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Inside FARFETCH's collaboration culture

By Cipriano Sousa
Cipriano Sousa
At FARFETCH since the beginning. Over 20 years of experience in tech and e-commerce industries and at FARFETCH. Gucci admirer.
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Inside FARFETCH's collaboration culture
A well-structured and efficient organization is essential for any company and building the right foundations requires a lot of work and org design skills from many people. But above all, I believe that teamwork and a collaborative culture are key to success and regardless of the structure, it is the attitude towards results and colleagues that matters the most.  

At FARFETCH, our six values define our culture. But more than words it’s the attitudes that relate to our ways of working that have always been the cornerstone for our achievements. I particularly feel connected with our ‘Todos Juntos’ value, which in Portuguese means ‘all together’. This value has been fundamental to the FARFETCH journey and over the years it has been one of the vital ingredients of our success. 

Over the 12 years of FARFETCH’s history, I have had the opportunity to witness several important moments where our Todos Juntos value was decisive in the evolution of our platform and business. Times when the challenge ahead was especially demanding and complex and only the combined energy of people, regardless of formal structures, could allow us to deliver to the strategy.

I remember one example a few years ago - we needed to expand the set of basic features to support our international expansion. Redesign our platform to allow for better multilingual support, multi-currency, local content and more.

The FARFETCH business is not a simple e-commerce site but much more than that. FARFETCH is a platform, an operating system, that supports an entire industry. Therefore, redesigning "core" parts of the platform implies evaluating requirements in numerous applications and services, as well as assessing impacts in different areas, business units and external partners whose systems and/or businesses run on top of and depend on our platform. This challenge would require remarkable effort and the involvement of almost all development teams and different support teams. Additionally, we needed to execute this within a tight timeline, with high standards, and a future-proof architectural design.  

The first approach (without going into too much detail because of the complexity of the process) was to detail and enumerate all the tasks and distribute them to the different teams. In these large projects, the interdependencies between teams would be immense and the need for coordination and alignment quite demanding. 

The second approach was to create a "virtual team", or what we call a "v-team”. This is a  multidisciplinary team of Farfetchers with expertise in different areas and skills, who would receive a well-defined mission and objectives.

We opted for the second approach. Both would be viable options, but given the complexity of the project, the large number of dependencies between teams and the time available, the creation of a v-team seemed to be the obvious choice. 

And so the v-team was created! This multidisciplinary team reminded me of the first days at FARFETCH, when a small group of us would fit in one room without depending on excessive formalities, and everyone knew everything that was going on. 

During the project, there were days and nights of hard work, a lot of effort, unexpected setbacks and challenges, but at the same time, a lot of camaraderie, commitment, excitement and satisfaction.

This approach was a great success and today we still talk about the "Babel team", and one day when F-Tech has a museum, there will be something to remember how important this team was for the evolution of the platform.

Of course, the v-team concept only works if certain assumptions are guaranteed. The team must have a well-defined mission, ownership and autonomy. Also, there may be less experienced people in the team, but there must also be a significant number of people with a strong knowledge of the platform, experience and skills.

Often (or almost always) these v-teams, in addition to their operational and hands-on work, also serve as a central point of coordination for an entire departmental effort. For example, they can define templates or frameworks, general principles, test approaches with POCs and so on.

And we still use the v-team concept today. I like the idea of v-teams, especially because they maintain the spirit, mindset and startup agility that brought us here and counteract the natural tendency towards a "corporate" culture and organization. 

We currently have several formal v-teams that tackle complex problems. Some related to redesigns of our platform, others related to specific technologies or systems that we use that are stretched to the limit to support our business cases.

It is essential to say that these kinds of teams exist informally everywhere. People organize themselves organically for multiple purposes. However, the various fixed v-teams that exist at specific times have a set mission, focus and commitment to delivering value by working in true team spirit with those who can contribute to achieving a goal. Formalization is a way to give more visibility and support when the challenge is extraordinarily complex, and we want the additional focus to accomplish a concrete objective.

When a group of motivated, focused people with a well-defined mission come together... magic happens, the impossible becomes a reality.

In this article, I hope to have illustrated what I think about our organisation - the most important things are the mission, the commitment and of course, teamwork and our "Todos Juntos" value.

In F-Tech, we have structure, managers, reporting lines, processes, rules, good practices, you name it ... everything an over 4 thousand people publicly listed company needs for the functioning at scale. 

We have teams focused on processes, compliance and organization that have done a fantastic job to create solid foundations so that everyone else is free to dedicate themselves to what they know best, ensuring that the scale of our organization does not stifle creativity, agility, innovation and delivery.

At FARFETCH we have achieved this balance, allowing us to continue to innovate and to do what has never been done.

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