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How to Gain Credibility and Build Relationships When Joining a High Performing Team

Kean Wong

Former VP of SW Engineering at Pebble

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Problem

"I joined the smartwatch startup Pebble (of KickStarter fame) as the VP of SW Engineering, to lead and grow an already established team of 6 engineers and 2 contractors whom had already been working together for the last 4 years. The team was a mix of local and remote SW engineers. In order to succeed in my role and to initiate my longer term plans, I needed to quickly establish credibility with the existing engineering organization."

Actions taken

"The first step I made was to align my near-term goals as VP to the vision and culture of the company. It was a small team so I was explicitly hands-on at work during the first three months: I learned the code base; wrote and shipped production software; and made sure I added tangible value to this high performing team. A second opportunity for me came when we had a major product release shortly after I joined. I demonstrated to the team I could effectively contribute to software myself, helped manage problems, mediate between team members and with the CEO (who was leading Product at the time) and make tie-breaking technical decisions. During this phase, I was not overly aggressive about putting my stamp on things, and made sure everyone in the team was given the chance to participate and be heard."

Lessons learned

"The approach I took in this early engagement really helped me rapidly establish legitimacy with the existing team, which translated into successfully growing the organization over the next 3 years. This was evident as we hired more people and grew to 100 SW engineers, while maintaining a harmonious team environment. I was also able to institute my organizational and infrastructural vision, with minimal friction. It is very important for someone new coming into an established team to intentionally work on problems the team sees as important, and to gain credibility by contributing directly to the team output. While I was learning the landscape of the company as a whole, I quickly gained legitimacy and credibility with this bunch of rock star developers. A testament to the credibility I established with the team is that we still keep in touch regularly, even though the company has since shut down."


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Kean Wong

Former VP of SW Engineering at Pebble


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