Squads, a community of remote self-managing teams

It is a cold Friday afternoon in Amsterdam when I am meeting Iwein Fuld, one of the founders of Squads, a company that has chosen a different way of organizing themselves and that consists of a community of remote self-managing teams.

We are in warm cozy café where the jovial barman forces beer and “bitterballen”, (a typical Dutch snack) upon us, and we are talking about Squads as an organization and about what kind of people are working with them.

Squads is an online marketplace that connects teams of freelance developers, growth hackers, and designers with startup founders and product owners. The platform started off as a way to automate projects and payments for a growing freelance developer community called StarterSquad. Now, it has opened up to other tribes and is growing into a global platform.

Iwein explains that most of the people (all freelancers) within Squads are not necessarily focused on making money or building a traditional career. Instead, many of them are looking for the possibility to work less, to have more freedom, to be part of a great team and to work on interesting projects.

Working with Squads means you can choose your own projects and be part of a self-managing team. The remote culture allows you the freedom to work wherever you want. Some move to a warmer climate, a cheaper country, and some choose to travel permanently or for longer periods of time.

A remote, self-managing community of developers, that have chosen a different way of working together. As a specialist on 21st-century organizations, I find that of course super interesting and I wanted to learn more about that, so I interviewed Daan Assen and Iwein Fund, two of the founders of Squads, more in-depth on their organization.

Squads, a community of Remote Self-managing teams

Squads is an interesting organization, or as they call themselves: a community. It all started about 5 years ago when Iwein formed a team of developers for a project.

Normally, a new project gets staffed after it is formulated. This new team still needs to learn how to work together efficiently and spends the first weeks or months on aligning and project management. This “learning period” usually means a loss of productivity and efficiency.

In this case, Iwein had set up a team learned to work together and to divide responsibilities. They had a strong cohesion and worked effectively together.

Once the project was finished, there was a great team, but no work to keep them going. Iwein did not want to let the team fall apart and to find new people when a new project came along. So, he decided to turn things around:

He would keep the team and look for a new project instead.

By turning the order around; first the team, then the project, there is a huge efficiency advantage; the team is already there. Iwein had created a good value proposition: his team could add more value for their clients by minimizing all the efficiency loss.

The team started to find projects, and soon they needed more people. Team members asked friends with the right skills to join, and before they knew it the team got bigger and then split into two teams.

With two teams, there was a need for an administrative process in order to keep track of project payments. Iwein, (being a developer,) started to automate this process. That, in turn, enabled more teams to form. The automation process also allowed clients to put projects on an online platform and different teams could apply to work on them. By that time, Daan and Dmitry, the other founders, had joined…

Squads was born.

A combination of a company, a community, and a freelancer platform.

A tribal organizational structure

The structure of Squads is very flat and therefore not very complicated: it is basically a community that consists of teams.

Teams are about 4-7 people, bigger teams split up. These teams make up a community of development teams. Within this community, developers can form new teams, share leads and knowledge. Since they are part of a bigger community they don’t have to worry about the business side of things. The community has dedicated people that take care of this.

Think of a tribe:

Iwein uses the analogy of a group of people that go mammoth hunting together. Mammoth hunting is a thing you cannot do by yourself. You have to have a group of people, your fellow hunters. A group that goes mammoth hunting is relatively small and needs to work together and coordinate themselves very well. After the hunt, the team goes back to the tribe, (the community), that takes care of all other necessities, such as collecting roots and berries, taking care of the children, putting up tents, guarding the fire etcetera.

I love this analogy. A tribal community is a very natural way of organizing humans to work and live together. They have a strong sense of connection and belonging and share certain values and culture. These elements are also present in the Squads community and are likely to be important in order to be a successful remote organization with self-managing teams.

Company Culture spreads as teams split

Culture and cohesion are very important for an organization like Squads. Some of the early members play an important role in keeping and spreading the culture. The first team had a strong culture, strong cohesion, and a clear purpose. When the teams split up, that culture got adopted in the second team.

Since the teams recruit in their own networks, they attract like-minded people that are at ease with the way the community works and in tune with the culture. If not, they usually leave quickly. This means that the culture stays preserved.

However, as the community keeps on growing, preserving the culture will become an important challenge.

An anarchistic company culture

The organization does not follow any traditional organizational structures. There is no hierarchy, there are not many processes or control mechanisms in place. It is an organic and open community that consists of remote, self-managing teams. Since this not a hierarchal company but more a community (or a platform), there are no managers or structures that force people to do something. It is all driven by motivation and is very democratic.

“It is basically anarchistic. If the majority votes against something then it does not happen.” – Daan Assen, founder

Is this what the future of work looks like?

There are different ways to organize your company using 21st-organizational concepts. This is an example of how it could be done, but it is definately not for every one. Every organization has to find their own “recipe for success”.

The most important message here is that there is a new way of working coming up in the world. Squads have built the kind of organization that suits their community and their needs.

To stick with the analogy of mammoth hunting: if you are building a startup, it is important to create the kind of organization that will attract the kind of people that fit your tribe!