Back to resources

Turning Around an Underperforming Team

Leadership
Motivation
Team Processes
Performance

8 September, 2021

Alfredo Fernandez Acuna
Alfredo Fernandez Acuna

Engineering Manager at ComplyAdvantage

Alfredo Fernandez Acuna, Engineering Manager, shares how he diligently turned around an underperforming team.

Problem

Think of your team as a rowing crew 一 a good amount of joint effort will help reach the finish line. There was a perception that a specific team had not delivered much business value for a couple of months, and I was given the challenge to take over and turn it around.

Actions taken

I did not jump into any actions right away; instead, I listened, observed, and collected as much information and evidence as possible. I identified the team dynamics, and I was the “silent-observer” for one sprint, trying to get through the real problem (if there was one) and what factors were preventing them from delivering (if they weren't). I did not want to appear to be the overconfident outsider that knows better, and that starts telling the team what to do without really getting to know them and the obstacles they face.

My main observation during that time was that the team did not understand what they had to deliver and more importantly why. They did not know the overall big picture for the project they were working on. It was clearly not a surprise that even though they were working hard, they had not delivered meaningful business value so far. I also discovered that there wasn’t coherence in the product’s backlog, and the team had not defined at least 2 or 3 upcoming sprint goals. Ultimately, the team did not have a plan they could get behind. Given these findings, we reviewed with all the stakeholders what it is they wanted to get out of this project and this team and built a high-level roadmap involving the team for at least a few sprints to come. This roadmap included small but very concrete business deliverables.

On top of that, there was a lack of technical leadership within the team. As an Engineering Manager, this is part of my job, however, I selected one team member who had the potential to be in charge of this task, and with my coaching he managed to grow and deliver exceeding expectations, and more importantly, to help the team to deliver.

Lessons learned

  • Take a step back and identify the problems before jumping into solutions. Invest the time you consider prudent and push back on any pressure to take urgent action. Your team members will appreciate you having taken the time to identify and understand their problems properly before proposing any solutions.
  • As a manager, you have to spot and grasp any opportunities that you get to delegate work that others can do. You should focus on doing the things only you can do. This will help you grow as a manager, but also grows your reports and makes your team members more autonomous.

Discover Plato

Scale your coaching effort for your engineering and product teams
Develop yourself to become a stronger engineering / product leader


Related stories

Assessing the Performance of Your Team

20 August

Parallels between Work and Sport.

Goal Setting
Different Skillsets
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Performance
Ron Pragides

Ron Pragides

SVP Engineering at Trustly Group AB

Leaving Room to Say Things Suck — Leadership Lessons from “Ted Lasso”

17 August

A major sign of trust, comfortability, and vulnerability is for someone you lead to be able to say something sucks.

Building A Team
Company Culture
Leadership
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
John Hartley

John Hartley

Senior Engineering Manager at Curology

How to Maintain Happiness: The Underrated Aspect of Creating Team Dynamic

2 August

Jonathan Ducharme, Engineering Manager at AlleyCorp Nord, encourages the importance of a workplace environment that cultivates mental wellness.

Personal Growth
Company Culture
Leadership
Internal Communication
Psychological Safety
Jonathan Ducharme

Jonathan Ducharme

Engineering Manager at AlleyCorp Nord

Scaling a Team in Two Parts: The Product and Manager

2 August

Viswa Mani Kiran Peddinti, Sr Engineering Manager at Instacart, walks through his experience scaling a team, product and his skills as a leader.

Managing Expectations
Product
Scaling Team
Leadership
Meetings
Viswa Mani Kiran Peddinti

Viswa Mani Kiran Peddinti

Sr Engineering Manager at Instacart

Congratulations you're an Engineering Manager! Now What?

29 July

Congratulations, you have just been promoted to an engineering management role. Once you are done celebrating the promotion you have worked hard to earn you might start to ask yourself, now what do I do?

Leadership
New Manager
AJ St. Aubin

AJ St. Aubin

Director Software Engineering at The RepTrak Company