Like A Girl

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Code Like A Girl

This simple exercise is the secret to building your perfect team

Ok, maybe not this exercise……… Matthew Henry

“Can I get a copy of the org chart, please?”

“Well, it’s not quite done yet, I’m still working on it.”

“That’s ok, I just need to see where we stand so far, then I’m sure I can work with the team to finish updating it.”

“Well, we are having to start from scratch, see, we didn’t have one before you asked for it.”


“It’s proving a bit difficult.”


“See, it’s quite complicated….”

>regaining my composure< “Let me see what you’ve got.”

The person from whom I was taking over this team, who had been asked by the Big Boss to stay on for some handover time, scrabbled through a giant, messy sheaf of papers in her bag. She pulled out an A4 sheet, dog-eared and tea-stained. At first I thought she must have grabbed the wrong one. It was just a Pollock painting of multi-coloured boxes, thrown randomly on the sheet with more multi-coloured squiggly lines running between them in no discernible pattern. She didn’t miss a beat.

“See, we have some complex relationships as we have been doing without some key skills for a while. So we have had to do a bit of teeming and lading.”

She seemed almost proud that she had not only managed this ‘teeming and lading’, but that she had just about almost managed to capture the pesky thing on paper, like capturing a butterfly under a glass.

With all the other things I was uncovering about the history of this team, I really shouldn’t have been surprised. But there was something so fundamentally wrong about not being able to draw out what staff she had and who managed whom, that I just wanted to run screaming from the office and go back to my old job. I could hear my old boss saying, “No backsies!!”, and laughing maniacally.

This little encounter told me:

  • There wasn’t adequate skill and knowledge in the team to run things to any sort of common standard of an appropriate structure; and
  • There was not enough value placed on documentation, written information, and record-keeping of some of the most basic things that were also some of the most important.

It was time to take a deep breath, shake out the carpet and see what fell out. It looked like I was going to have to pick up the pieces and rebuild the team from the ground up.

This is how I did it

As I sat with my head in my hands, staring at the modern art that was supposed to be the organisational chart for my new team, I wondered how I was ever going to make any sense of who did what.

I figured I would have to start with one line and pull, like unravelling a knitted jumper.

I decided to map the journey of our service through an annual business cycle. We had our sophisticated, skilled professional functions. But we also had all the administrative functions that almost any business requires just to keep the wheels on: ordering office supplies, processing human resources forms, making sure the place is cleaned, and so on.

Many of our day to day functions are so rote that we easily overlook them or the knowledge required to do them. We take the fact that they get done for granted. This creates the risk that if the key person with the knowledge or skill suddenly isn’t there, we are left with an essential job undone.

I decided to take this methodical and super-practical approach to mapping the functions:

1. Start by mapping the functions your team are required to perform. It is important here to put aside any existing job descriptions and the individuals who are currently doing those jobs. This can be hard, but if you begin by mapping by person your biases for those you personally like, or who do awesome things but that perhaps aren’t priorities, will creep in. Your objectivity will go out the window and you will have wasted your time. You should only be thinking about what needs to be done.

2. These functions will each have a required skill set, qualification, or training. List next to each function what those things are. You may need someone with a specific electronics certificate, someone who speaks Spanish, or who knows Python. Other jobs may require a broader range of skills, such as office software, reception skills, and customer service.

3. Next go back through and map your existing staff to those functions. Be sure not to forget yourself in this exercise. Consider the staff that you have on your team and the skills and knowledge they need to do these jobs.

You will quickly see the gaps and overlaps fairly quickly. Seven people are good at Python but no one speaks Spanish? Some of your most expensive team members are pulled away from their work to staff the front desk to cover a vacancy in reception? Don’t panic!

Now you can start to sort it out

Here you can take the exercise a little further and consider whether some skills can be picked up within a professional development programme, and see it as an investment in the business and in your existing team members. Or, you may see a hiring need straight away, and you can set out your strategy for attracting just the right skill, or finding the budget for that extra person who will pay off in spades.

Once you know where the issues are it is straightforward, though maybe not easy, to devise a plan to sort out the issues you find.

When I had completed my first functions map, I was able to tear up the org chart of spaghetti. I could start fresh, and I began to build what we needed rather than crash along with what we had.

It will serve you well to complete a functions map right now for your team. It gives you a helpful guide against which to consider the work you will do every day going forward. You might want to choose to map through an annual cycle, a financial year from start to finish, or a project or product management cycle.

It doesn’t matter; what is important is that you give yourself a guide to make it as easy as possible to catch all the functions that your team performs, from the most strategic to the smallest operation.

You now have the road map you need to build a highly-performing team!

I have written a book about how I learned how to be a better manager over 20 years of hard lessons. I share these in a simple guide so that you don’t have to learn the hard way. You can sign up here to receive news of the launch of it, my first book. I will be sharing free materials to everyone signed up here shortly.

I write about how I became the founder of a tech startup as a non-techie, over-40 female with no entrepreneurial experience, and all I am learning along the way. You can see more here: If you think this might be helpful for others on their entrepreneurial journey, please clap and share.