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How to Build a Successful New Team

Building a Team
Hiring

25 December, 2020

Aareet Mahadevan, Engineering Manager at HashiCorp, outlines all the challenges with building a new team as he explains who and when to hire and how to optimize the hiring process.

Problem

First-time managers typically have two well-known options: they can take over an existing team that was left without a manager or they can start a new team from scratch by hiring people and building it out. Starting a new team is a journey like no other and a rite of passage for gaining seniority. First-time managers are often unsure who to hire, when to add people to their team, how to optimize the hiring process, and finally, how to make their case to their own managers.

Actions taken

When you start hiring, the first thing you should be looking at is the type of expertise you need. First-time managers often look at similar teams in their organizations and will try to replicate their hiring experience, including hiring similar people. This won’t always work because these are already established teams that are hired for their specific needs. When I had to build a team for the first time, I tried the same approach and learned first-hand that it was suboptimal.

Next time when I was building a new team I first created a team charter. I talked to my stakeholders and everyone who was impacted by our work including our customers, my manager, the sales team, the customer support team, etc. I tried to understand what the team needed to deliver to be considered successful and I created the charter that would lead us toward that goal.

Once I had the charter I was able to draft profiles of the people who would help me deliver on that charter. With the profiles in hand, I created job requirements and started sourcing candidates. Building a team from scratch is like having a blank canvas before you. It is freeing, but that freedom can sometimes be burdensome. You will meet many talented engineers who could all be a great fit for your team - without a profile of who you need most it’s hard to single out those who would fit your needs best.

Before you start interviewing I detailed skills for each profile I had drafted. I also tried to optimize the hiring process -- and particularly the interview process -- to match my needs.

After a couple of months, with the first batch of new hires joining the team, I revisited the charter and see whether the decisions I initially made were right and determined whether the charter needed an overhaul. In the next hiring cycle, I repeated the process with updated profile requirements based on the improved charter.

Lessons learned

  • Blank canvas situations create new opportunities for managers. They are given a set of objectives and budget and it is up to them to decide who they need to hire to succeed. In these circumstances, first-time managers may over-commit and promise too much. It’s important to understand what is expected of your team, hire to meet those needs, and constantly course-correct based on your progress.
  • What is most important is that the team steadily develops sustainable processes and starts delivering reliably.

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