesses. Specifically, 17% of digital tech businesses are classified as ‘high growth’ within our area and with a tech sector growth potential of 88% it’s no surprise that we see many of our clients’ tech departments and teams grow.
The Bristol Media Barometer shows that within the past 12 months 74% of responding agencies increased their turnover and 66% increased their profit. It’s not just all growth here at ADLIB, it’s the whole of the South West.
However, just like growing a business’s performance, growing a team or department comes with a range of challenges. Think: identifying the required skills, structure, equipment, availability of talent, legal requirements and, not to forget, getting the cultural fit right.
To shed some light on how to go through a significant team growth process successfully, we asked those that have done just that:
Gary Lake (pictured below), Digital Director at Goram & Vincent (G+V) saw his development team grow from 2 to 5. Gary, what three pieces of advice can you share with those also about to embark on a similar journey?
Gary Lake: As an ‘almost’ full-service agency our development team has fluctuated in size over the years to meet various project needs, but since joining G+V last year there’s been steady growth on the digital side of the business and we’ve had to scale up quickly as a result.
I don’t need to tell any tech recruiter right now how hard it is to find and retain development talent at the moment. Having too much work is a nice problem to have, but with seemingly more jobs than developers, and longer notice periods becoming the norm, the lead time between advertising a role and someone starting can be several months.
My top tips for anyone currently expanding their development team are:
Hire people not skill sets
Things are moving faster than ever and it’s hard to keep up or find anyone that realistically has more than a few months, or even a year’s experience in whatever must-have language or framework we’re all supposed to be working with right now. Likewise, I wish I could convert into billable hours all that time I’ve spent fretting over the various bits of tech my team haven’t gotten around to learning yet, only to see that tech fall by the wayside months later.
“We believe it’s better to think long term and hire people, not skill sets”
This is why we believe it’s better to think long term and hire people, not skill sets. At G+V we put a big focus on so called ‘soft skills’ such as communication, teamwork and integrity first and then look for candidates who have shown a repeated ability to adapt and learn in new technical environments. It gives us a wider range of candidates to talk to, and while it might mean there’s more of an initial training overhead on the person we choose, it’s always offset by the adaptability of that individual to new technology, coupled with the added value those ‘soft skills’ bring.
Don’t be afraid to get contractors in
Freelance or contracted help can feel like a drain on the finances. But when growth is rapid, spiky or uncertain, or you just need that essential missing skill for the short-term, it’s better to just get the job done than sit around and struggle while deadlines loom.
Ring fence projects and cost accordingly if you think you’re going to need freelance help. But you’ll also need to build your freelance network and keep conversations flowing and ongoing.
My favourite freelancers are rarely available at anything less than a month’s notice, often two or more. But if you treat them like valued colleagues, pay them on time, and generally look after them, you’ll find them more willing to hold bookings for you and give you first, second and sometimes even third refusal if you’re struggling to get that new contract signed off.
Manage innovation and change carefully
If you’re growing your team rapidly, chances are you’ve got all sorts of interesting work coming in too, possibly with good budgets and a chance to try something new and innovate.
Irrespective of whether you’re making junior or senior hires, most in the tech industry have ambitious skill growth objectives. On the one hand, you need to nurture this to keep team members interested, and you want your team to stay current. But in periods of high growth things can get a little ‘wild west’ and before you know it, you’re surrounded by technical debt and multiple/abandoned ways of working.
Dan Mckinley’s blog about the concept of innovation tokens is a great way of managing this. The general idea is that you can only introduce so much new technology before you have to prove a certain level of maturity and support before bringing something new in. It keeps the team focused and ensures they take responsibility for the ‘cool new shiny thing’.
At G+V we also make a point on new projects of getting together and reviewing previous projects, review our tech stack and processes, and strive to do at least one thing better on the next project. By doing this as a group, innovation and change become curated by the team as a whole and takes a more unified direction.
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