Leading and growing people/teams is a massively rewarding experience. It is also a challenge that places a large cognitive load on those leading teams. Why? Because leading people and teams is a complex (as opposed to just complicated) challenge because of the variance involved. Pick any given day and 7 different colleagues could have 7 different crises in their personal lives and they need to bring that into their professional lives. Whether they like it or not.
Operating in complex environments requires adaptability, flexibility and responsiveness. Subject matter “experts” are doomed to fail due to the rate of change, for a snapshot of what that can look like take a look at how much change the team I lead at Carsguide/Autotrader needed to respond to in less than 12 months in building out a new brand.
To build responsiveness into a team you need the right people and from my observations being in effective teams and then building and leading teams there are three areas to focus on;
1. Technical capability
3. Behavioural maturity or EQ
Let’s break those areas down.
Technical capability is a deliberate choice of words — I didn’t use “expertise” or refer to subject matter “experts”. As per above, the rate of change in digital can quickly make experts obsolete as technology moves to new form factors and with different underpinnings. What doesn’t change between technology or even frameworks however are principles. The principles of clean, scalable and maintainable code co-exist across almost anything being built. What this means is as you build out a team, focus on engineers and product folk who understand how things are made, how they should be made and the trade-offs that can and should be made. Don’t hire for strong expertise in framework xyz — you’ll find that business strategy and the digital landscape and quickly make that person an expensive luxury.
Process (which can sound like a dirty word in tech), or more fashionably “flow” can make or break your team. Roadblocks, context switching, handoffs and re-work all reduce flow. Importantly it’s fundamental to understand what good flow is — because it isn’t throughput, it’s actually the cadence of validated outcomes being shipped which is an important concept to grasp. Each team builds up frustrations, has blockers and very likely could go much faster and with better flow if they could just adjust for the impediments. Retro’s are a fantastic and much under-utilised tool when it comes to understanding what’s impeding flow. Spend time reflecting and spend time optimising/experimenting how to increase flow — outcomes shipped is how the non-product and engineering folks measure the efficacy of the team.
This is often referred to as “soft-skills”, the ones that often open doors for engineering folk to be not just engineering folk and the ones that can accelerate careers. An inability to communicate with colleagues is a sure-fire way to stall your career. Couple that with a lack of self-awareness and you lose the ability completely to adopt a growth mindset, which really is just a millennial term for working on your weaknesses and smoothing out the edges. Some excellent tools to help you and your teams understand their communication style include a vanilla DISC profile survey or for something more robust and with other personality tests (including “The Big 5” and the “Jungian Type Indicator”) try out WorkStyle which visualises really well just how compatible your team is and the personality traits and differences you either need to build or hire for.
If you’re successful in hiring, coaching, mentoring and building out technical capability, flow and EQ you have the basics of an effective team. Don’t forget to reflect, recalibrate and reassess often however. Just because someone does or doesn’t have one of these three traits doesn’t imply the same exists in the future. Look introspectively, be self-aware and ensure you are preaching growth mindset on the back of objective information and you’ll find success in complex environments.
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