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How to Ensure a Successful Paternity Leave

Alignment
Delegate
Strategy
Team Reaction
Prioritization
Performance

7 December, 2021

Harry Wolff
Harry Wolff

Director of Engineering at MongoDB

Harry Wolff, Director of Engineering at MongoDB, shares how he planned for his paternity leave, creating documentation and roadmaps for his team during his absence.

How a Team Struggles During a Leave of Absence

Throughout my career, I've gone on paternity leave twice. In my company, paternity leave is 20 weeks long, creating a significant gap for a team to work independently of their manager. It was challenging to set my team members up for success for such a long period. Before my leave, my main goal was to ensure that my absence did not weigh down my manager.

I felt as if I had to reverse my thinking to understand what documentation, tasks, and projects would be needed during my leave. It was vital for me to ensure leaders were in place to answer questions or concerns and provide resources for my team. I found it exciting yet challenging to plan for my absence and establish goals for my team to complete while I was away.

Ensuring a Successful Leave of Absence

Planning Workloads:

There were many tactful steps that I needed to take to ensure my team was set up for success. First, I created a centralized document that detailed my responsibilities as a manager and who would be accountable for them during my absence. Many of these tasks were delegated to senior engineers on my team that I trusted, but a few required my manager's input.

I created a timeline for those internal and external to my team, providing a clear view of each project and task. I discovered that alignment was essential during this process. Without cohesion between my team and other departments, the transition would be less successful.

Understanding Pain Points:

Another vital step I took during this process was identifying the pain points that my team would feel without my presence. To that end, I listed everything that I thought would slow down my team and worked to proactively remove any obstacles they may face. During this process, I learned that I was not the only one that should know certain things. My team acted with more autonomy when they were exposed to information only I knew previously.

Coming Back from an Absence:

I discovered that the most prominent challenge during this process was coming back to the office after paternity leave. First of all, I had to get up to speed on all the projects, tasks, and anything else that my team completed during my break. Secondly, it was difficult to get back into the cadence of working with my team. During the 20 weeks, individuals' feelings and sentiments evolved, about myself, the team, and their work.

It was difficult to provide feedback or praise about the work a team completed while I was away. Since I only heard about, rather than experienced it, I was unable to fully incorporate their performance into my feedback.

Ramping Up After an Absence

  • It takes around two to four weeks for a team to absorb an individual into a group after an absence. The first month back feels less busy than usual until your company brings you up to speed and you can perform duties with your team again.

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