The Importance Of Relationship-Building

Rukmini Reddy

SVP of Engineering at Slack



When I was first promoted to the role of engineering manager, I found it really challenging. I started off with three engineers, who were based in Ukraine. They were very skeptical of me because they had never met me, so I braved a trip in the middle of Ukraine's winter.

Actions taken

I decided to get to know them personally first, as I always emphasize personal relationships over professional ones. I heard their stories, where they came from, and what motivated them in order to learn how to get through to them. Once I understood this, it became easy for me to build a relationship.

"Language was the biggest challenge. My first engineer didn't speak much English and I didn't speak any Ukrainian or Russian. He said I spoke too quickly for him to understand, so we would turn on Skype to talk. When you can see people, the language doesn't matter as much because you can read their expressions. I would type to him and then explain to him what I was typing. This allowed him to learn communicative English at the same time we were doing code together. I also set up English classes for that team and offered it as part of team building. Every evening, they would spend two hours on conversational English lessons."

When my manager moved to a new company, he brought me and most of my team along. We moved into a team of existing engineers in the Bay Area. We once again faced similar communication and cultural issues. We started from scratch again building relationships and gaining trust. It was give and take on both sides as the teams adjusted to function as a true global team. For example: We moved our scrum meetings to a time that worked for all teams, and we did a lot of travel to get to know our team members better.

Lessons learned

I always use video calls. You can't always travel because budgets and schedules may not allow for it. But if you can video chat with people, you can maintain your team relationships. I will also visit Ukraine every quarter and I spend all of my time in one-on-ones so I can get to know every single person in my organization.

"While their language, color, or what they eat may be different people are ultimately, at their core, the same. If you build a relationship with your team and get to know them personally, then boundaries people put up will collapse. I'm very trusting and loyal and have been lucky in having that loyalty extended back to me."

I've worked with some of my current colleagues for seven years. It's been great to see a kid I hired as a kid from college develop into a company architect. That's really rewarding to see. In addition, I didn't just grow personally - I grew my team with me, and junior engineers have become Architects and Engineering Managers.

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Rukmini Reddy

SVP of Engineering at Slack

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