Measuring the Morale of a Team

Colleen Tartow, Ph.D.

Director of Engineering at Starburst Data



One of the interview questions that I often ask a prospective management hire is how they would measure the morale of a team. I expect future leaders not to be concerned only about execution and delivery for the business, but about the happiness of their engineers. As a leader, I want people on my team to like their job, to look forward to coming to work, and to be excited about what they are doing. My philosophy is that happy engineers produce good code. Therefore, understanding the morale of my teams is paramount to progressing in the right direction.

Actions taken

I’ve worked at a variety of companies of different sizes and had different tools at my disposal to measure the morale of a team. Regardless of the management environment, frequent check-ins and one-on-ones with your direct reports are crucial. Further, if you manage managers, make sure they are checking in with their teams in a consistent way as well. Regular check-ins enable you to directly ask another person how they are feeling, how their work is going, and how you can make their job better or easier. However, it’s also important not to waste the valuable time of your engineers in meetings, so use this time wisely. Trust your team and allow you to approach you when they need something.

I always try to put data behind my decisions. Some organizations do an anonymous quarterly eNPS (employee Net Promoter Score) survey to anonymously audit how their employees feel. This could be done as a quick survey in a Google doc form with questions like, “Would you recommend a friend come and work here” and more open ones like, “What do you need that you are not getting from your manager”, etc. I find this to be particularly valuable from an organizational standpoint -- with this data you can show which teams are happiest, which teams need work, and which managers need coaching.

Involving engineers and managers results in more impactful decisions concerning hiring and staffing, so I often share with them my plans for hiring. From that, you can understand what employees feel is missing from the team. Asking them how testing could be improved, or whether there’s a need to hire additional engineers could be a jumping-off point for them to voice any concerns about the team.

15five is an excellent tool for continuous performance management that is useful for doing check-ins and celebrating small wins by sending high fives. Every week employees rate their week on a calibrated scale from 1 to 5. Through targeted questions you can also suss out issues and keep a pulse on the team, especially as teams get larger. I currently have 11 direct reports in different time zones from Eastern Europe to Central America and it’s challenging to keep tabs on everyone’s mood all the time. By keeping a weekly pulse on the team’s morale and tracking data, it’s easy to detect problem spots and keep your employees happy.

Lessons learned

  • Happy engineers and a happy team lead to higher productivity and better code.
  • Morale is something highly subjective and you are at the mercy of your team being honest with you, therefore investing in building an open and trustful relationship is hugely important. However, if you can put data behind it, you’ll be able to identify trends happening over time.
  • Particularly in a remote world, it’s important to have venues for employees to give feedback and to keep a pulse on their morale.

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Colleen Tartow, Ph.D.

Director of Engineering at Starburst Data

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