Enabling Your Team to Scale
8 October, 2019
It is not uncommon to see people move from a strong individual contributor role into a management role. What is less common is to see a leap made from a lead technical role into a Vice President position. Yet, especially in smaller companies, it happens. Part of the reason people tend to make those leaps is that the company is growing and someone expects you to build an organization underneath you. Below I give advice on how to scale for your growing organization as a new leader.
- Your role now is to enable the team to scale. This may include items such as putting in place certain processes to be more effective, fostering relationships within the team so that they run more efficiently, or building out your own leadership skill set to enable the team to be more self-sufficient. All of these things are now in the domain of your role.
- Leverage the unique set of capabilities existent on your team. Help individuals identify what they are good at and where they are the most effective, and then utilize those skillsets productively. A great book on this topic is a book called Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman. The book explores how to amplify your team's capability and intelligence in order to produce better results. Along these lines, if you have someone on your team who is highly skilled and you don't take advantage of them or didn't use them for a particular position, you are in fact committing dereliction of duty. Instead, identify skillsets and use them in your favor, and diagnose the gaps that need to be filled.
- Work with your team to make sure that they are asking the right questions but don't get stuck in the technical discussions. You want your team to have the autonomy to set their own agendas, topics, and focused discussions in order to further scale. Another great book that I suggest reading is Leading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask by Michael J. Marquardt. I'm not a huge fan of the first half, but the second half gives details on knowing the right questions to ask and the right way to listen. In the beginning, you may be slightly involved in technical conversations but you should gradually become a fly-on-the-wall and then completely remove yourself out of the room. You can always sync up with someone later to find out the outcome of the discussion or the decisions that were made. But first, instill the culture of asking questions and actively listening.
- You are in charge of providing a vision for the team. You must now tie the business strategy to the execution strategy and plan accordingly. A common mistake for new leaders when they first start off is to come at things from a bottom-up standpoint. They worry about the details and specifics, wanting to design and define everything. This isn't to say that you don't care about those things. Instead, you should be hearing those things from your team. What you need to care about is the business strategy. It's strategically thinking using the lens of the business thus enabling your team with enough context to be able to come up with the architecture and strategy to execute on their own.
- As a new leader, scaling requires a different set of tools needed than that of an IC or even of a new manager in charge of an equalized team. Therefore, it is important that the organization empowers you with the support and resources needed to succeed.
- It tends to be that people enjoy working on things that they are good at rather than being asked to do things that they are terrible at. Capitalize on this.
- Spending too much time coming from the bottom up - which is very easy to do and how most ICs are trained to think, disconnects you from the purpose of your role as a leader. Your job is to understand how to convert the vision of the business into something meaningful for the team.
- Starting with that business lens and then exploring options with your team does two things:
- It gets you speaking about the right things and anchors the conversation to all those associated with the business side of things such as the financial people and CEO. They will want to know what is happening and you will have to explain things to them. Therefore, having a business-oriented perspective will allow you to gain trust and understanding from higher-level executives.
- On the engineering side, sharing the challenges with the team, where the business problem needs to be solved, a few strategic ideas that you have, and then discussing it with them evokes an enormous amount of trust. Frame the conversation within the bounds of the business needs and then provide a sandbox for your engineers to iterate and develop. Work with them, but refrain from being the dominant voice. That way you are growing leadership and skillsets underneath you by empowering them to make better decisions.
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