Ensuring Engineering Teams Feel Heard

Greg Corey

Senior Software Engineer and Senior Management Consultant at Superconductive Health



"I work at TaskEasy. A while ago, we had a team of 25 engineers and two senior managers who reported to a CTO. All of the other developers reported to senior managers. I was one of the senior managers. At the end of 2017, we had been hiring fairly quickly and the team started breaking down. Projects that weren't well planned were being thrown into the pipeline, people were getting frustrated, and there were a lot of missed deadlines and miscommunication. Tensions were high and morale was low, resulting in us losing four employees in two months, which was really high for us."

Actions taken

"I had an idea about how we could address these problems, so I approached my CTO and made some recommendations around what he could do and what I could do to help, but it fell on deaf ears and we ended up losing a further two engineers. Our CEO eventually saw this and stepped in. He asked us all what was going on and eventually, there were some big decisions made where our CTO was moved to another role outside of engineering, and I was promoted to the role of Director of Engineering.

From there, I started to make big changes, and a lot of what I envisioned for the team was able to take hold. My goal was to make team verticals. This means there are engineering managers with four to five team members who report to them. The engineering managers then all report to me. We began by assessing who in our current teams would be viable as Engineering Managers.

We had one engineer who had been with the company for five years, one who was really young but had been there for two years, and one who started six months ago. They all fit what we were looking for in terms of leadership skills, which for me was not so much based around what languages they knew and how much they knew the product, but how they could rally a team and communicate with a team. Once we had established who would be managers, we didn't change too much, so our teams could integrate without having to deal with too many changes at once.

I then focused on the problems the engineers had been facing. Engineers are happiest when they can work, so I met with my QA manager and team managers and we brainstormed how we wanted our sprint process to work. An intriguing thing I saw was that they expected me to shut down their ideas, so the managers were hesitant to voice their opinions. Eventually, we came up with a two-step plan, with a part we could implement immediately and another section we would implement in two weeks. The result was much better morale and engineers having the confidence to do what they wanted to do. I am still seeing the effects today. Listening to people has been incredibly important in keeping people motivated. While they may not always get exactly what they want, they appreciate that they are heard."

Lessons learned

"Change could have been enacted sooner had I presented some of my proposals with more parties, rather than just one-on-one with the CTO. This could have potentially reduced the feeling of being attacked he felt. I could have also worded my concerns in a way that suggested I was taking responsibility, rather than just asking for change.

In addition, your team members have a lot of good ideas. As an engineering manager, your job is not to dictate, but to support, enable and offer advice based on your experience."

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Greg Corey

Senior Software Engineer and Senior Management Consultant at Superconductive Health

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance MetricsLeadership TrainingPerformance ReviewsFeedback TechniquesCareer Growth

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