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Posted on: Sunday, 07 March 2010 by Rajiv Popat

Have you ever sat in one of those meetings where really senior people get together and scratch their heads on aligning the organization under one process? If you have, then chances are, you know what trying to create an army of clones feels likes.

Every now and then I see countless young managers and even budding entrepreneurs of startups make this mistake.

Here is how the story typically unfolds:

During the early startup days of the organization a team is usually seen as out performing. Members of the team and the team as a group seems to stand out. Very soon the team seems to have everyone's attention and anything that they work on seems to get done successfully.

This is when the managers in the organization get together in meeting rooms and start asking each other questions like - Can we not have all other teams in the organization replicate this process and achieve success too?

Asking this question, dear reader, is a big fat mistake that even I, in my early management days have been guilty of. As it turns out, there are multiple issues with trying to replicate success using one standard process across the organization. 

For starters, this approach is flawed because while you are trying your level best to copy the process and everything else that the successful team is doing, you can hardly replicate their secret sauce or their flocking patterns. Both the culture and the flocking pattern of the team is usually the hardest to copy because it is based on silent, subtle, unspoken factors like respect and mutual trust for each other.

Secondly, a successful team is constantly morphing. Which means that by the time you get to copying it, the team has already morphed and discarded its older practices and processes. One example that instantly blazes through my mind and I write this, is my experience with Agile. 

As a team, a bunch of developers and I were the first at Multiplitaxion Inc to adapt agile and swear by it. But then, by the time the decision to copy and replicate what was working for us over to other teams was made, we were actually done with using Agile by-the-book on our project.

We had stopped having daily scrums. We did not need them.

Communication was flowing freely and lucidly throughout the entire team and daily scrums had been replaced with random coffee breaks where team members were discussing the backlog items. The items were also getting closed. When people wanted help or were getting stuck they were just getting up, walking over and asking for help. Everyone knew what the others were working on and code was truly becoming a shared asset for us.

We, as a team, had morphed before we could be replicated and copied. Clearly, it was not just Agile that was making this team tick. It was their ability to form a creed that had to be copied here and that in essence is not an easy thing to replicate across teams.

Thirdly, when you copy and replicate a process or a team across the organization you close your eyes to other processes and approaches to success. Yes of-course something works, but then something else could work even better. Allow each team to take their own approach. Allow each team to encounter their own set of failures. Allow each team to address their own issues in their very own personal ways and if they cannot, help them.

Remember each team is different. Some are more professional then the others. Some have a strong personal touch element that glues them together and some even have political aspects built right into the core of the team.

Your first responsibility as a manager, leader, entrepreneur or whatever it is that you call yourself, is to accept this diversity. Once you have done that, utilize their strengths and even their weaknesses without constantly feeling the need to change them into one big army of clones.

Embrace diversity and allow your teams to take their own approaches. Let them stumble, fall and recover. If the team consists of kick-ass developers who know what they are doing, they will figure it out, eventually. If you are stuck with incompetent idiots, no amount of replication or process will work anyway.

Go ahead, let them figure out their own problems, work on their own chemistry and form their own approaches to solving problems.

I wish you good luck.