Managing a team of former peers

Evan Hammer

OKR Coach at Evan Hammer



"When I started working at Codecademy in December 2016, we put together a cross-functional team that consisted of a product manager, a designer, and four engineers, which included me. While I did have a bit of a leadership role doing project management, I was primarily a software engineer and team member. Six months later, our engineering team had grown significantly, so the Head of Engineering transitioned me to engineering manager. I now managed three engineers who had previously been my peers."

Actions taken

Before the transition, I asked my reports' former manager for a report that described each of their strengths and weaknesses. I wanted to know if there was anything acutely concerning, as it would take me some time to develop my own strategy. One way I got to their manager's top concerns was by asking, "If they don't work here 6 months from now, why?"

Then I sent an email to each person who would be reporting to me. I laid out the timeline and major milestones of the transition. I explained what they could expect from me: our weekly 1-1 schedule, my values, and my strategy for management.

My initial priorities were to learn about each team member's goals and how they like to communicate. I'd use this information to set our first quarterly goals. I also explained we would have weekly hourly one-on-ones. My role was to set goals for my team. But once they were set, I then would play a more supporting role, typically asking how I could help. I would provide them candid praise and criticism. Unlike their peers, as their manager, it was my responsibility to ensure my team was given clear feedback.

I was concerned about the transition from peer to manager because I was unsure about how my peers would feel about reporting to me, especially because there was now a layer of management between them and the Head of Engineering.

My strategy was to address this concern head on. I told my teammates that they probably had concerns about the change in management. By positioning the concerns as natural, I thought my reports would be more likely to be forthcoming. We had a meeting and discussed their concerns. These conversations helped establish relationships where we trusted each other and felt comfortable providing negative feedback.

Lessons learned

"It's important to mark the transition with the people you're starting to manage. Make sure that your former peers understand how and why the relationship between you is changing. Take time to understand their needs and to establish goals and expectations. Find a way to give (and get) constructive feedback early. It'll help build trust. Although you're setting long-term goals, your day-to-day interactions should be focused on being helpful. Support your reports' figuring out their own solutions, rather than solving their problems yourself."

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Evan Hammer

OKR Coach at Evan Hammer

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyFeedback TechniquesCareer GrowthIndividual Contributor RolesStaff EngineerLeadership RolesEngineering ManagerTeam & Project Management

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