Motivating a Team to Work on Less Exciting Tasks

Daria Derkach

Engineering Manager at Atlassian


Working on a Less-Exciting Feature

In my team, I had one engineer that was the primary technical contact for the whole team - a tech lead. At some point, we had two different features that we needed to work on. These were both crucial for the company and came directly from the leadership. The problem I faced was that we needed to create a technical design for one of the features. Unfortunately, my team only has one individual capable of doing it. We started on one feature but needed to work on the other as well. When we were working on both, the tech lead expressed their interest in other projects, as these features were not interesting to them.

Finding Common Ground Using a Win-Win Approach

The Initial Conversation:

When the tech lead brought to my attention that they did not find their feature interesting, I held back from saying they needed to complete it. It was not my place to push them into doing work that they did not find challenging or appealing, and I didn’t want to negatively impact our connection. Instead, during this initial conversation, I said that I would think about it and look for a compromise.

My Next Steps:

I thought a lot about ways to drive this team member indirectly. I was looking for a solution that was a win-win for both the organization and my tech lead. First of all, I set up a follow-up meeting with the team members to find out why they did not enjoy working on this feature. Common ground was that the other feature wasn’t challenging enough for them.

I realized I needed to explain “the why” - both features were essential and impactful for customers. I also shared why I wanted this team member to work on the features because I trusted them, and knew they had the technical knowledge to achieve a successful outcome. Once we discussed each other’s feelings and motives, we could come to a compromise more quickly.

Finding Common Ground:

My team members wanted to work on the second feature, and I needed them to work on the first feature. We decided that they could work on both features in parallel with more resources and access to other wealth of knowledge. In the end, we got exactly what everyone needed - impact of one’s work on customers on one hand, and successful feature delivery on the other.

Achieving Positive Solutions Through Conversation

  • It was essential to be prepared for my discussion with the tech lead. To keep my team motivated, I took my time and created a list of pros and cons relating to possible outcomes. I detailed multiple backup plans in case we were not able to agree.
  • When initiating a challenging conversation with a team member, asking for their feedback is essential. Not only will it provide you with actionable steps you can take, but it’ll keep you involved in their thought process and feelings.

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Daria Derkach

Engineering Manager at Atlassian

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