Scaling your teams and yourself

Seth Sakamoto

Fractional and Advisory CTO/VPE at Self



"Stressful situations can happen all the time in engineering teams. However, people handle stressful situations in different ways - there's stress and there's pressure. Pressure is good because it can light a fire under people and inspire them to do something they've never done before, or do something better than they have ever done before. However, stress is always negative and it usually comes about due to a combination of different situations. People who are stressed tend to be in a position where they feel they can't succeed and as though people are out to get them."

Actions taken

"The meta-way I try to fix stress is to try to prevent it in the first place by putting a great emphasis on who we hire and who we value. However, in the moment, when someone is dealing with stress, I start by trying to find out what the source of the stress is. If it's conflict about a situation, you can usually diagnose it. There's a great model around situational leadership that says you can basically map people in a situation to their willingness and their ability. Stress about a situation usually comes from people feeling like they're not in a position to succeed, usually because they've never done it before. One of the best ways to help this situation is to let the person do it themselves while making it safe. You may need to tell them what to do, and they may fall, but let them experience it so they can learn something from it. If it's conflict with a person, there are a lot of techniques you can use for dealing with this. A model I like is the ladder of inference, which allows you to diagnose what's going on in other people's heads. Usually stress is from a disagreement and the disagreement is the result of people having different data, beliefs, and goals and as a result drawing different conclusions. The way to untangle this is to get both parties to expose how they arrived at their conclusions. From there, there are lots of ways to get people on the same page."

Lessons learned

"There are different kinds of stress that require different types of management and a lot of different techniques for reconciling these types of situations. The techniques you use to diagnose and improve the situation should always be based on the type of stress someone is dealing with. More often than not, sources of stress in a workplace are environmental and, as a result, fixable. However, there are many sources of stress that are not based on things going on at work. Unfortunately, these aren't things you can control for or easily resolve. Your best bet is to be compassionate and helpful and to provide support."

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Seth Sakamoto

Fractional and Advisory CTO/VPE at Self


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