The challenges of 100+ Development Team Leaders
And tips to solve them
In the last few months, I have been obsessed with the question “What are the challenges of other team leaders?”. I wanted to understand the pains, and which ones we share. Not surprisingly, I heard a lot of the same problems.
105 team leaders answered the survey. With more than 30 of them, I had 1:1 conversations. Today, I’m going to cover:
The results of the survey
My thoughts on the topics
Practical tips for improving each
Collaboration between teams
How would you rate the collaboration between different R&D teams?
How well do you know what other team leaders are up to?
Let’s start with what interests team leaders the least.
One of them told me: “I can barely handle my own team and work. You want me to care about other teams?”. It’s hard to argue with that 😅. But, in addition to improving the work between teams, this can help a lot in reducing your own stress.
For me, what helped the most is:
Have 1:1s with all other team leaders under your manager. They share the same struggles as you do, and often have the same goals. It doesn’t have to be regular, but the sync between you influences the teams, even if you don’t change anything else.
Around a year ago, a new team leader started her job. I was already stable enough at my own, so I offered to help a little. Every few weeks we had a 1:1, which was the best conversation of the week (for both of us). We still do them. It helped her to get valuable advice from someone familiar with the organization, and for me to gain a fresh perspective on my approach (and problems).
Mentoring your team members
Do you feel the 1:1s with your people are productive?
It seems most team leaders are happy with their 1-on-1s, this is the highest score!
Few guidelines that I try to stick to:
Do them weekly (yes, I know not all people want to. Try it out)
Be consistent - don’t cancel those meetings, and try to not move them around
Don’t focus on the day-to-day. Use them to discuss career goals, set practical targets, and connect on a personal level
For me, the personal connection is the most important part. I like to share what’s happening in my life, and hear about what’s going in in theirs. When you share about yourself, people do the same. And I behave this way with my manager too!
It takes time for people to open up. Some of the first meetings can be 10 or even 5 minutes, and will feel more like an interrogation. Don’t give up.
I had a developer who was not used to regular 1:1s and didn’t share any of his thoughts or feelings. It took more than 6 months, but by the end, our 30-minute weekly meeting was too short for us 😅. He told me he waited for those meetings, and I felt he was excited to share. Even though he moved to another team, we still have a good connection.
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Do developers have a clear career path?
The score here is pretty terrible.
If there is no plan to create something formal in the near future, it’s your job to have something concrete for your developers to aim for. Some of them will even require it - ambitious people tend to need goals, hating feeling stuck in the same place.
If you want to know how it looks from an ambitious developer’s side - I highly recommend the ‘High Growth Engineer’ newsletter. You’ll get tons of insights for yourself too!
Building a team
How well do your team members know each other?
* Some people believe that you shouldn’t be too personal with your teammates, and not cross boundaries. There is also a big difference between different cultures. I can only share what worked for me, take what works for you.
If you feel that social interactions (or fun activities) with your teammates are weird or uncomfortable - congrats, you are a typical software engineer… 🙃
The thing is, people who feel connected to other people on their team, enjoy their work more. And even if takes effort, the reality is never as uncomfortable as you imagine.
Eat lunch together with the whole team once in a while.
Use the budget you have for fun activities. Whatever works for you - the latest 3 we did were a breakfast together, Bowling, and Laser Tag.
If you are remote (or hybrid) - there are tons of fun options that can be done in Zoom. We tried https://www.drawize.com/ and it was great.
How motivated are the developers on your team?
If your developers are not motivated - sorry, it’s probably your fault.
Do they feel connected to the team?
Do they understand the expectations from them, and can grow?
Do they understand the business, and the impact their work has?
That’s just a small part of the questions you need to ask yourself. Focus Team time is a great option for you, I discussed it in detail in last week’s article.
The relationship with your manager
Do you know what you are measured on?
The relationship with your manager is critical. Both for your own success, but also for the success of your team. A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Shai Nissim, an engineering manager to answer the question What does your manager want from you?
Improving this part is possible only through a dialog with your manager. What a surprise, right? I would start with a simple question: “For you, what does a great team leader look like?”. And then follow up with: “What are YOUR main struggles?”
I believe in being open, and personal. With my current manager (a disclaimer - he is probably reading this 😂), we built a great relationship. I feel comfortable sharing everything, and he feels comfortable pushing me and sharing his struggles. Of course, this depends on your manager too, but A LOT of it is in your hands.
I promise you, it’ll do miracles :)
If you are a developer and you reached this part - please know that there are also great things about our job! I promise to talk about them too in the future😅
One Last Thing
In parallel to the team leaders survey, I conduct a developers survey, with the same 7 questions. I wanted to see what our employees think. My goal is to reach 500 developers (I’m at 130 now). If you can share this link with the developers in your team, it will be very helpful! It takes 30 seconds, and I’ll share the results once it’s over.
See you next week!