There is a phenomenon within organizations that causes productivity to decline as teams grow larger. This phenomenon is described in economics as a diseconomy of scale and is caused by at least three factors including increased communication costs, duplication of effort, and top-heavy management.
These three components can cripple an SEM team that grows larger than four or five members. On my current team, there are 31 people globally across SEO, Paid, and Site Search so we have to be careful to not fall victim to the diseconomy of scale.
To combat decreased efficiency, I recommend three guidelines:
- Minimize the distance between stakeholders and execution
- Define clear paths of accountability
- Establish dual purpose managers
Minimize The Distance Between Stakeholders & Execution
I often see SEM teams structured to have one point of contact (POC) that manages the relationship with several stakeholders and farms out the execution of strategy to other team members. I call this a funnel structure, and it is not the most efficient way to structure a team. Not only does each stakeholder have to communicate the strategy and goals to the POC, but that strategy has to be communicated a second time to each team member.
There is an argument for this type of structure if there are very specialized tasks, but communicating is not a specialized skill and is one where every SEM should be functional. Also, most SEMs have a functional skill level in all of the required parts of SEM optimization, so organizing the team around specialization of tasks does not increase the productivity substantially.
To decrease the distance between stakeholders and execution, the person who communicates with the stakeholder should also be the person executing the tactics. This one to one structure eliminates a leg out of the communication path and ultimately increases productivity.
In the example below, I estimate that every meeting where two or more employees are working on the same client increases the communication costs by 50% per employee involved. This bloat occurs because either all of the employees have to join the meetings or all of them have to spend time communicating what was discussed.
The one to one structure in this example saves the team about 24 hours per week and evens out the work load. In the funnel structure, it is likely that Employee A is spending 60 hours a week in meetings and communication, while in the one to one structure, there are only 36 hours of meetings and they are spread out more evenly across all three employees.
There are some cases where having one point of contact is more efficient. This situation occurs when there is one stakeholder that has more work than one person can handle.
In the example above, you can see that Stakeholder A requires 40 hours of work and Stakeholder B only requires 20. To address this common occurrence, I add a dotted line from Employee B to Employee A which symbolizes Employee B helping with the workload for stakeholder A while still allowing him to completely manage Stakeholder B. This exception does increase the overall time required, but it also allows the workload to be spread out more evenly.
Generally, you are better off if you organize your team mirroring the one to one structure as closely as possible, and you can make exceptions where it makes sense.
Define Clear Paths Of Accountability
Having clear paths of accountability reduces the duplication of efforts. In SEM, one of the areas where this principle is violated most frequently is in defining who is responsible for meetings.
Having two or more team members join a meeting is almost always a waste of time and productivity. This productivity killer can be averted by defining who is responsible for specific meetings and then letting the responsible team member manage their own meetings.
Managers are usually the culprits in wasting time by joining too many meetings. I may be invited to come to a meeting if there is an escalation or other need that only I can address, but in general, I should train my team members to run their own meetings.
In my experience, I have been able to cut my meeting time in half and get back around 10 hours a week when there are clear paths of accountability.
One thing to note is that if you have already minimized the distance between the stakeholder and the execution, it usually makes it natural and easy to see who is responsible for which meetings. If your channels of accountability are unclear, it may be an indication that you are not following the first guideline.
Establish Dual Purpose Managers
Once you implement the second guideline, you should have an additional 10 hours a week to become a dual purpose manager. If managers spend a percentage of their time doing front line work, it will automatically increase the productivity of the team.
I am in a unique situation where I am the target customer for all of the products that I am marketing, so I am able to spend my extra time providing product feedback or supporting the sales team. These activities contribute to the bottom line of the business and I am not duplicating efforts within my own team.
There are countless ways to spend time doing front line work. Get creative with your new-found extra time and become a dual purpose manager rather than a micro-manager.
Following these guidelines will allow you to scale your SEM team while maintaining productivity. It is also interesting to note that each principle enhances the effect of the other principles, therefore following all three has an exponential impact on productivity.
Minimizing the distance between stakeholders and execution reduces communication costs and makes it easier to establish clear accountability. Establishing clear accountability reduces the amount of duplicated effort and frees up time to spend on front line work.
Finally, having managers spend more time doing front line work allows everyone to be more productive and make more money for the business.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.