Agency team structure: How to build a winning agency team

Agency team structure

Building an agency team structure that is strong, lean, and effective is the first ingredient in your agency’s recipe for success. It’s also a crucial and foundational element to your business, to ensure strong project execution and results. 

Today, we’ll cover:

The importance of agency team structure

The agency team structure plays a crucial role in determining the effectiveness, efficiency, and overall success of an agency, no matter what type of agency you’re running.

  1. Clear roles and responsibilities: An agency team structure first and foremost ensures that each team member has clear roles and responsibilities. This helps avoid confusion, duplication of efforts, and miscommunication. When everyone knows their specific responsibilities and exactly how they fit into the overall agency team structure, it improves productivity, collaboration, as well as ownership.
  2. Efficient workflow and resource allocation: A structured team hierarchy enables efficient workflow planning and resource allocation. It allows agency project managers to assign tasks, allocate resources, and coordinate work effectively. By having a clear understanding of the team structure, project managers can identify the appropriate individuals to handle specific tasks, distribute the workload evenly, and optimize resource utilization.
  3. Effective decision-making: When you have defined roles and reporting lines, there will be no confusion around decision-making and authority. This empowers team members to make decisions within their areas of responsibility and speeds up the decision-making process. Plus, you’ll be able to respond to client needs faster.
  4. Collaboration and communication: A clear team structure facilitates effective collaboration and communication within the agency. Clear reporting lines and communication channels enable information to flow between teams and improve coordination between team members, departments, and stakeholders.
  5. Specialization and expertise: By organizing teams based on skill sets, such as creative, strategy, account management, or technical expertise, agencies can leverage the strengths of multiple departments as well as teams within those departments. Plus, it makes it easy to identify individual team members with specific skill sets and schedule them for the right projects.

    Match employee roles and skills to the right projects

    An example of what a team assembling a team for a brand refresh could look like.

  6. Scalability and growth: An agency team structure that supports scalability and growth is the key to long-term success (we’ll talk more about this later on). It allows agency operations to scale by adding new team members, creating specialized teams, or expanding service offerings. A scalable team structure ensures that the agency can adapt to increased project volumes, evolving client demands, and changing market dynamics without sacrificing efficiency or quality.
  7. Career progression and talent development: A well-structured team provides opportunities for career progression. On top of this, it adds a transparent agency org chart and hierarchy and your team members are able to see a clear growth path within the agency. This creates motivation and incentives for professional development within the agency. After all, employee retention is good for business.
  8. Client satisfaction: Any seasoned agency president or agency owner knows that a sound team structure directly impacts client satisfaction (which directly impacts your agency’s bottom line). A strategic team structure is what ensures that client needs are effectively communicated, projects are delivered on time and within budget, and client expectations are met.

Agency team structure: Traditional or pod?

The specific structure of an agency team can vary based on the agency’s size, industry, services offered, and business goals.

Traditional agency team structure 

A traditional agency structure typically follows a hierarchical model with clearly defined roles and reporting lines.

What are the benefits of a traditional agency team structure?

This model comes with benefits in terms of clarity, specialization, and efficiency, but it may have limitations when it comes to agility and cross-functional collaboration.

When should you use a traditional agency team structure? 

You typically see a traditional team, structure in larger agencies that have a significant number of employees and multiple clients. This is where a traditional structure can help manage complexity and ensure efficient resource allocation.

A traditional agency team structure using a hierarchy.

An example of what a traditional agency team structure might look like.

Pod agency team structure 

A pod agency structure, also known as a team-based or cross-functional structure, is an alternative to the traditional agency structure. In a pod structure, small teams, or “pods,” are made up of individuals from various disciplines that work collaboratively on projects from start to finish.

What are the benefits of pods?

When you’re working in a pod, that pod takes ownership of a project from start to finish. That means a greater sense of shared responsibility and accountability which leads to close collaboration, communication, and idea-sharing throughout the project lifecycle.

When should you use pods?

In theory, a pod team structure can be implemented at an agency of any size. However, while there’s no minimum requirement, it’s easier to organize teams into pods once your agency hits an employee number of around 25-30.

An example of an agency team structure with five roles making up a pod.

An example of what a pod agency team structure might look like.

Agency team structure: 10 roles you’ll find in a top-performing project team

Let’s take a look at the key agency project team roles and their main responsibilities.

  1. Project Sponsor: A sponsor is usually a member of senior management. Their main goal is to oversee project operations from a high level and clear any obstacles that threaten project success.
  2. Project Manager: The project manager is responsible for overall project planning, execution, and delivery. They coordinate resources, manage timelines, and ensure project objectives are met. They act as the primary point of contact for clients, manage client relationships, and ensure client satisfaction throughout the project.
  3. Project Coordinator: The project coordinator supports the project manager in various administrative and coordination tasks. They assist with scheduling, document management, and communication among team members and stakeholders. They help maintain project documentation, track progress, and ensure smooth project operations.
  4. Traffic manager: A traffic manager plays a vital role in managing the workflow and coordination of tasks within an agency. Their primary responsibility is to ensure the smooth flow of work and optimize the utilization of resources. They also help review deliverables, conduct quality checks, and coordinate feedback and approvals.
  5. Account Manager: The account manager serves as the main liaison between the agency and the client. They develop and maintain client relationships, understand client requirements, and manage client expectations. Account managers collaborate with the project management team to ensure projects align with client needs and goals.
  6. Creative Director/Manager: The creative director or creative manager oversees the creative aspects of projects. They provide artistic direction, ensure the delivery of high-quality creative work, and maintain brand consistency. They collaborate with the project management team to align creative strategies with project objectives.
  7. Production Manager: The production manager focuses on managing the production process and resources. They coordinate with the creative team, vendors, and suppliers to ensure the timely production and delivery of project assets. They monitor production timelines, manage budgets, and maintain quality control.
  8. Resource Manager: The resource manager is responsible for optimizing resource allocation across projects. They assess the availability and skills of team members, match them with project needs, and ensure efficient utilization of resources. They collaborate with project managers to balance workloads and address resource constraints.
  9. Quality Assurance/Control Manager: The QA/QC manager ensures that project deliverables meet the agency’s quality standards. They establish quality control processes, conduct reviews, and implement quality improvement initiatives. They work closely with the project management team and creative teams to address quality-related issues.
  10. Financial Manager/Controller: The financial manager or controller oversees project budgets and financial aspects. They monitor project costs, track expenses, and ensure adherence to financial guidelines. They collaborate with the project management team to ensure accurate budgeting, cost control, and financial reporting.

The specific roles within an agency team structure can vary based on the size, structure, and services offered by the agency. Plus, as project requirement changes, the team structure might evolve.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at when you should start building a project team.

When to start building a project team 

Different agencies have different requirements. So there’s no strict rule of when you should start building your project management team. 

That said, we recommend having a loose project team in preparation for the discovery stage. 

The chances are you already have the basic components of a project team in line with the services your agency offers. That’s especially true if you apply an agile methodology (which encourages flexible and hybrid teams). 

If you need to hire additional specialists or bring in freelancers, it’s a good idea to start prospecting shortly after the discovery stage. But remember, you don’t want to formally onboard a new hire until your prospect becomes a client.

3 ways to optimize your agency team structure for growth

  1. Evaluate and align roles: Make a habit out of assessing the roles and responsibilities within your agency team structure on a regular basis. Ensure that they’re aligned with your current growth strategy while allowing for flexibility further down the road. Make sure to identify any overlaps or gaps in responsibilities and make adjustments accordingly to optimize efficiency and clarity.
  2. Implement scalable tools: Invest in scalable project management software and resource management tools that can grow alongside your agency. Choose tools that support collaboration, communication, and workflow management. But more importantly, choose tools that your teams want to use. 
  3. Regularly review and adapt: Review your agency team structure, processes, and performance regularly. When you do so, gather feedback from team members, clients, and stakeholders to identify areas for optimization. Be open to making adjustments and adapting your team structure based on the evolving needs of your business as well as market dynamics.

By implementing these strategies, you can optimize your agency team structure for flexibility and growth. This way, you’ll set your team up for success by enabling them to adapt to changing circumstances, jump on new opportunities, and navigate the ever-changing nature of the industry.

Build an agency team structure for tomorrow’s projects

Building an agency team structure is a never-ending process.

That’s why it’s important to regularly evaluate its effectiveness, ask for input from your teams, and adapt as your agency, clients’ needs, and the market evolves.

It’s not an easy task, but there’s one simple rule to bear in mind: As soon as the current structure doesn’t serve you (or your clients)—it’s time to change it.

You can find the previous parts of this five-part series about agency project management here: