It’s common to walk into a marketing department and see the different disciplines grouped separately. The designers may be working in one area, the content people in another, and the analysts somewhere completely different. This is the total opposite of the way product teams do it, who figured out 20 years ago that mixing disciplines leads to better results.
Marketing teams often struggle with a lack of resources. This happens because resources like designers and social media marketers often sit apart from the team, making it harder to get things done.
Although there is no perfect organizational structure, we've found that working in squads enhances team happiness at Hotjar. Our squads incorporate diversity in approach and discipline, enabling them to work more efficiently.
Why Hotjar introduced marketing squads
We were growing quickly, and our organizational structure was stifling that growth. Our aim was to create an organizational structure that was free of silos and didn’t have too much hierarchy. There were three main reasons we opted for squads:
1. To learn more about our ideal customer
Hotjar’s target customers are product teams—and what better way to learn about them than by mirroring them? We felt that organizing ourselves in the same way as product teams would give us more empathy and a better understanding of the people we serve.
2. To maintain autonomy across the company
Autonomy is crucial at Hotjar. We want every single person to have control over their time and the projects they’re working on, and we wanted to make sure that continued as we grew.
As companies get bigger and bigger, people get farther away from whoever’s in charge. This ‘person in charge’ might then show up to a meeting and casually say something that impacts an entire project.
To put it bluntly, they can inadvertently get in the way. When you have a huge company, it’s difficult for someone to disagree with their superior because there’s so much hierarchy in between. We wanted to avoid this by creating a structure where ownership and autonomy were placed firmly in the hands of individuals.
3. To eliminate departmental silos
Silos are non-existent in a small team of four or five people. But when there are 40 or 50 people in marketing, with the content marketers all bunched together and the designers all working away in their own corner, there’s no real reason for them to speak to each other. This leads to siloed groups that aren’t communicating or collaborating, which can ultimately foster one-dimensional ideas.
Teams that actively mingle get far more context for the work they’re producing. For example, a content marketer might ask a designer for a blog image, but if the designer doesn’t understand what the blog is about or has had no involvement in creating it, it’s difficult for them to come up with something relevant. If the teams are working together from the get-go, they can organically discuss what blogs they need to write and the images that will go with them.
How squads work at Hotjar
Typical squads at Hotjar consist of a product manager, a designer, and a content person. Depending on the end goal, they can also include other roles, such as a performance marketer, a product marketer, a lifecycle marketer, or an analyst—but the core groups range from six to 10 people.
Not a strategist in sight
One major difference with Hotjar’s squads is that they don’t have strategists. This is because we want to eliminate hierarchical relationships and ensure nobody reports to anyone else inside each squad.
Strategy isn’t something that happens elsewhere; ideas and creativity happen within the squad, and it’s important that hierarchy doesn’t get in the way of that. Everyone in a squad is at the same level, and nobody’s voice counts more than anyone else’s.
Each squad has an objective
Each squad is given an objective, but it’s up to them how they get there. They must brainstorm together and come up with marketing campaigns. Again, this is why we don’t have strategists—it’s the job of the squad to generate ideas because they’re the ones who will have to execute them.
Every discipline has a chapter
While there is no hierarchy in the squads, there is a sense of hierarchy in our discipline chapters. These are the departments for each discipline, such as design and content. For example, there is a design lead who heads up all the designers in the design chapter. Each chapter focuses on the professional development of people with the same skill set. In the design chapter, the lead reinforces the team’s design skills and provides regular feedback that helps them grow in their careers as designers.
Squads follow the customer journey
We have four squads, each of which aligns with a different part of the customer journey:
Discover squad: helps people discover Hotjar and raises brand awareness—these are some of the first touchpoints potential customers have with the brand
Leap squad: helps prospective customers take their first ‘leap’ at using Hotjar and gets them signed up for a free account
Adopt squad: helps new customers get to the first ‘aha’ moment when using Hotjar and provides education for them to unlock value
Adore squad: helps educate both new and long-term customers, ensuring they’re using the product in the best way possible
Aside from the objectives listed above, there are no concrete projects assigned to each squad. Instead, they decide together and come up with ideas for increasing brand awareness, encouraging people to sign up for a free trial, etc.
Squads are fluid and organic
Squads are created collaboratively with the team. Usually they come out of the work people have already been doing, but we always ask for feedback and where people think their skills are best used. Now that our squads are in place, if we need an extra team member, we recruit directly for the squad we need them for. For example, if we need to fill a gap in the Adore squad, we’ll proactively seek out someone who has an interest in customer education and proving ongoing brand value. It’s never set in stone, though—people can move freely between squads if they wish.
Weekly marketing meetings keep everyone up to date
It’s important to us that each squad member feels like a part of the bigger marketing department. To do this, we have two 30-minute meetings each week with the entire marketing department. We’re not five people anymore, we’re 30 people, and planning to grow to more than 40 by the end of the year.
On Mondays, we get together for 30 minutes to review our progress against our OKRs, have some fun together and discuss any big topics that might be relevant for all of us. On Fridays, each squad shares its highlights and learnings, so everyone is aware of what each squad is working on.
How squads are helping the team work efficiently
Removing hierarchy and tasking people with complementary skill sets to brainstorm ideas has been a success so far. In addition to creating a structure that fosters fast growth and instilling a sense of autonomy across the company, implementing squads has revealed a number of other hidden benefits.
A change in mindset
Our team members now critically think about whether their time is being spent on the most impactful activity.
In a top-down organization that has very clear leadership, it might fall on strategists to dictate which campaigns will run. Team members will then be given a to-do list for those campaigns. However, in these kinds of organizations, people often aren’t critical of their own time—they just do the tasks they’ve been given without questioning them. Implementing squads has encouraged our team to challenge themselves and determine whether they’re working on something that’s actually going to move the needle.
Improved and relevant output
Understanding context is everything in marketing. We’ve seen a huge improvement in the relevance of our campaigns because everyone in the squad is so involved from the start. Designers understand the context of why they’re creating a blog image or a social media post rather than just creating it because they’ve been asked to by the content team.
Fresh input from outside voices
You get a more comprehensive insight into projects when teams aren’t siloed based on their discipline. Other disciplines can now openly comment on the first draft of campaigns and provide their input.
At one point, our product marketers were writing an announcement for a new feature due to launch. We had someone who wasn’t a product marketer chime in and give feedback from an outside perspective, which was incredibly enlightening and led to a big improvement in the campaign.
Increased collaboration between product and engineering teams
Perhaps the biggest benefit that we didn’t expect was the increase in collaboration between our product and engineering teams. Marketing squads have been given an objective, like increasing the number of new Hotjar accounts—but there are also engineering teams with the same objective. These teams are now organically finding each other and working together to make their shared objective a reality.
The challenges of implementing a squad structure
It hasn’t all been rainbows and sunshine. Like any other structural rejig, there have been some growing pains:
Confusing terminology: we have product marketers and product managers who have different roles and priorities, but the job title terminology can get confusing, as well as separating what each role does.
Job title expectations: we don’t have strategists, we have product managers. However, most people in the marketing world are used to the term strategist, so we have to be very clear when we’re recruiting about what that role is.
Despite coming up against a couple of challenges, implementing marketing squads has helped us remove hierarchy from the company without removing the potential growth of each individual in their own career. We’ve removed departmental silos and increased collaboration between teams while keeping campaigns relevant to each part of the customer journey.
Want to be part of the Hotjar team? 🔥
We believe people from different backgrounds, with different identities and experiences, make our product and company better. We would love for you to check out our current roles and keep following our jobs—we’re growing fast!
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