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9 Leadership advice I would give my old self

Reading Time: 6 minutes

So you’re starting your Engineering Manager job shortly! Congratulations, you’re in for a wild ride!

This guide focuses on key goals to achieve on your first week with the team. You end the week with a clear understanding of what is expected of you, as well has an initial bond with your team members.

Introduce yourself to the team

Let’s start at the beginning. You just joined an established team and you’re looking into making an impression fast.

Book a 30min slot where you will get to know yourself to your team.

  • Create a simple presentation and ensure you go through the following topics
    • Who you are
    • How you got there: relevant past experiences
    • The kind of stuff you like to do in your free time
    • How you will contribute to the team
  • Allow space for questions. If you don’t get any, break the ice by asking questions to the team.

Why do I think this is relevant?

Looking back, this was an important moment when I joined my current company. Even though it felt a bit weird because let’s face it, I didn’t know anyone, it allowed me to introduce myself and immediately start creating connections with the team – well, professing your love for GIFs will eventually lead to that!

Understand what your main goal is

Let’s face it, every team is different. And each team is at a different level of maturity. Different teams need different leads so you need to know what your team needs you to be.

Have an honest and clear conversation with your manager to understand a few key items:

  • Why were you hired?
    • What happened to the previous lead?
    • Was the team newly formed and needs a new lead?
    • Did the previous lead quit? Why?
  • What is the composition of the team? How long have they’ve been together?
  • How does the team deal with their responsibilities? Do they crack under pressure?
  • What’s the team’s workload like? Do they have an intense roadmap or are they comfortable?
  • Have there been any stressful points in the recent history of the team? Any friction points that need to be worked on?

Why do I think this is relevant?

Having a clear understanding of the state of the team allowed me to immediately flag some issues that I wanted to tackle from the get-go. Even though this conversation passes a lot of responsibility to your end you will gain knowledge that will be key for the weeks to come.

Book your first round of 1:1s

Now that you’ve introduced yourself to the team and have a managerial perspective of the team’s health, it’s time to dive into each team member’s perspective of the world that surrounds them.

Your first round of 1:1s is crucial to create a personal connection with each element.

In this session, you will ask key questions like:

  • In your words what is the team’s job/responsibility?
  • A quick recent history of the team
  • Where you are in your career path and where you want to go (will make more sense to more senior positions)
  • How happy they are with the state of the team
  • What would they improve in the team?
  • How they feel the ratio feature/debt/support is being handled
  • clarify that you need to build trust. that you understand that it doesn’t come out of nothing so it needs to be built.

Note that this will be your first real reality check with the team where you will start to uncover some of the nitty-gritty so take note and prepare to work on it at a later stage.

Why do I think this is relevant?

This is it. This is that moment that will define your coming weeks. I recall uncovering a lot of information that my manager wasn’t aware of and gathering data that would help me guide the team for the coming months. To this day, every time I go into a new team I start with a round of 1:1s to break the ice, create connections and understand the perspective of those who are in fight day in and day out.

Who’s who

As the team’s point person it’s crucial to have a clear understanding of who the main people that surround the team are.

The ecosystem that surrounds your team is much more than members, you and your manager.

Understand who’s who in your team universe.

  • Do you have a product manager?
  • Do you work with project managers?
  • Who your stakeholders are
  • Who’s the architect involved with your team?
  • Get to know people in charge of Support/Service Desk. They will be key to understand what your customers feel about your product
  • Try to understand other key players

Why do I think this is relevant?

This one was so important to me, and still is! As you join a new team, a new project you need to be aware of who the key people are and what their needs. The “devil is in the details” so ensure you start creating mental profiles of everyone, from how they view the future of your shared product to small personal things that will break the ice later.

Get all setup

This is one of the most basic pieces of advice but since every company is different ensure you understand all the software that it’s used and allowed and set up your environment so you have the least friction when you want to get things going on a roll.

Examples:

  • Install all the software that you need
  • Get your calendar customized
  • Create email filters
  • Create contact lists
  • Ensure you reserve time slots for concentration
  • Pre-book all of your 1:1s
  • Create document templates, bookmarks etc

These pre-emptive actions will ensure you are fast and smooth every time you need to take an action. There’s nothing worse than someone in charge lagging behind due to something that should be done right from the start.

Why do I think this is relevant?

Speed. I believe in doing the work now so later we can be faster doing recurring things. From automation to small things like color-coding I find that a great leader is also seen by the systems created and used to have even the slightest advantage.

Understand the scope of your team

Having a clear grasp of what are the responsibilities of your team is extremely important since it will define the tone of your leadership.

To shed light on this topic you might need to talk to multiple people including stakeholders. Getting this information will help you understand if you have special procedures when deploying features (for example in PCI compliant environments) or if you need specific on-call procedures.

Here are some questions you’ll want to be answered:

  • What services are under the team’s ownership?
  • What’s the criticality of our services?
  • Who are our clients?
  • What user journeys do we affect?

Why do I think this is relevant?

For a team to understand the consequences of each action, feature and bug, it’s necessary to know how the services under their ownership affect the user. Ensure that the team is also aware of this because it will help have a deeper connection with the user and have an increased sense of responsibility.

What commitments are there in place?

Now here comes the hard part. Uncovering all the commitments that are already in place. These commitments can come in different ways:

  • Do you have an already defined roadmap?
  • Are you working on a project with a hard date?
  • Are there any company-wide initiatives that you need to have on your radar?
  • What goals were defined for your team before you joined?
  • Are there any key tech debt that needs to be handled?

Why do I think this is relevant?

You need to show up prepared, and following up on previous agreements shows that you’re ready to take the wheel while the car is moving. This moment can be a bit overwhelming but it’s so important to have clarity of what other teams are expecting from you and your team.

How does your team work?

Looking now inwards what method does your team use to work? Are they working under Agile? Using Scrum, Kanban or customized mixture?

  • What recurring meetings are planned?
  • How is the team estimating tasks?
  • Are there productive retrospectives happening? Do you have a track record of your retros?
  • How are goals defined?
  • How is performance measured?
  • What is the definition of done of each task?

Why do I think this is relevant?

It’s important to remember that things won’t change drastically just because you joined the team. The relationship you’re creating implies that you will teach as well as learn so first thing’s first, get acquainted with the processes and procedures that the team uses daily. Only after you understand properly how the team works, you can begin to suggest and create change.

Dealing with Impostor Syndrome head on

The amount of information you will gather during these initial days and weeks will trigger self-doubts and a good amount of good old Impostor Syndrome.

Having daily habits like keeping an achievement list will help you recap your day and remind you of the value your bringing to the company.

Remember that you were hired for a reason and it’s with confidence and a growth mindset of continuous learning and improvement that you will become the leader you really want to become.

Why do I think this is relevant?

We’ve all felt Impostor Syndrome at a point in our careers. Personally, I tackle it by dedicating even more to my craft and learning new things since I believe that it’s with learning that we advance as professionals. Also, the feeling of learning something new mitigates my Impostor Syndrome.


Congratulations! You’ve reached the end of the article!

Be sure to stick around and check some other posts on retrospectives, agile, productivity or leadership I have on the blog.

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Title Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

See you next time! Parada

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