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Building an impactful team as an Engineering Leader

8 March, 2021

Advice from the Director of Engineering for API Systems at Netflix, Bruce Wang

building a team, the first few questions Engineering Leaders should ask :

What will this team do? Who are we? What could be our challenges?

Here’s a holistic strategy to build an impactful team:

Designing your team:

When designing a team, you need true clarity, and to do so, that requires intellectual curiosity. Leaders also need empathy to understand the real challenges that their team is going through ( and the factors causing them)

Another helpful technique to achieve clarity is making time and space to understand your team. Taking inspiration from the book “Winning now, winning later” by David Cote, a good strategy is to set time aside to ask yourself these questions:

What are we really trying to achieve? What is our focus?

When designing your team, focus on getting full clarity and carving out sufficient time for this task. Reviewing previous charters and documentation, plus talking to your boss, peers, and other team members, can form a clear picture before hiring.

Hiring remarkable colleagues:

Hiring is a critical task for any leader. While hiring, think of the interviews as puzzle pieces. When you need a team with varying skill sets, you need to figure out who can be the next best hire and which skill can potentially transform the team. When you put these pieces together, you’ll have a clear picture of the ideal candidate, who has the right strengths, and can add value to the existing team.

Have a clear and crisp pitch for the role. Precisely articulate what the new hire will be working on and how you plan to grow their impact in the role.

The next step is to own the hiring process. Have a defined process that echoes your tone. When you go deep in the hiring process, consider writing a decision doc where you can write the strengths, weaknesses, onboarding routine, and team integration ideas. It may take extra time, but that this could be the key to hiring your next incredible colleague.

Creating a learning environment -

Do you believe that we should always be learning?

Learning should not be something that your hires do only when onboarding, but instead, it’s something they should continuously do. Create a specific team guide about available resources and documentation, who to talk to, and your playbooks. Learning isn’t always easy, so sometimes your team may need to work on prototype projects, try different things, fail, and then learn.

Going remote and having virtual communication makes pair programming a heavy lift. The app “Tuple” allows engineers to share knowledge and helps pair 2-3 people to work on the same piece of code.

To sum it up, make an effort to make learning the default and normalize trying new things and experimenting within your teams and organization.

Growing impact of team members:

As a leader, think about all your team members and figure out how their growth will impact and develop the team. Taking into account each individual’s growth will determine the evolution of your team. Treat their career path as their own, and not yours. Understand what they are looking to do and hopefully match it with the needs of the business.

Secondly, all individuals benefit from coaching and feedback. Tell them what they are doing well and what they should continue doing. Create a culture of feedback where giving and asking for feedback is taken positively. Clearly articulating their needs, understanding their goals, and figuring out the right path for them can be instrumental in their career development.

Conclusion

There’s four phases of creating an impactful team as outlined above, but it’s not always a linear path. Here, flexibility is the virtue. The process is a continual journey and not an endpoint. For leaders, the pursuit of impact is among one of the most highly-leveraged things you can work on.

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Become a great engineering leader.

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