As tech leaders, we know that our people are some of the most talented, creative, and driven employees out there. Still, leading high-performance teams in this industry presents unique challenges. Balancing business value and delivery while keeping engineers engaged and using cutting-edge tools requires leadership strategies that differ from other industries. It’s no small task to build and sustain a great development team.
Engineers measure success differently as well. This becomes clear when people in different roles interact. As human beings, naturally, our ideas are shaped by our environments. These days, working in the technology industry increasingly involves working with people all over the world. Understanding what motivates people in offshore locations usually involves understanding local cultures.
Setting personal goals and managing expectations requires technology leaders to understand team dynamics and the unique roles each individual plays. Keeping this diversity in mind, here are some of the strategies that have worked for me:
- Lead by Example. Having started my career as a software engineer, I have always respected leaders who are hands-on and lead by example. Overcoming challenges when working with cutting-edge tech and preparing for major releases invariably involves working nights and weekends. You can say “We’re all in this together,” but it’s just lip service if you’re not in with the team. Being present and working through the issues together lets them know that it’s a collective effort.
- Rise to the Challenge. Leaders must constantly find new avenues in which to challenge their teams. These challenges don’t have to relate to whatever tasks they are working on, however. Some can be totally new. Engineers love solving problems and the more challenging they are, the better. Putting them in unfamiliar situations forces them to get creative and devise innovative solutions, which many enjoy.
- Give Credit Where It’s Due. In tech, we know employees often come up with ingenuous solutions, but do they get the credit they deserve? Acknowledging them on a public platform and thanking them for their efforts whenever possible will keep them motivated and make them realize that management values their work. Giving your best employees more responsibilities is another way to demonstrate appreciation.
- Listen up. Even when they hold back, every employee wants to be heard. This is even more important with engineers, as many of them are introverts and at the same time have the best solutions. Dictating to them in a top-down approach not only is ineffective, but it also does not result in the best approach. To avoid this, hold whiteboard sessions and talk through solutions with the entire team. This gives everyone an equal opportunity to contribute. That way, if their ideas fall short, they’ll understand why.
In these sessions, it’s natural to want to take over. Don’t fall into that trap. As a leader, I’ve found I get more results when I sit back and let team members control the whiteboard and arrive at a solution on their own. When I spot a hole in their reasoning, instead of jumping in and fixing it, I ask tough questions to guide them back in the right direction. This helps the team grow, gives workers a sense of ownership, and coaxes them to put their best feet forward.
Of course, it’s impossible to keep everyone engaged all the time. As much as we would love to have a 100 percent retention rate, employees will leave for greener pastures or relocate for personal reasons. But leaders can ensure this does not have a negative impact on the team by developing solid bench strength so they can choose from a large pool of candidates, and putting in place a clear succession plan so that if a leader chooses to leave, the engine can keep running and the teams do not feel overburdened while understaffed.
As leaders, it’s on us to understand the unique concerns of tech employees. By using some of these strategies, we can improve our chances of holding on to our people — our most valuable assets — and keeping our teams operating smoothly.
Image Credit: CC by Grey Rocker