Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, is in the headlines today for his personal acquisition of the Washington Post, which he says he will not run personally and will operate completely independently of Amazon.
That might be a real shame, because his efforts to create a fast-and-loose culture, where small teams can operate in a highly autonomous and data-driven fashion, might be the sort of foundational change needed in old school media institutions like the Post.
Here’s a description of one of his cultural innovations, the “two pizza” team:
Alan Deutschman, Inside the Mind of Jeff Bezos
If Bezos’s personality is decidedly noncorporate, so are some of his ideas about how to run a large organization. One of Bezos’s more memorable behind-the-scenes moments came during an off-site retreat, says [David] Risher. “People were saying that groups needed to communicate more. Jeff got up and said, ‘No, communication is terrible!’ ” The pronouncement shocked his managers. But Bezos pursued his idea of a decentralized, disentangled company where small groups can innovate and test their visions independently of everyone else. He came up with the notion of the “two-pizza team”: If you can’t feed a team with two pizzas, it’s too large. That limits a task force to five to seven people, depending on their appetites.
The “communication is terrible” idea can be translated as favoring cooperative, loosely coupled relationships in the company so that small teams can have greater autonomy.
Jason Crawford describes his perspective of Amazon’s “two pizza” teams from his time at Amazon:
Jason Crawford, Amazon’s “two-pizza teams”: The ultimate divisional organization
A handful of engineers, a technical product manager or two, and maybe a designer all report directly to the 2PT lead (or “2PTL”); there’s no need to coordinate even across teams, let alone across divisions, to get something done. This model has helped Amazon stay nimble and innovative even as it has grown.
It has also helped the company attract and retain entrepreneurial talent. The 2PTL job is similar in character to being general manager of a division—just as a GM is like a CEO of a product within a company, a 2PTL is like the CEO of narrower function—but the job is small enough in scope that a junior manager can take it on. This makes it an attractive opportunity and a strong growth experience for an ambitious young leader with ownership and drive—core Amazon cultural values.
Essentially, Amazon found a way to take the idea of divisional organization, and push it all the way down the management hierarchy to the level of small teams with first-level managers.
Imagine if Bezos could embed this same fast-and-loose thinking at the Post. We’ll have to wait to see how and when his influence starts to be felt there, and what form it takes.