Implementing a culture of communication

Rich Sun

Sr Technical Director, Game Studio at Netflix



I was once tasked with taking over quite a large engineering team, with sub-teams and I wasn't familiar with the leads of those sub-teams. I quickly noticed that there were a lot of problems within these teams and that there was not much consistency in terms of how team management and communication was handled. The culture did not promote communication or solving problems together, and there was no structure in place that encouraged individual contributors to surface problems easily.

Actions taken

I believe the first step in trying to resolve large organizational problems like this is taking the time to talk to everybody and really observe what is going on. Snap reactions can have a very negative impact, especially if you're a newcomer. I decided to start with normalizing a baseline for how the managers, who now reported to me, should deal with communication with their own reports. Without the baseline, it would have been much more difficult to make any other meaningful improvements. Having regular one on ones with my reports was a simple and immediate practice that I introduced with every team. Then, recognizing that my managers weren't doing their own one on ones, I explained how to structure a good one on one and directed them to some online resources for further learning. I asked them to start by sticking to a relatively rigid structure for the one on ones at first, but once they started getting used to them and grasping the value of them they progressively made them their own in order to maximize their effectiveness, based on the strengths and weaknesses of themselves and their reports.

Lessons learned

Looking back, I think the lack of structure and communication in the teams was largely a result of a lack of experience and mentorship, as it relates to management. The existing leadership seemed to have lacked the tools to tackle the problems the teams were facing. I have been incredibly fortunate to have had valuable mentors throughout my career, but the managers on my new team had not. Several managers even noted this as a weakness on their own. Showing them some tools and taking the time to mentor them, while still valuing their feedback and independent thinking, really made a difference. The feedback I got in return was that I was able to get the team communicating and working together much more efficiently, in a relatively short timeframe.

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Rich Sun

Sr Technical Director, Game Studio at Netflix

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyLeadership TrainingMentorship ProgramsFeedback TechniquesCareer GrowthCareer ProgressionTeam & Project Management

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