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Managing New Team Members

Building A Team
Collaboration
Motivation

6 October, 2021

Harsha Shekar
Harsha Shekar

Engineering Manager at Atlassian

Harsha Shekar, Engineering Manager at Atlassian Corporation Plc, explains how he brought up and eased new members into his team, while navigating through multiple challenges.

Problem

A problem that I recently faced was when my team doubled in size. I was leading another team, but the project was discontinued and thus, the members from the discontinued project team were added to my main team. Initially, the team had six developers and after the two teams were merged, we had eleven developers. Although the addition of newer members meant that it would ease the burden on our existing members and we could deliver more towards the product, the major challenges that arose were:

  • Managing the sudden growth of the team.
  • Ensuring that existing members do not get overburdened with newer members coming into the team.
  • Keeping the newer members motivated and making them work in areas they are interested in.

Actions taken

To begin with, I made it clear to the product management that a bigger team would not lead to an increased output as the new members would require some time to get adjusted. Afterward, I communicated with each member, to understand their career goals with respect to their manager while working for this product, and also figure out their interest to identify where they would perform well in the current system.

For ramping up our new members, we conducted onboarding sessions or product introduction sessions. Firstly, as my team increased by 50%, I created a “buddy” combination and directly tagged the members from the current team with the newer members where each member explained their areas of expertise in the product and brought the new members up to speed. This worked well because the new members always relied on the existing members for any sort of issues.

Secondly, we had additional support on our roster to handle calls. It was imperative that we eased the burden on existing members. For the on-call rotation, we tagged the newer members as well. Similar to the “buddy” combination, the new members were shadowing on-calls and they started asking more questions to understand the problem. On the second set, we rotated by making existing members shadow and the new members would take it upfront. This helped in ramping up the process very fast and the new members were able to understand the product and interact with the stakeholders. Finally, after speaking to my team, I found out that about 80% of their interests overlapped. Three members were interested in front-end development and since we were doing a front-end revamp with React, I tagged them along.

As we were running multiple projects in multiple epics, grooming our new members took a lot of time. Therefore, I identified a set of senior engineers within the group and formed core groups who were given the responsibility of grooming their own stories for a particular epic and explain it to the team in the main grooming session. The core group would make sure everyone was aware of what was happening and this helped the team members gel well.

However, issues arose when each core group, who were working in isolation, would start integrating their works and then find out that a lot of issues were not being addressed such as code going into production without being tested properly or some code changes that other teams were not aware of. A step that I should have taken from the start was to identify the capability of our automation and regression suits, for ensuring that we have covered all edge cases. In addition, when we were addressing the complaints, we found out that a lot of valuable input was being missed out as the grooming meetings were just about presenting the product. To tackle this situation, we followed a scrum of scrums meeting set-up where group team leaders were brought together for discussing product improvement ideas and getting to know about the insights of different groups.

Lessons learned

  • Collaborate with your team leaders and plan ahead. It is vital that you know about everyone’s ideas and input for being able to make valuable changes.
  • Members should take accountability for their responsibilities and be upfront. Ideally, if you are put in a difficult situation, you will try to find solutions for dealing with it. In addition, you will also find out whether the person is capable enough for dealing with a particular situation.

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