How can a large corporate firm remain entrepreneurial?
VISIONARCH RANKS 90 IN WORLD’S BIGGEST FIRMS
UK-based Building Design (BD) magazine announces the World's Top 100 Architecture Firms (WA100) for 2019. Visionarch enters the prestigious list dominated by firms from the world’s largest economies like the US and China. Ranking 90th in the world, Visionarch rose 14 spots from last year when it was first cited among the "Ones to Watch" for 2018.
The international recognition came on the heels of Visionarch’s continued inclusion among BCI Asia’s Top 10 Architecture Firms in the Philippines for the 12th time. As the company’s workforce grows and the number of projects in the pipeline increases, the management is faced with the challenge of keeping alive the entrepreneurial culture that has sustained Visionarch for almost 50 years. Entrepreneurial spirit, according to business speaker and author Michael Kerr, is “about seeing the big picture and thinking like an owner.”
Visionarch used to operate as two departments--the Corporate Clients Division and the Special Projects Division, each handling specific project types. The departments have their own teams of project managers, designers, and technical drafters. Each team has a defined role at various stages of the project development cycle. As a medium-sized firm, the arrangement made operations efficient by pooling together people who share the same skillset. But as we grow, the setup has discouraged collaboration across departmental lines. There is little communication as people tend to focus on their specific functions usually without a clear idea of the project’s direction. When one team is understaffed, there is limited flexibility that allows others to fill in.
In response, Visionarch restructured into seven design studios supported by specialist units such as the Visualization Team. The studios operate like small firms handling diverse project typologies from concept to completion. Operating as a smaller unit allows individual team members to work more closely with the clients and participate at every level of the decision-making process. Instead of functions, people are assigned projects. They have the autonomy to choose who will carry out particular tasks and how depending on what the project requires. Because each project is different, people are not stuck on the same routine for months on end. They are accountable to each other, not just to the management. Such a level of involvement makes them feel a stronger sense of ownership over every project.
The horizontal mobility afforded by the studio setup not only makes augmenting manpower easier but also ensures every team member has equal opportunity to grow in the organization. This is because mentorship is not confined between seniors and juniors but even among juniors themselves. Everyone has something to teach the other and with the kind of collaborative work they are doing, Visionarch is able to produce holistic professionals. Their outputs are also better because each design solution is a result not of an assembly line of labor but of creative people with various skills putting their minds together.
To prevent the studios from turning into silos, we conduct design talks every first Friday of the month where representatives from different studios share what they’ve learned working on their projects. Keeping teams agile, opening avenues for people’s growth, and involving them in the whole project cycle is how a growing firm can grow bigger and still keep an entrepreneurial culture alive.