Tech Leaders, where is your Team?

Three team phases you should know about.

Attracting the right talent is one of the biggest challenges tech companies face nowadays, but it is only one side of the coin. Keeping this talent is equally important and a lot of companies fail in this process. With so many companies looking for great engineers and offering bigger salaries and more perks, it is really easy for stressed, unhappy or unfulfilled employees to find new opportunities. Over time work hours, bad managers, unfulfilling job, and last but not least, when people feels they are not progressing or learning anymore, are some of the main triggers for people to look away.

One of your main duties leading a tech team should be to know in which state your team is and your team mates, and act according to it. If you are part of the team you might have a feeling of where is the team but remember that it’s just your point of view. Not everybody can manage the stress on the same levels and people need to be challenged in different ways. Doing continuous 1:1 and sending anonymous surveys to check the team health are good practices that will help you to get a better sense of the team state and health.

I would like to focus on teams that already when through the stages of group development: forming-storming-norming-performing. If your team is already on the norming/performing stage, there are mainly three different team phases you can identify and base on that you should know how to act and react: Survival mode, Self-organizing mode and Learning mode.

Survival mode

Unfortunately, this is the most common phase on many companies. People tend to get use to this stressful state of mind and a hero role. You can identify that your team is in survival mode when there is no time to learn, they are constantly firefighting, late and overcommitted.

To get out of the survival mode you need to focus on creating time for your team to learn new techniques and/or technologies. It is easy to say but what it really means is that you should be able to identify projects, tasks, products, that your team owns and get rid of some of them to create this necessary time.

To remove those commitments you need to convince the management, stakeholders and everybody involved into decision making about your team workload that this time investment is in company’s best interest. As reasons you can mention that you neither want the team to fall into the resource utilisation trap, nor into burn out due to a constant stressful state of mind. In the medium/long term setting aside time to learn will help the team to produce more, better and faster. Slow down to speed up.

Learning mode

Your team will be in this phase when you have spare time to learn new skills which sometimes requires to get out of the comfort zone.

Learning time and skills to develop should come not only from necessities also from your team vision. For example: Is quality one of your key principle in your team? Is your team fixing bugs most of the time? Why don’t you invest this precious time to learn TDD or any other practice that will help your team overcome this situation. Another example could be: Do you have a bus factor? Do you have knowledges silos between platforms? You could invest in making your team to become T-shape so that backend developers learn frontend or viceversa.

You need to be able to make clear to your team your vision and the those things that make it slower. By doing so you will have less resistance and would be easier for them to move out of their comfort zone. To mention some benefits: your team will feel challenged again and instead of being bored out they will get to see new opportunities.

Self-organising mode

This is the holy grail of the team phases. Your team will arrive there once they can work independently and move forward in a productive manner.

Use this phase to create team spirit, work together and keep shaping your culture. It will help you build team trust and increase their engagement and commitment. There are different techniques worth trying out: Clearing meetings, team hackathons and commitment language.

Remember: people enjoy learning new things, and you should remind them from time to time to go back to the learning phase.

Image from the book Elastic Leadership
Image from: Elastic Leadership

To wrap this up, if you as a tech team lead would like to enable them to move to the next level, first you need to identify their current phase. Creating and encouraging a strong culture of caring, learning, listening and keeping low ego will help your team move forward easier, face challenges together, perform better and overall be happier.

Head of Engineering @ Tier Mobility

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