The network of interrelated autonomous teams
Gini is a network of interrelated teams that we call academies. The term academy derives from the metaphor of our vision — the personal assistant we are building. This personal assistant learns new skills in our academies. Apart from these academies, we have functional faculties, a support group called consulting specialists institute (CSI) and communities of interests we call clubs.
The structure described below allows us to scale Gini without the need for a coercive power hierarchy. Decisions are made quickly because they happen close to the market within the academies that own their entire value chains. This autonomy is a major component of the motivation and fulfillment for everyone at Gini. We want to provide more than a means of income. We want to provide an environment of meaning, community, and personal growth. A place that creates happy people.
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Academies — cross-functional teams that serve a market segment
The basic unit of people at Gini is an academy. Academies are our primary structure. This is where work happens. An academy is a group of people working on a shared vision based on a user need. Its cross-functional members complement each other’s strengths and have all necessary expertise to serve that market end to end. They sit together in one room and collaborate daily. Each academy is a miniature version of Gini as a whole — startups within a startup.
An academy’s vision is based on and formulated around the market it tries to satisfy. This market is a segment of Gini’s total addressable market, which is limited by our vision and our values. A specific academy market segment is defined by a user need.
Why we segment by user need
Before settling on user needs to segment our addressable market we had different criteria (partner type, workflow step) to define segments. This led to overlaps and consequently to obscurity in responsibilities between academies. Using the same criterion for all academies helped clear this up. When forming a new academy we start from a user need and clarify potential overlaps with adjacent academies. We aim to formulate the user need as widely as possible (as to be least limiting) without overlapping with another academy’s user need.
Segmenting the market by user need puts the focus on users (and their problems and needs) instead of us (and our solutions and skills). Most startups fail, because they are in love with their solution, instead of their users’ needs. The user need is the basis for an academy’s long-term vision. It is satisfied by a skill of the personal assistant we are building. This skill gives an academy its name.
For instance, the user need for paying and managing invoices is the basis of the personal invoice assistant academy and its vision to be a consumer’s personal assistant for invoice management.
The company vision and academy visions relate like a hologram and its parts. The academy visions are parts of the Gini vision and the whole is present in its parts. Each part is valuable by itself. The more parts are added the stronger and clearer the whole becomes. As such, splitting the company vision into academy visions is the same process as user story splitting.
Academies own their whole value chain
Academies are structured to feel like a startup on their own and as such form a miniature version of Gini as a whole — a fractal unit if you will. The members of an academy sit together and have all necessary expertise to serve a market segment end to end — with the help of CSI. They own the entire value chain for this market segment. Having all necessary roles from sales to account management within one team allows team members to understand the consequences of their actions by experiencing the feedback loop through the entire value chain on a daily basis.
It isn’t always possible to staff academies so they are fully independent, but the goal is to minimize dependencies between academies (and in second instance to CSI). Academies can request help from CSI for tasks they lack expertise or capacity. These could be one-off tasks or a complete piece of the value chain. In either case, they keep ownership.
Academies are granted a lot of autonomy but are expected to align on Gini’s overall purpose and avoid sub-optimization. They are self-organizing and decide themselves what to work on (within the boundaries of the company vision and strategy) and how to go about it.
Academies don’t have bosses with coercive power that call the shots. However, this doesn’t mean that everyone is equal. But instead of a rigid power hierarchy, fluid hierarchies of recognition, influence, and skill emerge.
Vulnerability of academies and resilience of the network
While any single academy is vulnerable to changes in its market, the network of academies is resilient to changes in a single market. Ideally, if our knowledge exchange mechanisms work, the network will even gain from these disturbances because all academies learn from the struggles of any single academy. From this point of view, “failure” of any single academy is a success for the network as long as the academies in the rest of the network learn from the failure and reduce the likelihood of their own failing. Small localized risk is beneficial for the network, as long as it doesn’t drag others down.
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Faculties — exchange knowledge and calibrate decisions within functions
Because academies are cross-functional, Ginis of the same function are scattered across the organization. In order to facilitate learning and competency development within functions, we have a secondary structure of functional faculties (e.g. sales, mobile) that meet and exchange knowledge regularly. By doing so, they keep a company-wide overview of their domain. They also initiate, facilitate, and calibrate decisions across the organization. Standards are not enforced. Instead, a practice or tool becomes a standard only when enough academies have adopted it to make it a de facto standard. Instead of creating company-wide bureaucracy, we make transparent what works so others can copy. Guidelines are used to document good practices.
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Clubs – groups with a shared interest
People with a shared interest in some subject or problem organize in clubs (e.g. events, runners). Clubs engage in a learning process based on that shared interest. They collaborate over an extended period to share experiences and ideas, and to find solutions. Clubs are more loosely organized than faculties. While someone’s main expertise determines the faculty they are part of, anyone can participate in any number of clubs based on their interests.
The difference between faculties and clubs
People don’t join a faculty just out of interest. Rather, a group of people collectively are a faculty because of their common expertise and role within the organization. Each faculty is an essential part of our value chain and enables us to do business the way we want to. We couldn’t remove any faculty without losing this ability.
Clubs, on the other hand, are more open and fluid. While clubs significantly shape our culture and we value the effort that people invest in them, clubs are not essential to the way we do business the same way faculties are. Hence, the effort we invest in clubs and their longevity is more volatile.
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Consulting Specialists Institute (CSI) – support for the academies
There are Ginis that don’t work within one of our academies. This may be because academies don’t need a full-time person for a role and they “insource” it or because these people act as coaches for academies. We call this group of people the Consulting Specialists Institute (CSI). We try to keep CSI to a bare minimum as to not create an accidental power hierarchy that threatens the autonomy of academies. CSI does not control the academies, nor does it come up with rules for academies to follow. It is a support structure that may formulate guidelines after consulting with academies and after a clear need has been expressed by academies. The expectation is that the academies own the whole value chain and do everything themselves, except for the things they choose to delegate to CSI.
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If this sounds like an environment where you would thrive, have a look at our open positions and get in touch. We are looking for people to join us on our mission.
At Gini, we want our posts, articles, guides, white papers and press releases to reach everyone. Therefore, we emphasize that both female, male, and other gender identities are explicitly addressed in them. All references to persons refer to all genders, even when the generic masculine is used in content.