Thoughts on challenges while managing a team
One of the books I read this year was The Manager's Path. It has been on my reading list for some time, and it's one of those books that fade away after a certain while.
Having a "manager" position for some time now, this book opened my eyes to a wider set of challenges and situations where company policies and guidelines are not enough to solve a particular issue.
Dealing with people and humans within the work context is very challenging, and it becomes more complex when layers of communication grow and you're not in direct contact with everyone in your team. Common questions I've read and even asked myself are:
How do you make sure everyone is doing what they're supposed to be doing?
How do you make sure everyone is aligned with principles and ideas a company and a team are based upon?
What's a career ladder and how do I even start creating it in my company?
How can you unravel the best work from your team?
These questions are not easy to answer and they take a lot of work and even years to find a good fit for one set of people. When I started reading "The Manager's Path" I was expecting to get close to the answers and get better insights from someone who has already gone through this.
I've been also tweeting about the best phrases and the bookmarks that have personally impacted me the most.
(when I refer to "manager" in the sentences below, it ranges from any software management position. Namely tech lead, engineer manager, VP, CTO, etc.)
Thoughts on feedback and performance reviews
This one is pretty hard. Many personal feelings can arise from performance reviews and evaluating an employee.
I've found the best way to avoid a bad performance review meetings is to constantly feel the pulse of the team. Is there a magic frequency number to do check-ins? It depends on how big your team is. If your team is small, you probably have lot of day-to-day communication with everyone. I would suggest 3 months is a good enough frequency to chat with people.
As someone managing a team, it's important that by this time, yearly reviews are done based on a whole year. It's easy to overemphasize events that happened recently and therefore forget about what happened 6 months ago. To not miss this, a tracking document is important to remember previous check-ins.
Future goals, which should be another output from these meetings should be driven mostly by the one reviewed. A manager can help to develop and clarify these ones, but the main source is still bounded to personal objectives.
"Skipping 1-1s because you're too busy with other things is a great way to miss the warning signs of an employee who is going to quit." - The Manager's Path
Thoughts on training & hiring
Leaving aside specific policies and guidelines on training, it's important as a manager to train and give challenges to your team.
While these training tasks grow and become more complex, it's key you let your teamwork independently and stop keeping them dependant on you. In the end, a manager should be focused on strategy and career growth.
For training, a mentorship program is important to put in place. While managers are mentors by default and should proactively solving out issues, a formal mentor can also be designated to someone. Especially between interns and inexperienced employees, it will help them succeed and understand systems deeply.
For new employees and to detect good/bad hires, it's of relevance to set up a plan with goals around the first 90 days. Also, it's a good idea to let them edit the company onboard documentation and provide feedback for the process.
"The manager is accountable for the health and productivity of the team." - The Manager's Path
Thoughts on strategy
A manager should be involved in the tech strategy of one company. For companies that haven't reached a level of big maturity yet, focusing 100% on this is difficult. Time management and deciding between what's important and urgent is crucial.
Starting with a yearly plan that everyone agrees to it's always a good start. It will give the team something to focus on and to measure progress. For me, strong areas to focus on are quality and code standards, documentation, automation and career growth. Start with those and some goals for each.
Another thing to point out here is how to shape the feature of the company in terms of the technology stack. Certainly, projects and clients will drive some of this. It's important to give the team time to try different frameworks and stacks. At some point, decide on which give them better productivity and easiness to build relevant work. Financial concerns and partnerships can also impact decisions. Be strategic about which tools you choose.
Measuring strategy is also hard since projects and billable hours can eat many of the hours in a week. Keeping a bare minimum of sync up with the team will help to sense how the progress is. If there's a specific area to tackle, grab the time in your calendar to discuss it and give the proper push.
Thoughts on culture
There's no question that a great culture within a company will create exceptional results in a team. What are the elements of a great culture?
To me, it circles down to follow:
Be open and super clear when communicating. Clarify stuff and tasks 2, 3 and 5 times. Add layers of communication and documentation, even it feels redundant.
Let the team experiment and fail while testing frameworks, SDK and tools. Document failures and learn from them.
Be direct and humble when giving feedback. Catch problems earlier and create energy to solve them proactively. Document what went wrong and again learn from it.
Always provide relevant context to the team, as to why certain decisions are being made or why company policies are decided.
Lastly, it's important to recognize people's efforts and goals achieved. At some point, a manager should become the spectator of great work and career evolution within the team.
I feel “The Manager's Path" should be read by pretty much every employee. It provides so much wisdom about how to treat and develops teams, considering many areas and dimensions. I've highlighted so many lines and have realized I have a ton to learn as well. Give it a try!