Building a Team

I’m often asked how I ended up with such an awesome team.  The short answer is that didn’t happen overnight and I usually stop there, who really wants to hear about all the pain anyway?! And it was painful for the first couple of years; I had to replace if the majority of the team that I started with, learn how to balance the demands of their previous managers, find my own balance between writing code and managing coders, find mentors and learn how to be one, and bring everyone together into a cohesive group. I so often wished for a manual but I did over time and with more than one course correction find my way. Here’s what I’ve learned so far…

Build the Team

Goals – When I started out I essentially had four different teams who were used to taking direction from their own customers and working in silos on their own projects, very quickly I had to turn this into one set of common goals that everyone is aware of and contributes to achieving.

Vision – Creating a unified vision for the team – what are we here for – was probably the easiest task. In reality I only changed the scale of what I everyone was already doing at an individual level to the team level, in effect swapping out all of the “I” in favor of “us”.

Culture – How we do go about the day to day business of working towards our goals while maintaining focus on our vision? Well, I researched and provided actual training. We did a couple of books by John Maxwell on teams and leadership and also did a very in-depth series to identify and resolve departmental dysfunctions.  This gave us a culture of lifelong learners who provide feedback regularly, seek to improve the group and our products while having as much fun as possible.

Don’t Lose the Individual

Fit – Not everyone is going to be the right fit for your team. This may sound cold but the reality is that it  is essential that the people on your team want to be part of the team, if they are oppositional or undermining they should be given the opportunity to either get with the program or find another position whichever more comfortable for them. I prefer to let them choose and support them either way.

Development – I cannot stress enough the importance of investing time and energy into developing your people.  Every person has something they can improve on, whether this comes from their own desire to be better people or through feedback from others is really irrelevant. Understand what these areas are for each person on your team and draw up a plan with them to assist them along the way. For the love of all things managerial DO NOT tell someone they need to improve X and then leave them to their own devices until the next review period.

Autonomy – This may sound a little funny – Make sure everyone has a clear understanding of the boundaries of their own autonomy. If everyone on your team understands what their goals are, believes in the vision of the team and lives the culture of the team then you’ll have laid out the groundwork for each person’s understanding of what they are allowed to do. If you do this correctly the team will function effectively and with very little intervention from you.

Do Your Job

Buffer – I believe very strongly that my key function as a manager is to provide a buffer between my team and the rest of the work world. This doesn’t mean that they live in a bubble it only means that I am there to shield them from anything that would interfere with them achieving their goals, especially politics and drama.

Translate – One of the byproducts of all that buffering is understanding how to translate anything that you filter into information that is useful for the team.  For example if the project is likely to get derailed by competing priorities between two different customers, you can leave out the details of the politics between these two individuals and focus on preparing your team for the likelihood of a switch in projects.

Support – I take servant leadership seriously, my day is mostly spent with tasks that support my team. This can be anything from removing an obstacle, to working on development plans, to finding ways to better our environment and relationships, or looking into tools and training materials that could help us in the future. Key thing here is to understand what THEY see as my priorities and address those first.


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