Amazon became famous for their product team approach, which they called two- pizza teams. Their philosophy is that no team shall be larger than can be fed with two large pizzas. The motivation behind this partitioning is more about communication than team size — the larger the team, the more people each team member must communicate with. Each team is cross-functional, and they also embrace the philosophy of “you build it, you run it,” meaning each team has complete ownership of their service, including operationalizing it.

Having small, cross-functional teams also takes andvantage of human nature. Amazon’s “two-pizza team” mimics small group primate behavior. Most sports teams have around 10 players, and anthropologists believe that preverbal hunting parties were also around this size. Building highly responsible teams leverages innate social behavior, making team members more responsible. For example, suppose a developer in a traditional project structure wrote some code two years ago that blew up in the middle of the night, forcing someone in operations to respond to a pager in the night and fix it. The next morning, our careless developer may not even realize they accidentally caused a panic in the middle of the night. On a cross-functional team, if the developer wrote code that blew up in the night and someone from his team had to respond to it, the next morning, our hapless developer has to look across the table at the sad, tired eyes of their team member they inadvertently affected. It should make our errant developer want to be a better teammate.

Creating cross-functional teams prevents finger pointing across silos and engenders a feeling of ownership in the team, encouraging team members to do their best work.

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