Here to Make a Recognizable Difference: How to Develop Teams

Eric Merritt

VP of Engineering at Whitepages


An Engineer’s Perspective on Good Management

I started out as an engineer, so my perspective on what good management and developing teams looks like comes from years of experience. I got to witness and be involved in companies that were dealing with complex systems which was ultimately beneficial for my own growth and development into leadership roles.

Building organizations around complex platforms is a total challenge. So, exposure to those organizational builds and systems helped my perspective evolve into higher level mindsets that began from my role as an engineer.

But, with experience comes lots and lots of failure. New situations tend to lead to failure as well as difficult ones; I’m grateful to have experienced them both. I think I have failed more times than succeeded.

There is a certain thread that is woven into the whole experience I had — all failures were not simply tech failures. This led me to believe that management and leadership in certain organizations are what help define the culture of success.

How Do You Teach Leadership?

As I progressed I refined my strategy as a leader predominantly based on one question: how do you teach people to lead effectively?

It is always a challenge to train managers. It is even more challenging to see managers fall back on their IC roles. When you manage a team you cannot act as an individual contributor. This leads to the disempowerment of your team.

The bottom line is that distorted organizations are not able to deliver. So, what remains is how to create leaders; you create effective teams through effective leaders. It is a complex notion to teach, but once you have a grasp on this management and development can flourish.

Empowering Your Teams to Be Self Drivers

As managers, “doing it yourself” is a direct route to disempowering your teams. Again, going back to the idea that as a strong leader you should avoid acting as an individual contributor at all cost.

Help your team grow by teaching them to swim. Good managers concern themselves with the growth of their people. When you empower your teams you allow them to take initiative and to think critically when problem solving.

Which brings me to another key factor of leadership in that you have to understand the levels at which you are problem solving. Knowing how to solve problems is the beginning, but knowing the source to address those problems is ideal. You can’t solve higher level problems at a lower level — i.e. you can’t solve structural problems with strategy, and you can’t solve strategy problems with structural configurations.

Solving Problems According to Their Needs

So how do you develop teams? The short answer is through good management. But good management comes from training with the right mindset.

Having the right mindset on development entails being able to solve problems according to their needs whether that is systematically, structurally, or through growth and development. A strong leader will understand holistically how to respond to the development of their teams.

  • Work from the ground up. Having a growth-mindset, or an engineer's perspective can make a world of a difference when it comes to developing your team. It can be helpful to understand what exactly needs to be done and how to implement the process to achieve it.

  • Problems are never solved based on dependencies. Dependencies across members kill productivity and growth. It is important to recognize this as a leader and solve the issue based on the need and the desired outcome. The answer is not always to pawn off a problem on someone who is skilled to tackle it. This is the IC mindset we aim to avoid when practicing good management or when seeking to develop and grow people.

  • Always look at your development progress through the lens of your people. Practicing great leadership also means helping build great leaders. You have the knowledge to be able to create effective leaders and make it a continuous domino effect for future development within the industry.

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Eric Merritt

VP of Engineering at Whitepages

Engineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance MetricsLeadership Training

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