Spotify : a thriving giant that remains agile

How could we have been to Stockholm looking for managerial innovations without visiting Spotify, the famous Swedish music streaming platform, whose organization is out of the ordinary?

We are welcomed by Alexander who is working at Spotify for two years and a half. Before starting he offers us to take a coffee (Fika?) and shows us the premises. We pass in front of many rooms named after famous artists. We discover a cozy lounge which leads to a lunch room where fridges would have turned the head to many greedy people. However, theses premises are becoming too narrow, Spotify will move its offices soon.spotify 1

Then, we start the interview. Alexander mentions us some of the fundamental values of the company: Autonomy, Purpose and Growth. Spotify wants to grant its teams freedom of decision so that they can learn and progress. They promote initiatives and try & learn paradigm. Mistake is not a big deal, the main thing is to learn from it.  Moreover, at Spotify the manager is not here to control but he is here to empower the employees.

Spotify has grown very fast, consequently they had to find an effective organization that could match with the company state of mind and values. Thus, an original structure has been implemented, we talk about tribes, squads, chapters and guilds.

  • Tribes

Employees are allocated into « tribes » of 40 to 130 people. Spotify is divided in 20 tribes (more or less) and they communicate easily with each other, quickly and with transparency to be as efficient as possible. Each tribe has its own field of expertize: application development, infrastructure, user experience… When a tribe becomes too big, it splits into two and each one redefines its mission. Spotify grows, the number of tribes increases but the organization inside the tribes remains the same.

  • Chapters and Squads

Within these tribes, people having the same skills are gathered into “chapters”. They have meetings on regular basis to discuss and exchange about their problematics. That allows them to improve their skills, to know how the others work and to increase creativity. Every chapter has a Chapter Lead, whose mission is to facilitate relationship and work.

When a new project comes up, a Product Owner is chosen inside the tribe. With chapter leaders, who know perfectly well the members of their teams, he creates a multi-skilled group matching with the needs of the project.  Thus, the PO picks up among the chapters the talented persons who will be part of his squad. This squad of 6 to 12 people is self-organized and manage its project for 6 to 24 months.

  • Guilds

But then, the squads and the chapters from a same tribe would not communicate with the other tribes? Well no, Spotify broke down the barriers thanks to the guilds. They are larger groups of people from different tribes that want to exchange knowledge, tools and practices.
Guilds can be professional such as iOS coders’guild or Java specialists’ one, but they can also gather people who have the same passions (photography, sport…).

Organisation de Spotify
Illustration by @Thebaroudeurs

It appears that Spotify has found an organization that allows the company to achieve both rapid growth and flexibility.

However, many challenges arise and the company is aware of that. Regarding the organization, Alexander explains to us that the company is always reviewing the organization to make sure the set-up is optimal. Spotify experiments within the tribes to see if they can find new smarter ways of working.

Also, we wondered if the arrival of new investers in Spotify will change the way they do business. May this, change the « Purpose » of the company? Alexander seems to be confident about it. For him, Spotify grows but the heart of the business is the same. Spotify keeps its soul untouched. He compares the evolution of the company to that of a child who becomes an adult. The child is raised with values, when he grows up its values remain the same but they are expressed in a different way. Alexander explains us that Spotify’s CEO had always been clear on that point: culture and purpose will always be protected.  If Alexander is confident, we leave some doubt: will Spotify managers be able to deal with the expectations of investors?

Moreover, the efficiency of some guilds is affected by the growing number of its members. For instance, the iOS guild has reached a critical size and the communication has become less fluid and it is losing efficiency.Spotify 2

Finally, if the “Spotify model” is successful, we have to keep in mind that only 60% of the employees are concerned by the organization described above. What about employees that are not working in R&D and project management? Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to ask the question.

Tomorrow’s challenges are coming, those of the day after tomorrow emerge, Spotify knows it and gets ready.

 

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