Why There’s No Right Ops Team Structure (Just a Right Mindset)

By Sean Lane

Try putting a bunch of operations folks in one room and ask them, “What is the perfect team structure?”

I guarantee you would never get a definitive answer.

That’s why I’m here to end the debate once and for all. And the answer is pretty simple 👇

There is no “perfect” team structure.

While operations teams should put thought into how their team is organized and who reports to whom, it’s infinitely more important for your success that you adopt the right mindset.

Not convinced? Let me explain.

The Difference Between Centralized and Decentralized Structures

When it comes to reporting structures, ops teams generally fall into one of two camps.

The first is the centralized model or, as I like to call it, “the hub and spoke” model. Here, your ops team acts as a centralized resource (the “hub”) to all your internal partners (the “spokes”).

This structure gives your team a full view of the customer’s journey, allowing them to serve as a source of truth for your organization. That means they can break down the silos between teams, shut down disagreements, and weigh the effects of one team’s decision on another.

But the centralized model isn’t without flaws. As there is only one team supporting multiple internal customers, your team will ultimately be forced to prioritize one team’s needs over the others. Plus, a centralized team lacks functional expertise and may become a bottleneck for your company’s growth.

The alternative to this is the decentralized model — in which specific ops teams are aligned with and report directly to their functions. In other words, sales ops reports to sales, marketing ops reports to marketing, etc.

In this model, the pros and cons are basically the reverse of the centralized model. Because each team is dedicated to a specific function, a decentralized ops team is well-equipped to supply specific expertise and resources. But that also means your functions are more likely to be siloed, which increases the likelihood of misalignment and unwanted ripple effects.

It’s All About Having the Right Mindset

When it comes to reporting structures, neither model is perfect — both come with specific flaws that you have to account for. And while one model might work better for your company, your success doesn’t hinge on having the “right” one in place.

What really matters is having the right mindset — and that comes down to being mindful of the entire customer’s journey, not just the part you’re responsible for. An ops pro who only cares about the issue in front of them may end up creating new problems for the other teams.

In short, you have to anticipate how your work might affect the customer’s journey as a whole. Here are three more truths you need to build into your mindset to be a successful ops pro 👇

Truth #1: Put the Customer at the Center of Everything You Do

As ops folks, we don’t just serve our company’s customers. We also serve the stakeholders within our company who drive all our go-to-market (GTM) motions.

Putting the customer at the center of everything you do means paying attention to both your internal and external customers — because our job is to make the customer journey as efficient as possible for everyone. So, the goal of your work should always be to help your GTM teams be successful at their jobs while bringing the customer experience to new heights.

Truth #2: The Type of Work We Do Never Changes

Regardless of what function you serve or who you report to, the categories of work you do in your role are the same. No matter what, you will still be building out funnel metrics, helping generate pipeline, and working to keep your customers happy.

Name the type of work your team is going to do. At Drift, we place our work into three categories: planning, execution, and insights. Though these categories might not be the best fit for your team, having those labels will help you focus on the work you need to accomplish.

Truth #3: Change Is Constant

The biggest mistake an ops pro can make? Trying to make one model work for every scenario.

By holding onto one specific model, you’re missing out on the thing that actually matters — the work itself. And I’m not just talking about working at different companies.

GIF of a pencil spinning in a circle, erasing what it just wrote

In hypergrowth, change is constant. I always think of that GIF of a pencil spinning in a circle, erasing what it just wrote. So, anchor yourself to your work but be adaptable in how you do it…because change is always just around the corner.

Final Thought

In ops, it’s easy to blame any inefficiencies on your team structure or reporting structure. But often, changing up those things isn’t going to solve your problems.

So, next time those thoughts arise, stop and ask yourself if you’re in the right mindset — are you putting the customer first, focusing on the work, and embracing change? Because that mindset will pave the way for you to drive more value for yourself, your team, and your company.

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