There's a Taskforce for That...

Kelly Ford Buckley . May 16, 2017

One thing successful companies figure out early is how to use multiple levers to accelerate growth. For growth-stage companies, mobilizing an organization across multiple, parallel initiatives is not easy when execution resources are limited, and when leadership over such initiatives tends to fall to the same one or two executives. But, whether your business is at $9M in revenue or $35M, there is one sure-fire method for successful cross-organizational alignment and execution: The Taskforce.

What is a Taskforce?

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The notion of a taskforce is pretty self-explanatory and well understood by most, though we often associate taskforces with military, causes, law enforcement and/or government.  For purposes of this article, a taskforce is a cross-organizational team - a working group - focused on a specific growth initiative.  

In a growth company, the employee base expands quickly, demanding more/better collaboration across the company. The earliest of hires can grow accustomed to working with a small group of colleagues, or even on their own in a silo. New hires join, bringing different experiences and ways of working. It can take time for new and tenured employees to learn how to function together as a well oiled machine. Taskforces can accelerate the "norming" and "performing" of teams and do so in the context of a company's top priorities.

There's a Taskforce for That...

The best use of taskforces is in alignment with the three to five strategic initiatives that support the annual plan. Common examples:

  • New market entry, such as a new vertical market or a move up market

  • Migration of customers from legacy or newly acquired product

  • Shifting to an account-based marketing and sales model for greater go-to-market alignment, higher quality demand generation and accelerated pipelines

  • Partner strategy and program development for improved gross margin and referral business

  • Building a self-service operation enabling purchase, training and support for small business segment

  • New pricing model development and rollout to all new and existing customers

Last year, Wyng (then Offerpop) assembled a taskforce focused on maximizing customer success and driving up retention. Likewise, Billtrust has a taskforce focused on driving and sustaining an innovation orientation through the company.

Taskforces are also useful in support of establishing and scaling operational disciplines, such as the rollout of new product releases. Recently, Terminus recognized the need for greater cross-organizational readiness as they looked to the release of new, major product enhancements this year. Minor product updates had not been a heavy lift for the company, but they knew major releases would touch virtually every department and, as such, required more advance planning and teaming.

As growth fuels inevitable product diversification, single-product companies that are great at readying the company and its customers for new releases will have an easy transition to becoming a multi-product business. What was once a taskforce simply becomes a matter of standard business operations.

7 Characteristics of a Successful Taskforce

  1. An appointed chairperson. If possible, resist the urge to put the most senior, relevant executive in charge. This is an opportunity to recognize and develop leaders at the next level down in the organization.

  2. Five to six members representing respective, relevant functions. Again, this is an opportunity to recognize top performers and build leadership at every level. Members are true stakeholders and must behave like owners with a willingness to take on tasks, serve as a conduit for both the taskforce and their functional teams, report status. and raise and address issues.

  3. Defined objectives with quantifiable goals, e.g., new bookings growth, gross margin improvement, sales cycle reduction, more revenue per customer, etc.

  4. Date and/or metric driven tripwires as leading indicators of success. Be agile. Run in sprints to put incremental points on the board. 

  5. A detailed project plan with clear deadlines and dependencies.

  6. Weekly meeting cadence (perhaps twice weekly at times) with pre-set agenda communicated in advance. Rotate scribe responsibilities. Publish notes to a shared workspace, e.g., Confluence, Trello, Sharepoint, Jive.

  7. Company-wide communication of progress, e.g., all-employee standups, townhall meetings.

 

All in all, as a growth-stage business, your team needs to build the muscle for effective execution of parallel growth initiatives. Embracing a taskforce approach emphasizes priorities, ensures cross-organizational alignment, limits execution risk, not to mention, helps to build your company's next generation of leaders. 

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