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Negative or Positive - How to Manage the Influential Impact Engineers Have on a Team

Health / Stress / Burn-Out
Deadlines
Impact
Toxic atmospheres
Productivity
Underperformance
Motivation
Toxic employee
Ethics

23 January, 2019

Not every engineer will share the same interests, but they should all share the same team driven motivation to complete projects in a timely manner. Christian Hresko, senior product manager at Playstation, discusses several strategies to speak with the influencers on your team and use their impact to assure team-wide adherence to deadlines.

Problem

In my experience, there are usually one or two people in the engineering team that tend to influence everyone else. If they are high performers, they either indirectly or directly encourage other people around them. If they are low performers, however, regardless of skill ability, their faulty work ethic trickles down to the people around them. This allows others to think that it is an okay cadence and fosters a team with low motivation.

Actions taken

  • Work with the primary influencer to try and understand what has changed and build a better rapport with the engineer.
  • Initially, you should speak with them alone.
  • Have them understand that you are aware that they have more influence over the team and that it has recently come from a place of increasing disinterest in work.
  • Open their eyes to the fact that it is, unfortunately, having a negative impact on the entire team.
  • Transition then, into the conversation that it wouldn't be such a problem if the team was still performing well, and it was just an individual problem. In that case, you could find a better fit for them, however, the whole team is underperforming and that is why you have to confront the issue as you are now.
  • Circle back to ask them why they no longer seem interested and whether or not they are willing to change their attitude and help you by becoming a team advocate for getting work completed on time.
  • Get them to buy into the fact that you are trying to create a team of high performers and ask them to speak directly to the team about making changes.
  • If you hit a roadblock with the primary influencer, reach out to the second most influential person and have them speak to the team about bolstering productivity.
  • If that doesn't take effect, find the most junior person and bring them to the side to tell them you are impressed with their work. Do so with the intentions of getting that person to perform even better, driving motivation through competition.

Lessons learned

  • What I have learned in working with engineers is that the better rapport I have, in the sense of being more open and honest with one another, the more helpful it can be l in changing the influence they can disperse onto others.
  • When you let these situations impact you in a personal way, the other person will realize that they are leaving an impression on the company, those around them, and also on you, the person they are working with. This helps to make things feel more real, especially if they have never experienced a confrontation like that before.
  • Even if people are underperforming, if it is a relatively typical engineering team, one thing engineers dislike is seeing someone with less skill completely outcode, outdeliver, and outperform everyone else.
  • It is strategic to get the team up and running again, especially if you do not have the support from the company in terms of having the responsibility to hire and fire. You need to find more direct or indirect ways of getting the team back up to where you want them. A team meeting to discuss standards can be helpful in doing so.

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