Gaining trust from a new team

Matan Levi

Co-founder and CEO at SkillRobot.ai



Two years ago, I joined a startup company with about 250-300 people that deals with mobile tools. The company built great technology and had a good culture. I was joining as an Engineer Manager to lead the iOS efforts. Back then, there was a scattered team of five engineers in India, two in Israel and two in the US. Each of the team members was doing something different and since they had had no leader or guidance, there were a lot of overlap. I soon realized that the team had never had a real manager (i.e. someone who had technical knowledge about what they were doing and who could guide them). It was up to me to gain their trust and to convince them that they could count on me. The fact that the team was structured in different locations made it even harder, as I had to come to understand cultures that I wasn't necessarily exposed to before.

Actions taken

I decided to communicate a few messages to the team in a clear way:

  • There are not going to be any size changes to the team, but we were going to organize the team's tasks and responsibilities in a better way.
  • I needed each person's help in order to succeed and my success was also the team's success.
  • We had to work efficiently, as it was hard enough that we were a diverse team, but we also worked in different timezones and locations.

The team reacted in a positive way to the messaging and so I started with a one-on-one with each team member in order to understand them better and to hear the good and bad things they have to say about the team and company. I didn't finish a call with a team member without them telling me at least one thing they wanted to improve.

The one-on-ones generally followed this structure:

  • General - "How are you? Tell about your background? Family? Kids? Wife? Is something bothering you?" In this part, I also usually shared personal stuff about myself to create a sense of trust.
  • "What are you struggling with? What is challenging for you at work? How can I help?"
  • "What issues do you see in our team? How can we become better?"
  • "Where do you see yourself in one year? Where do you see yourself in five years?"

Keep in mind that each one-on-one was a one-hour meeting. After the first time, we had shorter recurring meetings.

I was lucky enough to have a boss that gave me 100% authority over the team and he only asked me to let him know if certain milestones would not be completed on time. This helped me, as I knew what I needed to do and what the team had to do.

It took time to gain the team's trust and I noticed that even though I had good technical knowledge the majority of trust came from personal issues I helped some team members with. Whether it was a illness, vacation or a family matter, when I stood behind them and supported them they appreciated it much more than when I helped them to solve a bug.

Lessons learned

I learned that using a personal touch with each team member is much more important than helping them solve a bug. The time that you spend with them, whether it's on a technical issue or personal one, is valuable to them as much as it should be to you. Getting to know your team members, even if they are 4000 miles away, is crucial for the entire team's success.

Moreover, it's important to make sure your boss is on board with your methods and techniques. Luckily I worked with someone who gave me 100% trust from day one.

Lastly, communicating in a clear way is the number one way for dealing with people. When you understand the problem, issue or challenge they are facing and communicate it, you're halfway to solving it.

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Matan Levi

Co-founder and CEO at SkillRobot.ai

Leadership & StrategyEngineering LeadershipCommunicationOrganizational StrategyTeam & Project ManagementAgile, Scrum & KanbanPerformance MetricsTraining & MentorshipFeedback & ReviewsCareer Growth

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