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How to manage a team towards high performance?

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Anonymous User at Taro Communitya year ago

I've done a lot of research on how to be a good manager, but now do I just "trust the process" or how do I ensure we are a high performance team over the next half?

I'm a newish EM at a Series-B start up of 150 people, ~25 engineers. So far I have positive feedback from my manager and reports that I am empathetic and supportive. What my manager is telling me now though is that we need to see results. Productivity and performance seem OK in my first months but it is too soon to really see my impact. My manager noted that since we have scaled up from 4 engineers to 25 and gone mostly remote over 3 years there may be a loss of a sense of urgency and the feeling of impact per dev. We are also split into many teams with a smaller scope per team.

The temptation when asked to "get results" might be to ask for constant updates from developers and punish them when fake hard deadlines are given and missed (we are a B2C company so there are rarely actual deadlines). So how do I motivate my team to work hard in a healthy sustainable way? How do I measure the progress and reward them fairly while creating a team focused culture and not one that is competitive and individualist?

Below are some of the management ideas I'm using/working towards. I have lots of room to learn how to do each better, so advice on which to prioritize my effort at improving first would be great in addition to notes on what's missing and what seems off on the list:

Individual attention

  • Working with each individual to set SMART goals for the next half
  • Working with each individual to figure out what motivates them, and do that
  • Figuring out what learning each person wants to do and giving them support there
  • Regular, timely feedback (positive and negative)
  • 1:1s where I do a lot of listening, help remove blocker
  • Shielding from outside distraction and unhelpful pressures

Team culture

  • Creating a lowercase-a agile mindset: people are first and it is ok to fail and we learn from our mistakes. We can fail gracefully by making small, quick launches where we get frequent feedback from the users, and feedback from coworkers on how we are succeeding/failing
  • Making the team effective first, efficient second: 5 wrong things done in a quarter are worse than 2 right things that move the needle
  • Setting team OKRs for the next half that the team wants to accomplish
  • Encouraging team work on tasks, pair programming, positive code review culture, etc
  • Improving the process to make it effective and fun around how the flow of work happens between planning, selecting tasks, marking things as done and tested
  • Team demos with stakeholders to show off results and get feedback

Bonus questions about motivation: In 1:1s how do you figure out what motivates someone since they might not say extrinsic things like money even if that is what they are working for, or the opposite they might be happy at their level and just like the work they do with a good work life balance but might not say that directly either. Also if there is a team of 5 where 2 want money and 3 love the work for itself, how do you tailor their experience to that? The first two will still want fun/interesting work and the second three still want to get promoted and compensated fairly.

Thanks!

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Discussion

(5 comments)
  • 8
    Profile picture
    Founder
    a year ago

    You are already in a good direction.
    I would ask one question: For the sake of what?

    The goal to achieve a high-performance team should be a by-product of the bigger goal.

    I would suggest thinking about the care of your engineers.

    It is not ideal for focusing on getting the best output from them and triggering their motivation buttons. Let us treat them as humans instead of machines.

    Genuine relationships are built on care and building trust. Can you be that manager they have been hoping for all their lives? Can you see beyond the performance and see them as humans who have challenges, ambitions, and concerns?

    When this care and trust are established, you will be able to inspire them, listen to them, and help them in their career.

    Happy engineers with back from a manager will give you all when needed. Take care of them, and they will take care of you and the company.

    Care and trust are the starts; then there are other sensibilities you need to build afterwards, which I will post another time.

  • 5
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    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    a year ago

    There's a lot of questions here (alongside a bunch of things that are already right directionally), so I'll split up my response into multiple parts.

    So how do I motivate my team to work hard in a healthy sustainable way?

    It's interesting that you don't have actual deadlines as a B2C company. I understand that B2B has formal contracts, but B2C is a tough space as well: Consumers are demanding, haha. Anyways, less "deadline culture" makes this a lot easier.

    Tactically, what I recommend:

    • Set the example yourself by not working late nights/weekends
    • Having a lot of offsites and team-bonding events
    • Encourage engineers, especially TLs, to add buffer to estimates
    • Ask engineers in 1 on 1s how much they're working and tell them to slow it down if they're working themselves to the bone

    At a high-level, if you want your team to be chill, then be chill yourself. 😊

  • 3
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    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    a year ago

    How do I measure the progress and reward them fairly while creating a team focused culture and not one that is competitive and individualist?

    This is actually 2 very separate questions rolled into one.

    Measuring Progress

    Fostering A More Collaborative Team

    • Similar to my previous response, you encourage X by doing X yourself and championing X.
    • This means that if an engineer on your team is helping others, reward them. Give them a shoutout in the team meeting and fight for them in performance review.
    • From your side, you can do tactical things like encouraging others to speak up in meetings, organizing team events like brown-bags, and setting up pair programming among onboarding and more junior engineers.
  • 4
    Profile picture
    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    a year ago

    In 1:1s how do you figure out what motivates someone

    This one is straightforward: Build up trust. For resources on how to that, I recommend the following:

    I also recommend the in-depth case study I gave about how I grew Meta engineers lightning fast: [Case Study] Mentoring Junior SWEs [E3] to Senior [E5] In Just 2.5 Years At Meta

    The fastest-growing managers (i.e able to go from M1 -> M2 -> D1 very quickly) I knew were all able to get their reports promoted very quickly.

    Lastly, I agree with pretty much all the bullet points you have in the original question about tactics you're thinking about. Just follow through on those and lead with empathy - I'm sure you've got this 💪

  • 6
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    Senior Software Engineer at IBM
    a year ago

    What's already been shared here is great and as you've seen some are motivated by different things. Work and money are my top most things and I think you're able to tell who has what motivations already. I'd focus the two interested on money bigger problems in the organization knowing they will wield the power responsibly and then make sure the others still get interesting work to keep them engaged.

    Now, when it comes to deadlines, always make sure you have hard deadlines and tell the engineers that. This is how you get them to be reasonably motivated. Also keep in mind several realistic targets that I would do with statistical project management before I ever approached the team about this and ever even commit any dates to contract. In a sense, with these resources how likely am I to make the dates given and toy around with that before ever bringing the staff onboard. Once the deadlines are decided though, everyone needs to move in unison and its likely going to be hell for them. Support them in this, take their feedback and adjust the culture as the culture itself of the place is going to be inefficient for the goals you have outlined and so you get into debugging lots of cultural problems too. Along the way, you also have to learn how to help the culture learn to chart course in a very hostile, competitive free market.

    Here's some books that I've found useful:

    Navigating The Free Market

    Project Management

    Hope this helps!