If you have worked on a large engineering product, the odds are that you did not build it in isolation but in collaboration with colleagues from diverse domains. It’s common for software projects to involve product, business, marketing, design, analytics, customer support, end-users, and C-suite leaders. All of these people with a vested interest in the success of your product represent your stakeholders.
The tech industry is littered with numerous failed products from Amazon’s Fire phone to Google+. One of the common recurring reasons is poor stakeholder management and coordination.
Knowing who your stakeholders are, understanding their incentives and priorities, aligning their interests, getting buy-in, and leveraging their expertise is critical for the success of your product. Just one of the stakeholders being misaligned makes developing your product much harder, so it is imperative that you manage stakeholders from the conception to the launch of your product.
I have seen several products fail due to poor planning and management of stakeholders. In this article, I will provide some insights on effectively managing your stakeholders as an engineering leader.
Identifying Your Stakeholders
The first step is to identify the stakeholders that are critical to the success of your product, understand their motivation and priorities, and their relative importance and influence. Successful stakeholder management starts by mapping your stakeholders across several dimensions, including:
A stakeholder mapping exercise will help you identify the most important stakeholders during each phase of the product development lifecycle. This helps you later as you develop optimal strategies to balance the diverse perspectives of each stakeholder, manage any inevitable conflicts, and build unique communication methods for each one.
An important point that many articles on this topic omit is that stakeholder mapping is not static. It must be modified as individual stakeholders are replaced or reallocated to the project. For instance, if your VP of Product is replaced by a new one, the mapping has to be redrawn based on your new VP’s motivations and priorities. These will almost certainly affect your roadmap for any products under development.
Prioritizing Your Stakeholders
Every stakeholder contributes unique expertise that is pivotal for your product’s success, but their relative interest, importance, influence, and level of contribution varies across the product lifecycle. Using your stakeholder map, identify the most important stakeholders and engage them accordingly.
Remember that CXOs aren’t necessarily the most important stakeholders at every stage of a product’s development. For instance, while C-level business leaders are crucial for providing initial budget and sign-off, during the development phase, your product and design stakeholders are often more relevant.
Furthermore, if you lose touch with the end-users during the development phase, you might end up building a product missing features that customers want. I saw this recently when another engineering team started a new project.
After getting initial buy-in from leadership and validating the customers’ needs, the manager was replaced. Instead of re-assessing the team’s priorities and confirming stakeholder alignment, the team got out of sync with the deliverables that customers needed.
At the end of a year-long development cycle, they launched the product, but customers were no longer bought in. The team essentially lost a year’s worth of effort because they didn’t keep all the relevant stakeholders in mind throughout the development process.
While stakeholder mapping is a necessary first step, conflicting priorities amongst stakeholders are common and need to be resolved delicately.
You can preempt certain stakeholder conflicts by keeping conflicting interests in mind. Achieving multi-stakeholder alignment requires carefully planned discussions and negotiations to assess the lay of the land with each stakeholder. Focused group meetings prioritizing key points of disagreement or conflicting priorities can help you achieve alignment and avoid conflicts down the line.
Additionally, knowing which stakeholders are most likely to back your project through challenging times and which are likely to abandon you is important. Learn when to fight fires on your own and when to seek out more experienced mentors in your company to provide a different perspective.
The strategy for stakeholder alignment works differently in small startups than it does in large, multi-layered organizations. In a startup, speed of execution is critical while enterprise teams may have many layers of bureaucracy impeding velocity. Both have their challenges, but it’s important not to treat them the same.
Keeping Stakeholders Up to Date
After getting all the stakeholders aligned, you need a communication strategy to share updates on the project at set intervals. Tailor your communication plan according to the importance, expertise, and priorities of each stakeholder. For example, the project’s contributors might need a high-touch approach, while executives might just want periodic updates and high-level presentations.
There are several appropriate modes of communication apart from 1:1 meetings, especially now that so many teams are remote. At a minimum, you should maintain a project status board detailing the progress of each milestone, KPI, team member, and estimated timeline.
Popular software and tools that facilitate structured project management include:
While a project board might be enough for some stakeholders, others may want more explicit communication. As an engineering leader, be proactive about this communication, leveraging video conferencing and messaging tools to help keep stakeholders in the loop.
Finally, group status updates can be productive when addressing stakeholders who are too busy to read or watch pre-recorded videos. These meetings are especially helpful if you need signoff from several parties to proceed.
Engaging Stakeholders and Taking Feedback
During the execution phase of the project, continuous engagement and clear communication with your stakeholders is essential to maintain their interest and trust. Stakeholders are often involved in a multitude of projects, and your project may not be their top priority.
While giving stakeholders regular updates can help, it’s also helpful to get their buy-in or actively involve them in some parts of the project. As long as the key stakeholders are satisfied, there is less likelihood of difficult surprises down the road.
Often, stakeholders will express disappointment or frustration with your team’s work, rate of progress, or specific decisions related to product development. Feedback - both positive and negative - helps your team apprise their project status and course-correct accordingly, so first, evaluate the feedback to understand whether it’s valid or a simple miscommunication.
Leveraging your objective analysis will enable you to respond to the stakeholders’ concerns accordingly and manage their expectations better in the future. Whenever situations like this arise, follow up by bringing these stakeholders into decisions earlier and ensuring they have the information they need to suggest changes earlier.
Finally, use feedback as an opportunity to understand what contributes to stakeholder satisfaction with the project. There might be a new process you can implement to avoid similar misunderstandings on future projects.
Developing Your Stakeholder Management Skills
For new engineering leaders, the art of stakeholder management might take some time to master. If you feel like you’re struggling with it, find mentors (typically senior engineering leaders in your organization) and look into external professional training. Successful stakeholder management requires a host of soft skills, including communication, empathy, and persuasiveness.
“You need to be able to communicate and collaborate with other engineers who are working on different pieces of that system, as well as cross-functionally with product managers, designers, and others who are contributing to the design of the system that you’ll help implement.” - David Kaminsky, Senior Engineering Manager at StubHub
While some technical experts might dismiss the relevance of these skills when they’re in individual contributor roles, in my experience, the most successful engineering leaders combine strong technical acumen with excellent interpersonal skills.
The success of your software or engineering product depends on your ability to successfully collaborate with and manage cross-functional stakeholders across the entire product development lifecycle.
Identifying your key stakeholders and understanding their priorities lays the foundation for achieving strong cross-functional stakeholder alignment. This foundation can be further cemented with smart communication strategies and tools to keep your stakeholders abreast of the progress and vested in the success of your product.
Stakeholder management is not a new topic, but no two managers do it the same way. You have to incorporate your context, industry, and strengths to find a set of practices that work for you.
Strong engineering talent is the bedrock of modern technology companies. Software engineers, in particular, are in high demand given their expertise and skills. At the same time, there is a much greater supply of software companies and startups, all of which are jostling to hire top engineers. Given this market reality, retention of top engineering talent is imperative for a company to grow and innovate in the short as well as the long term.
Retaining employees is critical for numerous reasons. It helps a company retain experience not only in terms of employees’ domain expertise and skills, but also organizational knowledge of products, processes, people, and culture. Strong employee retention rates (>90%) ensure a long-term foundation for success and enhances team morale as well as trust in the company. A stable engineering team is in a better position to both build and ship innovative products and establish a reputation in the market that helps attract top-quality talent.
The corporate incentive of maintaining high standards of employee hiring and retention is also related to the costs of employee churn. Turnover costs companies in the US $1 trillion USD a year with an annual turnover rate of more than twenty-six percent. The cost of replacing talent is often as high as two times their annual salary. This is a tremendous expense that can be averted through better company policies and culture. The onus is typically on the human resources (HR) team to develop more employee-friendly practices and promote higher engagement and work–life balance.
However, in practice, most HR teams are deferential to the company leadership and that is where the buck stops. Leaders and managers have a fundamental responsibility to retain the employees on their team, as more often than not, employees do not leave the company per se, but the line manager.
I will discuss best practices and strategies to improve retention, which ought to be a consistent effort across the entire employee lifecycle--from recruiting to onboarding through regular milestones during an employee’s tenure.
Start at the Start
More often than not, managers do not invest in onboarding preparation and processes out of laziness and indifference. Good employee retention practice starts at the very beginning, i.e., at the time of hiring. Hiring talent through a structured, transparent, fair, and meritocratic interviewing process that allows the candidate to understand their particular role and responsibilities, the company’s diversity and inclusion practices, and the larger mission of the company sets an important tone for future employees.
Hiring the right people who are a good culture fit increases the likelihood of greater engagement and longer tenure at the company. Hiring managers should not hire for the sake of hiring. They should put considerable thought into each new hire and how that hire might fit in on their team.
Apart from hiring, managers have other important considerations, including:
In the first few months, the new hires, the hiring team, and company are in a “dating” phase, evaluating each other and gathering evidence on whether to commit to a longer-term relationship. Most new employees make up their mind to stay or leave within the first six months. A third of new hires who quit said they had barely any onboarding or none at all.
The importance of a new employee’s first impressions on the joining date, the first week, the first month, and the first quarter cannot be overemphasized. Great onboarding starts before the new hire’s join date, ensuring all necessary preparation is handled, like paperwork. Orientation programs on the join day are essential to introduce the company and expand on its mission, values, and culture beyond what the employee might have learned during the interviews.
Minor things like having the team know in advance about a new team member’s join date, and readying the desk, equipment, access, and logins are tell-tale signs of how much thought and effort the hiring team has invested in onboarding. Fellow teammates also make a significant impact, whether they are welcoming and drop in to say “hi” or stop by for a quick chat to get to know the hire better, or take the new employee out for lunch with the whole team.
Onboarding should not end on day one but continue in various forms. Some examples include:
A successful onboarding strategy should enable the employee to know their first project, the expectations, associated milestones, and how performance evaluation works.
Keep It Up!
Onboarding should be followed up with regular check-ins by the manager and HR at the one-month, three-month, and six-month mark. These meetings should be treated as an opportunity for the company to assess the new employee’s comfort level on the team and provide feedback as needed. An onboarding mentor or buddy, if not assigned already, should be provided to help the employee find their feet and learn the informal culture and practices.
The manager should set up the employee for success by providing low-hanging projects that are quick to deliver and help the new hire understand the process of building and deploying a new feature using the company’s internal engineering tools and systems. With quick wins, new hires are able to build trust within the organization and gain more confidence to do excellent work.
As time goes on, the role of the hiring manager becomes more prominent in coordinating regular 1-on-1 meetings, providing the new hire clear work guidelines, as well as challenging and stimulating projects. Apart from work, an introduction to the organizational setup and culture, as well as social interaction within and beyond the team is also crucial. As the new employee ramps up, it is important to give constructive feedback so that the employee can improve. Where a new employee delivers positive impact in the early days itself, the manager should highlight their work within the team and organization, and motivate the employee to continue to perform well.
In addition to core engineering work, employees feel more connected when a company actively invests in their learning and development. Cross-functional training programs that involve employees across different teams foster deeper collaboration and a stronger sense of connection within the various parts of the company.
Investment in employees’ upskilling and education via partnership with external learning platforms or vendors also generates a positive culture of instilling curiosity and learning. Learning new skills energizes the employees and provides them opportunities to grow and develop. They can then apply the newly learned knowledge and skills to pertinent business problems. It creates a virtuous culture that yields overall positive outcomes for the employee and employer alike, and positively influences the long-term retention rates.
New employees generally feel the need to be positively engaged. A powerful mission statement can sometimes convert naysayers faster and generate a company-wide sense of being part of something impactful. This fosters deeper engagement, loyalty, and trust in the company and helps employees embrace company values, resulting in better employee retention rates. Frequent town hall meetings from the leadership enable a new hire to understand the organization as a coherent whole and their particular role in furthering the company’s mission.
Listen to Feedback
The diverse organizational efforts to onboard, engage, and enhance new employees’ perception of the company are bound to fail if the organization does not seek and act on any feedback shared by the new hires. Companies ought to create an internal culture of open communication whereby they seek feedback from employees via surveys, meetings, and town halls, and showcase transparent efforts in implementing employees’ suggestions and feedback. Regular 1-on-1 meetings with managers should be treated as an opportunity to gather feedback and offer the employee insights into whether and how the company is taking action on that feedback.
However, in spite of organizational efforts to improve employee satisfaction and wellbeing, some attrition is inevitable. Attrition rates of more than ten percent is a cause for concern, however, especially when top-performing employees leave the company. Exit interviews are typically conducted by HR and hiring managers, but in practice these are largely farcical as the employees hardly share their honest opinions and have lost trust that the company can take care of their career interests and development.
Companies can implement processes that bring greater transparency around employee decisions related to hiring, promotion, and exit. These processes will also hold HR and managers to greater accountability with respect to employee churn, and incentivize them to increase the retention rates in their teams.
In past generations, job stability was a paramount aspiration for employees which meant they typically spent all their working lives at the same company. In today’s world, with a plethora of enterprises and new startups, high-performing talent is in greater demand and it is possible to accelerate one’s career growth by frequently job hopping and switching companies.
Nowadays, feedback about company processes, culture, compensation, interviews, and so on, is available on a plethora of public platforms including Glassdoor and LinkedIn. Companies are now more proactive in managing their online reputation and act on feedback from the anonymous reviews on such platforms.
Employees in the post-Covid remote-working world are prone to greater degrees of stress, mental health issues, and burnout, all of which have adverse impacts on their work–life balance. In such extraordinary times, companies face the unique challenge—and opportunity—to develop and promote better employee welfare practices.
At one end of the spectrum, there are companies like Amazon. In 2015, The New York Times famously portrayed the company as a “bruising workplace.” Then, in 2021, The New York Times again reported on Amazon for poor workplace practices and systems, prompting a public acknowledgment from the CEO that Amazon needs to do a better job.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are companies like Atlassian or Spotify that have made proactive changes in their organizational culture and are being lauded for new practices to promote employee welfare during the pandemic. Companies that adapt to the changing times and demonstrate that they genuinely care for their employees will enjoy better retention rates, lower costs due to frequent rehiring, and long-term employee trust that conveys the company as a beacon of progressive workplace culture and employment practices.
Published by Colabra
Effective communication skills are pivotal to success in science. From maximizing productivity at work through efficient teamwork and collaboration to preventing the spread of misinformation during global pandemics like Covid19, the importance of strong communication skills cannot be emphasized enough.
However, scientists often struggle to communicate their work clearly for various reasons. Firstly, most academic institutes do not prioritize training scientists in essential soft skills like communication. With negligible organizational or departmental training and little to no feedback from professors and peers, scientists fail to fully appreciate the real-world importance and consequences of poor communication skills. The long scientific training period in the academic ivory tower is spent conversing with fellow scientists, with minimal interaction with non-technical professionals and the general public. Thus, the lingua franca among scientists is predominantly interspersed with jargon, leading to poor communication with non-scientists.
This article will describe best practices and frameworks for professional scientists and non-scientists in commercial scientific enterprises to communicate effectively.
How should scientists speak with non-scientists?
IndustryThis section describes how professional scientists in industries like biotech and pharma can communicate better with cross-functional stakeholders from non-technical teams like sales, marketing, legal, business, product, finance, accounting, etc.
In industry, scientists are often embedded in self-contained business or product teams with different roles. Taking a biotech product to market like a new drug, which has a long development cycle, involves extensive collaboration between specialists from multiple domains: research, quality assurance, legal and compliance, project management, risk and safety, vendor and supplier management, sales, marketing, logistics, and distribution, to name a few.
Scientists are involved from the beginning of the process. However, scientists are often guilty of focusing solely on R&D without acutely considering how the science and technology underlying the product or business is operationalized by cross-functional teams and delivered to the market. Scientists are often less aware of the practical challenges of taking a drug prototype to the patient, such as long timelines due to multiple steps like risk management, safety reviews, regulatory approvals, coordination with pharmaceutical and logistics companies, and bureaucratic hurdles with governments and international bodies. This is a vital mistake in collaborative industry environments and often leads to poor job experience for scientists and their non-scientist peers and managers.
The image below shows several communication challenges at the different stages of the drug development process that hinder successful commercialization. Although the various specialists share a common objective, each domain expert speaks a different “language” influenced by their respective training and fails to translate their opinions and concerns into a common language that all can understand. This comes in the way of optimal decision-making resulting in projects that stall even before demonstrating clinical efficacy. In an industry with a 90% drug development failure rate, poor communication and collaboration can be very expensive, to the tune of USD 1.3 billion per drug. The right culture is crucial to ensure successful outcomes, as advocated by AstraZeneca after a thorough review of their drug development pipeline.
A recent real-world example pertains to the development of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine by multiple teams at the University of Oxford. Although the vaccine was developed within two weeks by February 2020, it was not until 30 December 2020 that the vaccine was finally approved for use in the UK, and it is even to date not authorized for use in the US. In particular, the AstraZeneca vaccine was subject to misinformation, fake news, and fear-mongering, which led to vaccine hesitancy and a lack of public trust. This led Drs. Sarah Gilbert and Catherine Green, co-developers of the vaccine, to author ‘Vaxxers,’ with the primary motivation to allay fears and reassure the general public about its safety and efficacy by explaining the science and process of creating the vaccine.
Another critical aspect of working with cross-functional teams involves managing key stakeholders to ensure a successful outcome for the project. Stakeholders often come from diverse non-scientific backgrounds, making working with them more challenging for scientists.
The main challenge in effective stakeholder management is understanding the professional goals, metrics, and KPIs that drive each stakeholder. For instance, a product manager might focus on metrics like cost improvement over time, risk mitigation, or timelines; a finance leader may be focused on revenue; a compliance manager may be focused on metrics that capture safety and legal aspects. Understanding each cross-functional stakeholder’s north star can help scientists navigate the intricacies of stakeholder management.
Effective stakeholder management involves numerous aspects:
The first step is to identify the stakeholders that are critical to the success of the scientific product and understand their motivations and priorities. Successful stakeholder management starts by mapping your stakeholders across several dimensions, including:
Conflicting priorities among stakeholders are common and need to be resolved delicately. Achieving multi-stakeholder alignment for complex projects requires carefully planned discussions and negotiations to assess the lay of the land with each stakeholder and preempt potential conflicts. Focused group meetings that prioritize key points of disagreement or conflicting priorities can help achieve alignment and avoid conflicts.
After getting all the stakeholders aligned, it is useful to build a communication strategy to share project updates regularly. The communication plan must be tailored to each stakeholder. For example, individual contributors might need a high-touch approach, while project coordinators and administrators might just want periodic updates and high-level presentations.
During the project's execution phase, continuous engagement and clear communication with the stakeholders are essential to keep everyone on the same page. Stakeholders may be involved in multiple biotech projects in parallel, and your project may not be their sole focus or priority.
We have previously written about several modes of communication and project management apart from one-on-one meetings. At a minimum, it is beneficial to maintain a project status board detailing the progress of each milestone, metric, team, and timeline, especially to serve as a single source of truth, especially if some teams are working remotely.
This section will discuss how aspiring startup founders with a scientific background should communicate and “sell” the company's mission to varied stakeholders from investors, employees, vendors, potential hires, and so on.
Scientists with domain expertise and an entrepreneurial mindset are increasingly opting to build deep-tech startups soon after graduating from academia. From Genentech to Moderna and CRISPR Therapeutics to BioNTech, there is no shortage of successful biotech companies founded by scientists. However, building a commercially successful and viable biotech startup requires diverse skills with a much stronger need for excellent communication skills.
Scientist founders need to have exceptional communication and sales skills to pitch the company to raise venture capital, write scientific grants, forge business partnerships with other companies, retain customers, attract talented employees with their vision for the company, give media interviews, and shape a mission-oriented organizational culture. Scientist-founders must communicate particularly well to bridge the gap between scientific research and commercialization.
How should non-scientists speak with scientists?
In this section, we will consider the viewpoint of non-scientists and how they can communicate more effectively with scientists. Non-scientists are typically more focused on product, business, sales, marketing, and related aspects of commercializing scientific research.
The stakes for effective communication between scientists and managers are very high. This is best highlighted by NASA’s missions, which involve a diverse set of experts, both scientific and non-scientific, similar to the highly complex and multi-year projects described in the previous section. NASA’s failures on projects like the Columbia mission have been attributed to deficiencies in communication and insular company culture. Namely, management not heeding the scientists' and engineers’ warnings. These communication failures are expertly documented in a post-hoc report by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board –
"Over time, a pattern of ineffective communication has resulted, leaving risks improperly defined, problems unreported, and concerns unexpressed," the report said. "The question is, why?" (source)
Unfortunately, this state of affairs rings true even today in high-stakes and complex scientific enterprises. Here are some recommended tips that follow from such catastrophic mishaps and failures in workplace communication:
How can non-scientists better engage scientists?
Non-scientist stakeholders' work largely focuses on business metrics, product roadmaps, customer research, project management, etc. These are critical focus areas that non-scientists need to update and communicate clearly to their scientist colleagues.
In industry, it is common to observe scientist colleagues not actively participating in discussions focused on business topics and switch off until their work is the topic of discussion. It is crucial to engage scientists as they are on the front lines of core product development and in a better position to understand and flag potential roadblocks in manufacturing, commercialization, and logistics based on prior experience.
Many product-related issues and bugs that surface later in the development cycle can be caught and addressed if there is more proactive communication between scientific and non-scientific teams. Scientists are generally trained to be conservative, focusing on accuracy and reliability, which can conflict with a manager’s ambitious goals for time-to-market or revenue targets. In these situations, managers should allow scientists to voice their concerns, not be afraid to dive deeper, coordinate with other cross-functional stakeholders, and take a balanced decision integrating every stakeholder’s views. In the long term, cultivating an open and progressive culture that encourages debates and tough discussions reaps enormous benefits whereby no business-critical concern is left unvoiced. A transparent and meritocratic culture promotes greater cooperation and understanding among different teams striving towards the same goals.
We discussed why scientists often struggle with effective communication with other scientists and non-scientist stakeholders when working in industry or building their own company.
We addressed how scientists should approach communication with non-scientist colleagues and how to collaborate with them. We also discussed effective communication strategies from the perspective of non-scientists speaking to scientists.
In the long run, having strong communication and soft skills confers greater career durability than simply having scientific and technical skills. Understanding this and upskilling accordingly can empower scientists to transition and perform well in industry.
Published by StatusHero
Teams are the building blocks of successful organizations. The success of modern technology companies is driven to a large extent by their engineering and product teams. It is crucial for new engineering and product team leaders to maximize the productivity of their respective teams while ensuring a strong sense of team spirit, motivation, and alignment to the larger mission of the company, as well as fostering an inclusive and open culture that is collaborative, meritocratic, and respectful of each team member. Effective team development and management is therefore critical for engineering and product leaders, and ensuring robust team development at scale remains a big challenge in the face of changing work conditions.
Despite the importance of team building and development, not many leaders are trained to succeed and hone their leadership skills. In many cases, individual contributors who progress or transition to the managerial track may not have the aptitude for developing teams nor have the necessary experience or training in this vital aspect of their new role. Although team development is more an art than a science, this topic has received significant interest from the industry as well as academia, leading to structured team development theories and strategies.
In this article, you’ll explore a list of curated tips for engineering and product leaders to better manage the development of your teams and accelerate your learning journey on the leadership track. This particular set of tips focuses on building team cohesion, facilitating the five stages of team development, and providing structures for effective teamwork and communication that foster an open and collaborative team culture.
One of the fundamental responsibilities of a team leader is to have periodic check-ins with team members, both individually and as a group. These meetings serve as an opportunity to assess each team member’s work performance, their attitude and motivation toward their respective projects, and even their sense of belonging and identity within the team and the organization at large. These regular one-on-one meetings with direct reports also help to bring to light any professional or personal concerns that the manager can then try to address, whether on their own or with the support of colleagues from the human resources department.
Group meetings are also essential to allow team members to gather and discuss work issues as a group and voice any concerns that may affect the entire team’s output, productivity, efficiency, or morale. Such group meetings also provide a window for colleagues to learn more about the work and progress made by other members in the team, as well as provide a collaborative atmosphere in which they are encouraged to share their opinions or suggestions. Holding regular retrospectives is a great way to foster discussion and collaboration.
As you can see, both individual and group meetings serve as a vital opportunity for team leaders to check the pulse of each member and the team as a whole to assess whether any interventions are necessary to uplift productivity and motivation. Sometimes, these kinds of meetings can be conducted as a retreat or simply at an off-site location to enable team members to bond in a fun environment and encourage more open communication about the team’s development and progress.
Team members benefit immensely from a high-level structure to guide their work and appropriately allocate their time and resources to the various projects they are involved in. Ideally, all employees should be assigned projects that suit their particular skill set and interests and should be empowered to take ownership for the success of their projects. With individual owners for each team project, the role of the manager is to simply serve each colleague in terms of offering strategic guidance, providing additional resources or bandwidth, and removing any technical or organizational blocks that may otherwise impede their progress.
In addition to a clear and structured assignment of work projects, teams also benefit from having a structured work cycle. For instance, engineering teams usually employ an Agile methodology and a regular Scrum cycle to plan their work in sprints and evaluate their progress.
Using these proven methodologies helps team members plan their work effectively and encourages feedback from colleagues and the managers to weigh into project planning and management. Over time, if these processes are followed diligently, teams become vastly more organized and productive, leading to more successful projects and deliverables.
Five Stages of Team Development
According to research by renowned psychologist Bruce Tuckman, there are five distinct stages in a team’s development. These include the following:
This is the first stage in a team’s development, in which team leaders introduce individual team members, highlight their respective experience and skills, and facilitate interactions among the team. Knowing each other’s core strengths helps team members better understand who to reach out to for help or collaborate with to execute their projects successfully. Ideally, this stage should be revisited each time a new colleague joins the team to ensure that they feel welcome and to stimulate effective onboarding.
Storming is the next stage in a team’s development, which involves team members openly sharing their ideas for current work or new projects in front of the entire team. Team leaders can facilitate this by organizing meetings or events such as hackathons. During this brainstorming stage, it is important that each individual is allowed to freely express their opinions even if they are in conflict with others’. This provides leaders an opportunity to provide high-level clarity and showcase their leadership by effectively resolving any conflicts and motivating team members to disagree and commit for the greater good of the team.
During this stage, the team has crossed the initial hurdles and resolved differing opinions, allowing them to begin to hit their stride and work more productively as a unit. With a clear roadmap and a better sense of team success, individual employees begin to celebrate each other’s strengths and weaknesses and collaborate more effectively. Team leaders should congratulate themselves for attaining the norming stage but also be aware of the need to maintain the team’s motivation and momentum toward achieving their goals.
By this stage, a team benefits from high levels of cohesion and trust in each other. Teams are more efficient and can self-sustain their progress and velocity with little oversight or push from the team leaders. This enables them to take on more challenging and audacious projects and push the team’s limits in a positive manner. During this stage, team leaders can step in to hone individual team members’ strengths and help them develop and strive for the next step in their careers. Sincere team leaders leverage their coaching and mentorship skills to empower individuals to progress toward their peak efficiency and realize their full potential at work.
By this stage, teams have completed their projects. This is an excellent opportunity to discuss what went well, what did not go so well, and how to improve and implement new strategies for future team projects. This is a good time to celebrate individual and team successes and to congratulate employees in a public forum, motivating them to strive for even greater success in the future. Team leaders should also take the feedback from the team and leverage it to improve their team building and development methods.
Developing teams of engineers and product managers is a critical responsibility for the leaders and managers of modern technology companies. When teams operate at their best, the organization as a whole benefits from their productivity and positive momentum.
In this article, you’ve learned several tips and strategies on how engineering and product team leaders absorb and implement in their respective teams. These include conducting regular check-ins with individual employees as well as the entire team, providing a structured framework for carrying out their work and executing projects successfully, and following the principles from the five stages of team development.
Essentially, leaders should strive to build a team where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This not only requires substantial care, attention, and efforts from the leaders but also a high level of empathy and understanding of each individual in the team. Teams with strong, empathetic, servant leaders rise above other teams in an organization, attracting better and more strategic projects and opportunities for collaboration, ultimately resulting in a win for every team member as well as the team leader.
Copyright © 2022, Sundeep Teki
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