Today, we’re talking with Marta Luís Burguete, former Senior Director of Product Management at Glovo. During her two-year stint at the Spanish multicategory delivery startup, she saw the company—and more specifically, her team—undergo significant growth. And as we all know, any business in rapid growth mode comes with all sorts of unique opportunities and challenges. Here’s what she had to say about her experience.
Glovo is a multicategory delivery app connecting users with businesses and couriers across 25 countries in Europe, Central Asia, and Africa. Over the past years, they have grown from a start-up to a global tech platform, offering on-demand services from local restaurants, grocers and supermarkets, pharmacies and retail. Founded in Barcelona in 2014, Glovo has raised $1.2 billion and grown to 8,700+ team members globally.
What did the tech team look like?
Within my first six months of working at Glovo, I was promoted to a Director of Product Management role. This had me overseeing three teams of six to nine engineers and one product manager—with design, data, and research resources shared across all teams.
My scope expanded significantly when I became Senior Director of Product Management, responsible for all product management efforts supporting the micro-fulfillment centers (i.e. supermarkets), content (i.e. menus, pricing, product/restaurant descriptions, etc.), partner development, and advertising sides of our business. In just a little over a year, my team grew to a total of 14 subteams made up of about 150 people across various roles and responsibilities.
What were your day-to-day responsibilities?
My primary role was to set the strategy for my entire team and define a path to execute it. A big part of this required me to ask myself regularly what was and wasn’t working. If something was working, then I’d encourage the team to double down on it. If it wasn’t, I was always eager to understand why it wasn’t working and, if possible, find a solution to make it work—versus simply moving on to another strategy or tactic immediately.
Putting this into numbers, my day-to-day would look something like this:
That being said, when you manage a team as large as mine—much less in a company undergoing rapid growth—you have to accept that strategies will evolve a lot and all the time. Part of this includes refining the roles and responsibilities of everyone on my team. So much so that I often felt like I was in “redirecting the ship” mode.
But as things in the company changed, I would take a moment to reiterate our mission and ensure that my team, what I sometimes referred to as the “engineering cluster,” clearly understood our raison d’être: what we needed to achieve our goals and how we would achieve them. This was especially critical for getting new employees on the same page, fast.
A few tips for running a well-oiled, fast-growing team
For starters, here are a few things that I believe are essential for running a strong team:
- Understand the different working styles of everyone on your team as well as the leadership team that you report into.
- Pay just as much attention to the team members who are ready for new challenges as well as to those who need a little extra help to succeed—and then match them to the right opportunities to meet them where they’re at in their professional development.
- Don’t aim for “perfect” right from the start. Constantly work towards “better.”
- Be explicit and honest about the trade-offs you need to make in order to boost your team’s performance (and morale) while addressing business goals more effectively.
Identify the customer problems you need and want to tackle—and use that as the fuel for prioritizing your workload and determining how your team achieves business goals.
Now, here’s what it looked like in practice. Every quarter, I would sync up with my team to go over big team changes, including why they were put in place, how they would be put into action, and who would lead those efforts. We’d have weekly leadership meetings leading up to this where we’d discuss topics like succession planning, development and growth opportunities, and team imbalances (i.e. attribution, poor junior/senior mix, problematic team dynamics, etc.).
During these quarterly meetings, we’d also evaluate the work we completed in the prior quarter in order to celebrate our wins and also optimize the areas that needed improvement. As part of this quarterly exercise, I would ask my team to provide a list of what they could have done or could be doing if there were more hands on deck. This allowed me to get the “in the trenches” perspective on any missed opportunities that senior management may have overlooked—and use those insights to build a business case for onboarding additional resources and, more importantly, accelerating our team’s performance and results.
To ensure that everyone was marching to the beat of the same drum, during these quarterly meetings I’d reveal a theme for everyone to rally around for the quarter ahead. For example, there was one quarter where we were obsessively focused on customer needs while another was dedicated to understanding what data we needed to make better business decisions.
Without measures like these in place every quarter, it would have been an uphill battle to keep a fast-growing and fast-evolving team motivated and working towards unified goals. Having these ongoing touchpoints with the team was essential for the sake of consistency and team building; however, it’s also important to keep in mind that every meeting, report, or organizational process must be “additive” and not just a time suck. They must deliver meaningful value, drive clarity, and, most importantly, not just come from the top down. At the end of the day, all of these best practices helped both me and my team better define, understand, and deliver on what success looks like—which was critical for maintaining alignment in a company that was undergoing such rapid growth (seemingly) every day.
What were your biggest challenges?
A business in high-growth mode often translates into hiring tons of new employees, creating new lines of business, and reaching out to new customer targets (just to name a few). When that happens, you start to see just how much everyone has an opinion on how to get to the same end goal and, in a parallel path, how the answer for getting there always seems to be a land grab for more resources. Therefore, my biggest challenge was around setting expectations:
- Managing up: The senior leadership team along with key business leaders are always going to want teams to be aligned with broader business goals. No surprise there. However, when they say something along the lines of, “We need to grow the advertising business by 10x and hire tons of new employees to support it,” sometimes that’s actually not the right approach at the org level. You need to ask questions like, “Why 10x?,” “What will it take to achieve 10x?,” or “What trade-offs do we have to make to reach 10x?” in order to find some common ground based on reality.
I’ve learned, in working with business leaders, that it’s about finding and striking the right balance between business goals and operational realities. What is often clear in these types of negotiations, however, is that business leaders are rarely privy to the minute details and don’t really understand—unless you explain it clearly—what challenges, weaknesses, or constraints are in place inhibiting a team’s ability to deliver on top-down goals that can sometimes feel overwhelming.
As a team leader, it was my responsibility to be the voice of the engineering cluster with senior and business leaders. What ended up happening in most cases is that we would have to either refine or redefine actual business needs in order to build and organize the right team to deliver on business goals most effectively.
- Managing down: What is also true is that the people who do the work day in and day out are the true experts around both what’s feasible and how to achieve the goals cascaded down to them. For example, when the higher-ups say that you need to grow by 10x, I can’t just sign up to make that happen without first speaking to my team. For this reason, I’ve often considered myself an expert at getting context. I don’t make any decisions until I’ve spoken with the right people who can help me see the big picture.
Part of this involves them pushing back on me to ask why certain goals have been set in the first place. For them, having context from the top down about why we’re being asked to do something new is just as valuable as me knowing the context about how to achieve the goals asked of me (and my team) from the bottom up. In other words, I have to operate as the intermediary between the business and my team to make magic happen. In a company undergoing massive growth, that can be really challenging.
How much time did you spend on team design?
I can’t really put a number to it because I feel like I was always thinking about how to make my org operate more efficiently. In fact, in order to make the right decisions about team design, it needs to be top-of-mind at all times. This is especially true when you’re in hyper-growth mode.
When designing an org, it’s not just about plopping new resources in an org chart and hoping that all the work will get done automatically. I always needed to think about both what was being told to me by senior leadership and other business leaders, as well as what my team needed in order to be successful in addressing and delivering on the goals given to us. As business goals changed and new resources got added into the mix, I sometimes had to start from scratch and build a team aligned to a new set of marching orders. This required everyone on my team—including myself—to be flexible, adaptable, and nimble.
For me, team design isn’t always just a top-down activity. I often challenged myself and my team to think about what we should and shouldn’t focus on, while also encouraging us to take a closer look at what we weren’t currently doing (vis-à-vis our competitors) or explore what we didn’t even know we should be doing. Sometimes uncovering missed opportunities alone could have a huge impact on goals and, as a result, team design as well.
How did you maintain team morale through all this change?
Whether you’re building a new team or optimizing an existing team, you need to ask yourself if you’ve got the right diversity—in terms of seniority, skills, expertise, interests, backgrounds, and so on—to deliver on the goals that have been passed down to you.
However, that’s only part of the equation. The other half of team design and management is all about creating an org structure that supports both career-pathing and employee satisfaction. This required me to truly know the people on my team. Were their roles properly matched to their strengths or passions? Did they have the right support system to develop and grow? For the people thriving on your team, you need to figure out how to keep them engaged, give them new challenges, and create opportunities to develop in their careers.
But for those struggling, you need to dig in and understand what’s motivating that. Is it because they don’t have the right skills for the job? Has their manager left them high and dry? Or are they simply not jiving with the other members of the team they’ve been dropped into? There are a number of reasons why people thrive or fail within teams—and a big part of team design is about doing whatever you possibly can to support everyone’s long-term success.
Who were your key stakeholders in the team design process?
Whenever it came time to re-evaluate our team or re-align to new goals, I worked with a number of internal stakeholders to make sure we were all on the same page:
- Cluster leadership team: This included the engineering, product management, research, and design managers within my team. These people had a pulse on how things were going daily. They could tell me what was working well and where there were obstacles. Soliciting their advice was absolutely essential.
- Business leaders: This included business unit heads, VPs, and other senior leaders (aka, my higher-ups). These people were in charge of creating a broader vision for the company—and it was up to me to work with them closely to figure out how my team could best deliver on their big business ambitions.
- Other cluster leads: This included other leaders like myself from different parts of the business. We would touch base often to get a better understanding of what goals we were trying to achieve, what we needed to achieve them, how we planned to go about achieving them, and so on. This was helpful because it gave deep insight into how other teams approached the business goals that were being cascaded across the company—and in some cases, it gave me new ideas for managing my team even better.
What were the biggest points of friction?
Hyper-growth is tough for any business. There are a few reasons for this:
- Not everyone within a company will believe that hyper-growth is the right path forward—especially the case for people who feel like certain things need to be fixed or streamlined before diving head-first into scaling rapidly. Getting these people to ebb and flow with ever-changing strategies, plans, goals, and teams can be an uphill battle.
That being said, everyone will always have an opinion. It’s just human nature. What I learned early on is that to be a good leader, I needed to create my own opinion and then be able to clearly communicate to my team why I’ve taken a certain position. I don’t necessarily expect everyone to agree with me, but I do hope that communicating my reasons for moving in a given direction helps my team understand where my head’s at. The truth is, it’s really easy to love something and then want to put all resources into it. But you have to ask yourself (and your team), “Is this right for the business?” To answer that question, you have to build a business case. That’ll clear up a lot on its own.
- Some people also don’t do well in environments where there is non-stop change—much less when they get thrown a curveball the moment they finally got into a groove. And if they feel like all that change makes their lives harder, then it’ll be even harder to convince them that momentary pain and suffering will be worth it in the end.
- Senior leaders, VPs, and business heads will always want what they want—and trying to change their minds will often lead to a dead end. They often think about the big picture without understanding the implications it has on the people and teams who actually bring those ideas to life. That’s why you have to get really good at managing up and managing down to find the sweet spot that ends up being a win-win for everyone.
- The more a business grows, the more things cost—and conversely, the slower things move. Just because you throw more resources into something, whether it be a specific team project or a company-wide initiative, doesn’t mean that growth will be linear. I jokingly tell people, “Nine women can’t make a baby in a month.” The same applies to companies in hyper-growth mode. The more balls you have in the air means there’s more complexity being added to your day-to-day on all fronts.
Onboarding new employees, for one, is a great example of a hurdle that fast-growing companies need to be aware of. You simply can’t expect someone on their first day of work to be operating in the same capacity as someone who’s been at the company for six or more months. There’s a learning curve here that needs to be respected. But it’s also on the company to make sure employees are onboarding adequately to be able to ramp up to full capacity as quickly as humanly possible. (This sometimes gets lost…)
- In most cases, resourcing decisions (tied to goals) often get delivered from the top down. But if the foundation isn’t built to deliver on those goals, then it’s easy to get into a mismatched place really fast. You need to know about the inner workings of your team, so you can push back and work towards a solution that will get the business much closer to achieving its goals—and fast.
If you could do it over again, what would you do differently?
Overall, I’m incredibly happy with what my team accomplished, but if I had to do it all over again—and knowing what I now know—this is what I’d do differently:
- Assign “in-house” experts: The people on my team had a wealth of knowledge, skills, and expertise that I probably could have leaned into even more. Had I proactively identified and called out “this person is our team’s engineering domain design expert” or “this person is our professional development and growth expert,” I would have been able to accelerate their trust while also giving them a seat at the table for sharing ideas that could make the team as a whole even stronger.
- Build better org leadership mechanisms: Obviously, the quarterly meetings were really successful at making our team as cohesive as it could possibly be. But I think I still could have gotten clearer on my own mechanisms for leading the org and creating greater transparency around the end goals and objectives of our various meetings, documents, tools, and other organizational resources. When there are a lot of things going on, it’s hard to get into the weeds. However, driving clarity around both what we’re doing and how we’re doing it is absolutely critical for any leader. Not only is it a great way to set clear expectations with both my team and senior leadership, but it also creates a valuable opportunity to solicit fast feedback to move things in the right direction.