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Keeping a team focused in a time of major changes in leadership

Heemeng Foo

Head of Quality at Rocket Lawyer

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Problem

About five years ago, my company was going through some major changes in leadership and it was clear that the new management team was going to cut staff. Everyone was on edge and demoralized. This included my team. If nothing was done to fix the situation, everyone would have just packed up and left.

Consequence

Times like these are "Leadership moments". The problem is the feeling of helplessness. The key to getting out of this state of mind is to ensure your reports work on tasks that benefit the individual and align them to company priorities. For my team, I got them to learn about new technologies and tools and asked them to apply them to the projects. This was way back in 2012 and I got the team to work on Jenkins and iOS/Android test automation tools (e.g. UI Automation, and Robotium). This also allowed them to upgrade their skills so if there were layoffs, they would have skills to add to their resume and if they were to stay their skills would benefit the company.

"Times like these are 'Leadership moments'."

With this in place and with regular one-on-ones with team members, the team's morale increased and once the leadership change was completed, the team was ready to take up more responsibilities with their upgraded skills. These skills came into good use later when we formed the Mobile Excellence Group and I was asked to lead test thought-leadership. By then I had a small cadre of test engineers who were already familiar with the basic tools who formed the initial core team.

Lessons learned

In times of uncertainty, the enemy is helplessness. The key is giving back some kind of control. Learning a new skill (e.g. a programming language or tool) is an easy way to take back a sense of control. As managers we can support our reports, by either authorizing "learning time" or even by sponsoring courses (e.g. Udemy).


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Heemeng Foo

Head of Quality at Rocket Lawyer


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