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Keeping Up with Hyper-Growth by Promoting New Managers

Scaling Team
Handling Promotion
Hiring
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Career Path

21 May, 2019

Florjan Bartol
Florjan Bartol

VP Engineering at Zemanta, an Outbrain company

Florjan Bartol shares how he promoted from within in order to compensate for rapid growth within his company.

Problem

Our company got acquired a couple of years ago. This meant serious growth of our engineering team - the plan was to double it from 14 to 28 engineers in the following year. But we were facing a challenge: due to our flat team structure we only had two relatively inexperienced team leads, with me taking care of most managerial duties. It was clear that more people would need to take management responsibilities and ramp up quickly.

Actions taken

We decided to promote three of our engineers to team leads (in addition to the existing two) and go from 2 teams to 5, with an average team size of 5 people. We chose new managers carefully. We focused on engineers who had demonstrated leadership skills in their current role, had expressed an interest in managing a team, and who were great examples of our team culture. We started the new managers with a limited set of responsibilities (e.g. one-on-ones, planning work) to avoid overwhelming them and eventually added more later on. I made sure I had regular and meaningful one-on-ones with all of the team leads. I focused on discussing their experience in the new role, coaching them, and getting them up to speed quickly. I also did skip-level one-on-ones with each engineer every 6 weeks to gather feedback on how the new managers were doing and nudged them in the right direction if necessary. A couple of months after their transition we did a thorough 360 evaluation where I collected as much information from their peers and team members as possible to give them clear feedback and suggestions for further improvement.

Lessons learned

  • When expanding quickly, promoting managers from within your existing team is a good way to preserve your team culture despite the influx of newcomers. It also helps to promote engineers whose contributions have earned them respect among peers. This serves as a good counter-balance against their lack of management experience.
  • Offering as much support as possible to new managers is crucial, so in my experience one-on-one coaching and 360 reviews turned out to be super-valuable. They allowed me to quickly detect and correct a couple of common issues, such as not delegating aggressively enough, not letting go of IC work, and not spending enough time on mentoring new team members.

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