Introducing processes to a team as a new manager can seem daunting. Learn how to mitigate pushback and reach team harmony with these tips.
Managing a new team can be intimidating. Introducing change to that team can be even more difficult, but this shouldn’t dissuade you from the task. Though at certain times uncomfortable, selecting and implementing new processes often helps the overall team’s performance.
However, creating the right procedures requires more than just showing up and doing things that you’re already familiar with. You need to get to know the team, build a rapport, understand its pain points, and recognize quick wins that will work for them.
Some teams may be process-resistant, but if you choose methods that work, they’ll pay dividends not just for that team, but also for your relationship as a manager with your engineers.
Listen and learn
The first step to introducing new processes is understanding your team. Meeting with your engineers one on one may provide a safe space for them to give feedback on what is or isn’t working, or what, prior to your arrival, has or hasn’t worked. Ask lots of questions and give them space to discuss. For example:
- What team processes are currently working?
- What processes do they want and why they haven’t been introduced up until now?
- What processes were used in the past that didn’t work and why they didn’t work?
- What are the team’s biggest pain points?
Once you have a better idea of individuals’ opinions, provide a forum for all engineers to bring up concerns or suggestions as a group. In doing so, team members, alongside yourself, can gauge wider sentiment and find common ground. However, to achieve this honest channel of communication, a high-trust environment needs to already exist.
Build trust and consensus
Teams without processes often have dysfunctional work patterns. Some of this dysfunction comes from a lack of trust among team members. Occasionally, you’ll get lucky and trust will already exist, but more often than not, as a new manager, you’ll have to build it into the culture.
In one of your first team meetings, try a core values exercise. Have folks choose their top three team values, highlighting the most important among those three, and then have them send their answers to you; if you’re in need of examples, James Clear has a great list of core values to choose from
Tally the results and show your team all the values that were selected and which came out on top. This will be the first among your team agreements, showing what principles are the most important to the collective team.
You should also provide time to have fun and bond. Even simply asking what someone had for lunch can significantly break the ice and get folks smiling. When team members have an opportunity to express their personalities, they get to know each other better, bond, and build trust.
Once trust and consensus have been built, identifying the most pressing process needs will be easier.
There will be instances where engineers won’t want to participate or will refuse to buy in. Don’t be tempted to allow an outlier to drive the direction of the team’s processes. More often than not, a process that works for the majority of your engineers will be the best approach, but keep tabs on how the more obstinate individuals are acclimating. You can always reassess and reconfigure later – that’s what ongoing team meetings and 1:1s are for.
How to prioritize
Some processes will be more urgent than others. Take the information you gleaned from your 1:1s, team meetings, and personal observations to identify a need for certain processes. These may be:
- On-call processes and runbooks
- Agile or waterfall processes
- Regular team-bonding exercises and experiences
- Structured 1:1s
Using an impact vs. effort chart at this point is a great way to prioritize. For myself and my team, urgency and impact were the levers I used.
If you identify a solution with high impact that will take relatively low effort, employ it.
For example, in my team, I could see that my engineers were overwhelmed by the number of questions and requests in our public Slack channel, which the entire company can access and post to.
To help them structure and triage requests received from company peers, I employed a Slack bot that would ask for a theme, prioritization, and team categorization. This helped organize the intake. Though it wasn’t a fool-proof solution, it was a start in addressing our most urgent pain point quickly.
Prepare and introduce slowly
For more significant changes that require increased effort, think about all of the work it will take to support the introduction of a new process.
In this case, I knew that several folks on my team wanted scrum-based agile processes. But I also knew that this wouldn’t be a straightforward implementation and that we needed to reflect on some key questions before adopting this new practice.
These questions circled around who would run the ceremonies if we brought in this new system in, if and how we would keep track of story points, and how we could make this transition not feel burdensome to the team. Make sure you or someone on your team has answers to all of these questions before taking the leap.
I also knew that introducing agile processes would require a champion. In other words, someone who would own the major parts of implementing these new processes.
We were lucky to find that champion in our program manager. They talked through their thoughts and plans, garnering the necessary support and consensus among the team. They took on the work as their own, with little oversight from myself, and seamlessly executed on starting all agile ceremonies for the team.
The entire implementation process took a couple of months to plan and execute, but slow-rolling allowed the team to adjust to this new agile life.
Delegation is key when introducing processes
If you feel like you don’t have the time or bandwidth to institute new processes for the team, delegate; the team is able to help run themselves. This will also help inspire initiative and accountability within your reports.
Remember, you won’t always be the one to bring in new ideas, nor will you need to monitor every implementation of a process. Be open to saying yes if an engineer proposes a new method or procedure. Give them space to pitch it to the rest of the team and try it out. If things aren’t working, ensure there’s space for feedback and adjustments before pulling the plug.
Adding processes to a team that has none can seem overwhelming. However, taking things one step at a time can alleviate that burden. The right processes can truly improve your team’s health, camaraderie, and output.
The team may groan at the outset, but ensuring they’re part of those processes and have space to give feedback will show that it’s not about you, but about the team’s overall happiness and productivity.