The 50:50 rule – building digital teams

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As incumbent businesses reinvent themselves for a digital world, building a new culture with high ‘Digital Quotient’ is essential. Yet culture change is notoriously difficult, and needs to be carefully managed to preserve the best of the old whilst adding new attributes (e.g., agility, creativity) that firms seek as they seek to compete digitally. Like most digital problems, it helps to start with an MVP  rather than a grand solution. One practical way to get started seeding a new culture is to build teams with the right composition. I am often asked what is the right mix of resources for a new digital project or operations team. I can’t be scientific but anecdotally I have noticed that a 50:50 ratio between ‘incumbent’ and ‘disruptor’ resources works well. Half the team (often with no digital skills) are drawn from existing businesses, whilst half are drawn from expert digital pools (e.g.,  internal digital centre of excellence, new hires or external consultants). A 50:50 mix ensures that the ‘old guard’ which brings critical knowledge & skills, is properly represented but does not dominate. It also promotes two-way knowledge transfer, as new world and old world resources can be informally or formally paired. The 50:50 rule doesn’t apply in all situations (e.g., if you want to build a totally stand-alone business with little in common with your core business). But for incumbents wanting to embrace the digital age whilst preserving the best of their existing culture, it seems to work.

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