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Studio Organization

Dear Dave
We are a sewer and water design firm working with small to medium-sized communities in our state. We are in the process of reorganizing our firm into four self-contained work teams consisting of a project manager assigned to lead each team, one to two other engineers and several technicians. All new projects entering the office will be assigned to one of the four teams to complete. Each team will be responsible and held accountable for the outcome of projects assigned to their team. Any comments?

Dear JH
The organizational structure you’ve described is sometimes referred to as a studio organization. Studios are more commonly found in architectural practices and are typically formed around specialized project types such as schools, churches, etc. Just like anything else, this form of organization has its strengths and weaknesses.

On the plus side, well-managed studios can be a very positive influence for improving morale and efficiency. Studio members often become very close and mutually supportive from working as a cohesive team, project after project. Staff learn to anticipate each other and frequently develop a kind of “shorthand” form of communication and unique methods for doing things, which can result in completing more work in less time and with less effort.

At the organizational level, studios present some potential obstacles. Matching up staff to changing workloads is one of the most common problems. There needs to be a mechanism and an up-front understanding that from time to time staff will be transferred in and out of studios to balance people with work needing to be done to keep the office running at peak utilization. Even with a clear understanding, because of strong studio bonds, one of a studio’s strengths, there can be ruffled feathers when someone is moved in or out of a studio to meet demands.

Secondly, the firm’s overall goals and objectives as well as its basic processes, procedures, policies and standards need to be kept uniform and interchangeable between teams. Left on their own, studios may evolve independently to the point of looking for all the world like entirely different firms operating under the same roof. This can increase the difficulty of aligning staff to work, as well as raising some serious quality control issues.

Studios, or teams as you call them, can be an effective form of organization if you understand their soft spots and provide proper supervision and management oversight. Several of my engineering clients have been successful using the studio form of organization.

Wahby and Associates