The best leaders are often revealed in times of change, instability or fast growth. A huge part of the work we do to help companies scale through mobile is supporting them to grow their engineering teams and tackle the challenges that come with boosting your team.
Building an engaged, productive and happy team is no mean feat. When you find good people, how do you ensure they communicate and collaborate well? How do you lead a team of engineers who are committed to your company vision, delivering excellent work and thriving as individuals?
We spoke to our exceptional engineering leadership team to share their insight and experience of how the best engineering leaders manage and motivate their teams.
Engineers are much more creative than people think. Treat them like artists. In my experience, engineers are often incredibly passionate about their inventions and emotionally invested in them. And so, when organisations treat engineers like they’re just the people writing the code it’s exceptionally demotivating.
Most engineers want to be involved in the thinking process and help create the solutions they’ll be building. Not only is it a much more empowering way to work, but it also means your engineers will have more confidence when it comes to contributing ideas and backing up decisions.
“Embrace creativity and create space for people to explore who they are and discover their talent.”
Sarah Gruneisen, Director of Engineering
Good leadership is also about helping your team members find out who they are, explore what matters to them, discover their talents and find ways to cultivate them. When you’re working with more junior engineers, they might not know their values or what they’re good at – the best leaders help people to see themselves and find the confidence to self-lead.
Ultimately, as a leader, we all want to foster an environment where everyone can shine, everyone’s values matter and everyone feels seen, heard and respected.
Your team members must understand the company’s vision and values – but you must understand theirs too.
Giuseppe Basile, Engineering Lead
Engineers and developers have many different personality traits and skill sets. Good engineering leaders will listen to everyone on their team, identify which developers are right for which task and make sure every team member is in the right place.
If you want to manage a team effectively, you need to create a framework for people to feel cohesion. While this links into workplace culture and aligns everyone with the company mission, good leadership is also about seeing people’s individual abilities and supporting them to align with their own purpose and the company’s.
The best engineering team leaders understand each of their team members’ priorities. For example, it might be unreasonable to expect a junior developer eager to master their tools and skills to focus on the big picture. They need space and guidance that’s relevant to them and their growth.
When I look at a team, I think of people as ‘Keepers’ or ‘Revolutionaries’. Keepers strive for stability, they are extremely careful about making any changes that might break the application. Revolutionaries always strive for evolution, want to make more impact, and aren’t scared of change. It’s important to have both Keepers and Revolutionaries in your team, but you have to make sure they’re in the right place on each project. For example, you probably don’t want a revolutionary in charge of your payment system – that could be a disaster!
To be a great engineering leader, you have to put people first. Set people up for success by ensuring they’re in a role where they can be successful. Keeping your team engaged and motivated isn’t just about ensuring they understand the company’s vision and goals – you must also understand theirs.
When your team is united by a shared vision and goal, conflict is much easier to resolve
Benjamin Augustin, Engineering Lead
I’ve spoken to a lot of engineers who feel they don’t fully understand the vision for the product they’re working on. If you want an engaged and motivated engineering team, enrolling them as part of the larger vision is crucial. When a team completely buys into what a company is trying to achieve, they aren’t just doing the work and delivering what you ask of them, they’re actively working towards that vision with you and delivering better work because they feel empowered as a part of something.
To effectively bring your entire engineering team on board with the vision, everyone needs to understand how their unique skill set can fit within that vision. For example, if a junior dev focuses on mastering one aspect of their job, explain how what they’re working on contributes to the company mission – this encourages them to take ownership of their work.
When a shared vision unites everyone in a team, conflicts are less likely and will often be much easier to resolve. When your team doesn’t have enough context to make decisions based on the bigger picture, personal preference or other subjective criteria can easily dominate the discourse. But if everyone in your engineering team understands the bigger picture, then it’s not about what someone prefers – it’s about the best way to achieve the goal, and that is a lot easier to get alignment on
Guide your engineers to focus their energy and attention in the right place at the right time.
Juan Soriano, Engineering Lead
What engineers have in common with artists is that we’re taking an abstract idea and making it physical or tangible – and we want to put our fingerprint on it somehow. There will always be different perspectives within engineering teams because there are different types of engineers.
Some engineers will need to connect with the product they’re building and feel excited by the company’s bigger mission. Others will want to focus on building a system which is reliable, scalable and properly made, regardless of what product they’re working on.
When you’re leading a mobile development team, people with different interests and motivations should feel able to contribute to your vision and goals. I feel much happier when I’m contributing from a purely technical point of view, but when I understand the bigger picture fully, I can more easily put this in context for the rest of the team. Ultimately, your engineering team will feel more empowered to share their insight and contribute to the company’s growth when they feel their professional interests are valued and important.
Think of building a digital product like growing a garden. Depending on the season, there will be different areas of the garden needing more focus and attention and different tasks that need doing. If you want to take care of every part of the garden, you need to know the priority tasks and direct people to focus their skills and attention on what will make the most impact right now.
An important part of good leadership is the ability to direct your engineers to focus their energy in the right place at the right time. It can be easy to fall into the trap of engineering for engineering’s sake – what we call ‘overengineering a solution’ – when it has no direct benefit for the business or product.
Thanks for reading!
Here at Novoda, we love chatting about engineering teaming and culture and would love to hear your perspective. Join the conversation on Linkedin or get in touch directly at email@example.com.