Designing Modern Teams

David J Bland
Published in
5 min readAug 4, 2016


“What kind of team do we need to build our new product?”

This is a question I often hear from managers at corporations, both inside and outside of the valley. We’ve realized building product as we have done in the past, is no longer the best path forward for creating new products. However it isn’t always clear how to best design a team to blaze this new path.

We need guidance on how to design a modern team.

1. Modern Teams Are Cross Functional

Modern teams are cross functional and include at a minimum Product, Design and Engineering roles. This is important because the assumptions you make in new product development often revolve around desirability (design), viability (product) and feasibility (engineering). It isn’t a secret that these roles are key in my Assumptions Mapping exercises.

I advise teams from software to hardware, and they now often include additional roles such as Marketing, Finance and Data Scientists.

If you are testing the consumer market with new product ideas, then:

  • your landing page is useless without advertising.
  • you’ll still fail if you don’t have a business model behind the product.
  • you can’t make a strong pivot / persevere decision without data.

Create your team with Product, Design and Engineering and don’t be afraid to include more roles when needed.

2. Modern Teams Are 100% Dedicated

Modern teams are 100% dedicated. We’ve seen countless studies on how multitasking kills organizations. It is the organizational equivalent of texting and driving, as our brains simply cannot handle the cognitive overhead.

If you are trying to build a disruptive new product, then:

  • you can’t expect an engineer to fix Jira bugs all day and then magically be innovative.
  • you can’t expect a Product Manager to simultaneous keep 5 entirely unrelated products going strong inside your organization.
  • you can’t expect Designers to create engaging UX that hooks customers when they are spread across teams at 25% capacity.

Creating new products is very, very hard. It’s almost impossible to create a successful new product when you are dedicated to it. When your team members are multitasking across different initiatives, it’s almost as if you don’t even want to win.

3. Modern Teams Are Data Influenced

Modern teams do not have to be data driven, but they need to be data influenced. Teams no longer have the luxury of just mindlessly burning down a product backlog of features. The accountability of modern teams now resides within the teams themselves. It is up to them to discover what to build and then keep discovering along the way.

If you are testing a new product with customers, then:

  • your minimum viable product needs to generate data, or it’s just a prototype.
  • you’ll have to balance the quantitative (what) with the qualitative (why).
  • you’ll need to measure outcomes, not outputs.

Your team should have strong opinions, held loosely, and be influenced by data. They are no longer held accountable by delivering a list of features, but instead giving an account of how they are making progress on business outcomes.

4. Modern Teams Are Customer Centric

Modern teams are customer centric. We’ve almost prided ourselves over the past decade in putting layers in-between the teams and the customer. It hasn’t exactly worked out well for us. To create new products today, teams have to know the why behind the work. This begins with being connected to the customer.

If you are testing a new product with customers, then:

  • don’t stop doing customer interviews after you’ve built something, keep seeking out how to better solve their problems.
  • customer relationships are going to be a key part of your business model.
  • remember that behind every feature is a customer job-to-be-done.

Modern teams are constantly connected to the customers both inside and outside of the product. If they’ve purchased, ask them why they almost didn’t purchase. If they’re stuck on a pricing page, ask them what questions they may have. Customer discovery never stops.

5. Modern Teams Are Diverse

Modern teams are diverse. Team members vary in race, ethnicity, gender, age and other dimensions. Of all the characteristics that make up a modern team, this may be where we are failing the most.

The culture of your team makes it into your product.

For instance, if a product was created by a team of all white males, there’s a chance it will have a problem dealing with abusive behavior. You don’t have to look very far to see real examples of this in today’s world.

This does not mean that all white males are inherently abusive, however if you do not experience online abuse, then it can be difficult to keep it top of mind when creating a product.

A lack of diverse experiences and perspectives on a team will result in baking our biases right into the product.

If we cannot design diverse teams, this is only going to become a bigger problem over the next decade with the scale of AI.

Do you want your autonomous car to swerve away from a pedestrian?

If you are a woman, should the VR headset you buy make you sick?

If you are choosing team members for a new product, then:

  • create a safe environment for different points of view to be heard.
  • keep diversity top of mind, rather than an afterthought.
  • lead by example, by having a diverse leadership team.

Teams building products today require different points of view and the ability to have a healthy level of conflict. Your product will be better as a result.

Designing Modern Teams

We have a long journey ahead in addressing the systemic problems in our organizations, specifically around team design. I am optimistic that by following these guidelines we’ll not only have healthier organizations, but the market will reward you for solving meaningful problems.

Interested in how to test your business ideas? Feel free to contact me.



David J Bland

I help people test business ideas.