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No carrots, no sticks. How can I make my colleagues do things?

The role of a Staff Engineer often involves work across the org chart, reaching out to unfamiliar teams and colleagues with competing incentives and varying levels of enthusiasm for our unsolicited bright ideas. With no direct reports to instruct, no cash to flash, and no authority to wield, overcoming the inertia of large-scale, cross-cutting projects can seem daunting. Technical Diplomacy is the long game of building relationships, understanding, and a shared vision to make collective progress.

We’ll follow a multi-team project where organisational dynamics had shaped some architectural decisions and inter-team friction was clouding our judgement. We’ll look at how empathy, inclusive language, and collaborative exercises helped to break the impasse and bring a feature from hunch to implementation. We’ll also consider international diplomacy to see the surprising parallels between API design and negotiating with terrorists.

You should leave this talk curious and keen to apply technical diplomacy to your role. You’ll have some ideas for where to start, and what you can do together with your colleagues to build a better understanding. You’ll be able to spot obstacles and will have some tricks up your sleeve for getting around them. And you’ll have no excuse for repeating my silly mistakes. Ultimately, you’ll be ready to embrace your colleagues — even the difficult ones — in the pursuit of shared success.

Key takeaways:

  • Preparation for the unknown: Consider extremes, and present examples instead of options
  • Activities to build shared understanding
  • Little and big things to try when you’re faced with resistance
  • Radical empathy: Challenge cynicism, listen, persist, take no nonsense