Functional vs. Cross-Functional teams – Playing the Meddlers Game

  • How do we grow an organization?
  • How do we want to structure the company?
  • How do the teams interact with each other?

Those questions are crucial for the dynamics and performance of a company. Therefore it is important for Managers and Leaders to think about the best organizational structure for their business. 

Structural Balance

There are indeed tons of possibilities how you can create a company structure. You can take the hierarchical approach or the network approach, you can focus on efficiency or effectivity, you can centralize or decentralize. There is no right or wrong, but you need to balance those regarding your needs and context.

Conway’s Law:
“Organizations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.” (Melvin Conway)

Management 3.0 offers a game, called the Meddlers game. The name has been created by Jurgen Appleo in the style of the famous board game “The Settlers of Catan“.

The Meddlers game helps you to simulate the organizational structure in a safe environment. You can play around with it, experiment with different frameworks and discuss them.

When I was working as an Agile Transformation Coach in a Japanese company, one of the issues was that team moral was quite low and that people there were a few people who had extremely high overtime. I suspected one of the reasons was, that the organisation was organized in functional teams, which means that each team was responsible for only one part of the project. This is typical for Waterfall designed projects.

When I talked with the workers they said that they don’ have a real oversight of the whole project. In my opinion the organization into cross-functional teams would be much more effective, because the team can own the whole project and can finish it at once. This would give them a feeling of ownership and proud. Furthermore, team members can support each other and overtime might go down.

To promote this idea and to show my manager how this could be achieved I suggested to play the Meddlers game together. He was not convinced by the cross-functional team approach, but luckily he agreed to play the game with me.

I sat together with him and at first we used the game to create the current organizational structure. It was really good to understand the current status-quo. We got a good discussion going on where we are standing now.

Functional Team Approach
Functional Teams

We took a picture of it and then we used the same amount of pieces to create cross-functional teams. During the play we tried out many possible patterns and had really deep discussions. At the end we found a good result on how a cross-functional approach could look like and how it could work. We talked about pros and cons and exchanged our opinions.

Cross-Functional Teams
Cross-Functional Teams

Unfortunately in the end we did not change the company structure and the functional approach continued 🙁 but at least I tried. 🙂
Nevertheless, by playing the game I could much better explain my idea and we could grow from each others opinions. In the end, Management is all about communication, isn’t it.

I can only recommend trying out the game when you want to experiment with new structures and want to have deep discussions in a save environment. In the end it is better to push paper tiles on a table around instead of people.