Great managers can create stability for their teams, even when things within the larger organization feel up in the air.
In the face of rapid technological advancements, shifting market demands, and internal restructuring, engineering leaders must strive to create stability for their teams. By employing key strategies and honing specific skills, exceptional managers can anchor their teams amidst uncertainty, maintaining morale, productivity, and overall performance.
The art of clear communication
Effective communication is essential for keeping your team informed, aligned, and on track. Great managers can achieve this by utilizing various communication channels.
Synchronous communication, such as video calls or live chats, should be reserved for quick questions or decisions, while asynchronous communication, like email or Slack messages, works best for longer messages or when team members are unavailable for live conversations.
With remote work becoming more commonplace, new communication challenges have also surfaced. But the good news is that both synchronous and asynchronous approaches would be useful in a virtual setting. By striking the right balance, engineering leaders can ensure effective communication while also respecting team members’ time.
When communicating, leaders should be:
- Succinct. It’s important to be as clear and concise as possible. Avoid jargon and technical terms that your team members may not understand.
- Positive and encouraging. It’s easy to get bogged down in the negatives during stressful times. However, it’s important to stay optimistic. Remind your team members that they are capable and that they will get through this together.
- Patient and understanding. Change can be difficult for everyone. Be considerate of your team members and recognize that they may be feeling stressed or anxious.
- Open to feedback. Ask your team members for feedback on how you can improve your communication. This will help you to better understand their needs and concerns.
Trust is the foundation of any successful team. Exceptional engineering leaders create an environment where team members feel comfortable expressing concerns and asking questions.
Sharing information openly, being receptive to feedback, and following through on commitments cultivate a culture of trust. It also fosters a sense of stability and psychological safety.
To promote trust in teams, leaders can:
- Be transparent and honest. Be truthful and upfront with team members, even when it’s not always easy. This means being open about your own mistakes and shortcomings, as well as the challenges the team is facing.
- Be approachable. Make it clear that you’re always available to listen to team members’ concerns and questions. Create a culture where people feel comfortable coming to you with problems, even if they’re not sure how to solve them.
- Be supportive. Let team members know that you believe in them and their abilities. This means providing them with the resources and training they need to succeed, as well as offering encouragement and support when they need it.
- Be fair. Treat all team members with respect and fairness. This means giving everyone the same opportunities to succeed, regardless of their background or experience.
Embracing agility and adaptability
Change is inevitable in the engineering field. In these instances, great managers help their teams pivot gracefully, transforming potential obstacles into growth opportunities. This equips individuals with the skills and knowledge needed to adapt to new technologies, methodologies, and market demands.
To achieve this, leaders can:
- Encourage experimentation. Don’t be afraid to try new things, even if they don’t always work out. Experimentation is a great way to learn and grow, and it can help you to find new and better ways of doing things.
- Develop a flexible mindset. Be willing to change your plans and adapt to new circumstances.
Decision-making and autonomy
Exceptional engineering leaders empower their teams to make decisions and take ownership of their work. Granting autonomy enables teams to navigate uncertainty more effectively and maintain high morale. Facilitate this by delegating decision-making authority within clear guidelines. In doing so, leaders can foster a collaborative environment where initiative and innovation are celebrated.
Leaders can approach this through:
- Identifying the areas of decision-making: Break down the project or tasks into specific components or areas where decisions need to be made. This could include design choices, resource allocation, or timeline adjustments.
- Matching decision-making areas with team members: Assign each area of decision-making to the team member(s) best suited for the responsibility, considering their skills and expertise. RACI matrices can help here.
- Setting boundaries and guidelines: Clearly define the scope and limitations of the decision-making authority.
- Encouraging accountability: Hold team members accountable for the decisions they make and encourage them to take ownership of the outcomes. This will help to instill a sense of responsibility and commitment to the project.
Prioritizing well-being and resilience
During turbulent times, it’s crucial for engineering leaders to ensure their team’s mental health isn’t overlooked. Addressing stress or burnout creates a more resilient and focused team. Prioritize well-being by encouraging work-life balance, providing emotional support, and promoting a culture where team members feel valued, respected, and cared for.
To ensure that psychological safety and team well-being are approached in the right way leaders can:
- Set a good example. Do this by prioritizing your own work-life balance. This means not working excessive hours, taking breaks, and disconnecting from work when you’re not on the clock.
- Encourage setting boundaries. Keeping this in mind means not checking work emails or Slack messages outside of office hours. Help your team members to set boundaries between their work and personal lives. An example of promoting this approach might be avoiding sending emails over the weekend (most of the time these can wait).
- Promote flexible work arrangements. Where possible, allow your team members to work from home, have flexible hours, and take breaks throughout the day. This will help them to better manage their work-life balance.
- Support time off and vacations. Encourage your team members to take time off and vacations. This will help them to recharge and come back to work refreshed and productive.
Celebrating successes and boosting morale
Recognizing and celebrating your team’s achievements is essential, even amidst organizational turbulence. This can be achieved through:
- Acknowledging individual accomplishments. Take the time to recognize and celebrate your team members' individual accomplishments. This could look like a simple, quick email or Slack message. Alternatively, it could take the form of an official public shoutout at a team meeting.
- Fostering a culture of gratitude. Encourage your team members to express gratitude to each other for their hard work and contributions. This could consist of a “thank you” in person or over email. If desired and appropriate, this could manifest as a more formal thank-you note.
- Implementing a system for regular recognition and rewards. This could be a structured program with set criteria for recognition, or something more relaxed. The important thing is to have a system in place so that team members know how they can be commended and rewarded for their hard work.
- Celebrating team milestones. When your team achieves a goal, take the time to celebrate their success.
Psychological safety and promoting inclusivity
Research conducted by Google’s Project Aristotle found that psychological safety was the most critical factor contributing to high-performing teams.
Therefore, establishing psychological safety within your team is essential. Encourage open dialogue, emphasize empathy, address biases, and promote inclusivity to create an environment where team members feel safe to express their opinions, share their ideas, and learn from their mistakes.
Leveraging data-driven decision-making
In uncertain environments, data-driven decision-making guides your team and reduces anxiety. By making informed judgment calls based on objective data and sound analysis, engineering leaders minimize the impact of biases and demonstrate a commitment to rational, evidence-based approaches. This not only promotes a sense of stability within the team but also empowers team members to make responsible decisions that contribute to the organization’s overall success.
Embracing change management best practices
Great engineering leaders understand the importance of effective change management. By embracing proven change management methodologies, such as Kotter’s 8-Step Process or ADKAR, managers can guide their teams through transitions more smoothly.
Key elements of effective change management include clear communication, stakeholder engagement, and ongoing support during and after the transition process.
Maintaining a growth mindset
According to research conducted by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, individuals with a growth mindset are more likely to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, and see effort as the path to success.
Fostering a growth mindset within your engineering team is crucial for navigating change and developing resilience. By cultivating the idea that challenges are opportunities to learn, grow, and improve (rather than threats to be feared) managers can cultivate a versatile team. Fostering continuous learning, providing constructive feedback, and celebrating progress help to create a culture that thrives even during times of uncertainty.
To achieve this, leaders can:
- Encourage continuous learning: Promote ongoing professional development through training, workshops, and mentorship programs.
- Praise effort, not just outcomes: Recognize your team members’ hard work and dedication, regardless of whether the desired results were achieved.
- Emphasize the value of persistence: Encourage your team to keep trying in the face of obstacles and setbacks –celebrate their tenacity.
- Model a growth mindset: Demonstrate your own commitment to self-improvement and expanding your knowledge base, setting an example for your team to follow.
Engineering leaders who create stability amidst organizational turbulence play a vital role. Investing in your team’s growth and development, providing ample support, and leading by example will ensure that your team emerges stronger and more adaptable. As an engineering leader, your steadfast leadership will not only navigate the storm successfully but also foster a resilient team.