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A lot has been said in recent years about building high-performing teams, as a long-term, holistic goal to work towards.

But, from day to day, engineering managers are tasked with low-level, immediate-term decisions: What work should be scheduled next? How should it be organized and tracked? Who should implement, who should review, and who should take ownership?

This talk is about the finer mechanics of day-to-day engineering management, and how small decisions accrue an effect over time on team dynamics. I've been a fan of role-playing games for my entire life, and even though different games take different approaches to storytelling and battle mechanics, the most fun role-playing games have one thing in common: the hero's party. In the greatest role-playing games like Final Fantasy VII, Chrono Trigger, XenoGears, and more, we consistently learn that a well-balanced party leads to the best endgame outcomes.

This talk will illustrate how an engineering leader can optimize for the entire party, not just the "hero", by creating just enough structure, clarity, and accountability. Building a team with diverse skill sets and experiences, and then intentionally managing the day-to-day "experience point distribution" of the team is journeying along the path to an empowered, high-performing team.

Key takeaways:

  • Engineering managers should seek to create lightweight processes that clarify ownership and decision-making
  • Intentionally distributing work while maximizing equity of opportunity leads to better overall outcomes for the team
  • The teardown of silos will naturally enable organic leadership within the team, and we should strive to do this
  • Role-playing games aren't a perfect analogue for real life, but they can teach us a lot about success on diverse teams!