Are you a good manager?
The following article was written by Cate Huston, engineering manager at Automattic, the people behind websites and applications such as WordPress.com, WooCommerce, Jetpack, Simplenote, and Longreads. You can read more of Huston’s writing at cate.blog.
When I was a new manager, I struggled to find a sense of accomplishment. As I’ve moved on to manage managers, I’ve seen this become a challenge for them, too. It’s hard to find the right success metrics for judging our work because our goal is to make the team better. It’s only natural that we spend more time crediting our teams rather than ourselves.Some managers deal with this predicament by viewing their success metric as being available to their teams 24/7 (unsustainable), or by lines of code (which would be like editors focusing on the number of words—absurd). Others “perform good manager” in one-on-one meetings, team meetings and feedback cycles, but it doesn’t really make them feel that elusive sense of accomplishment. To that end, I’ve compiled the following list of questions I use myself and when coaching other managers to reflect on management style and team effectiveness:
1. Can I take a week off?
A rough one to start with if you lean toward constant availability as your metric, but there’s nothing like a week off (or more!) to show which of your responsibilities has the most impact. When you return, pay attention to what you find. What’s surprising to you? What did people miss? What did they not need you for?If your team is in a tough spot, and you don’t feel you can completely disconnect, try designating one trusted person to check in with each day.
2. Can problems be handled without me?
The engineering groups I lead have infrastructure teams dedicated to building and releasing software. Recently, one of our team leads was away when an unplanned release was required. His team, on their own, pushed a new version and compiled a detailed account of what had gone wrong, with next steps.This is huge—you’ll never get away from using constant availability as your metric if every emergency must come to you. Ensuring that everyone on the team feels a sense of responsibility and ownership, and designating a directly responsible individual (DRI) are key.
3. Does my team consistently deliver?
Healthy teams ship consistently and keep shipping over time. We all have projects that become unexpectedly complex, and every one may have a reasonable explanation, but if you look at the overall picture, is the team delivering more often than not?
4. Do people tell me what they think?
One thing every new leader needs to learn is that people are less candid with them. We especially need to make ourselves available to people who may not presume we want to hear from them—otherwise you just hear the loudest voices. It’s also important to note how people give you critical feedback. Do they wait until it’s something that really frustrates them or is it an ongoing conversation? Will people tell you what they are worried or insecure about?
5. Do people on my team treat each other well?
Effective teams are inclusive teams. As a leader, it’s up to you to cultivate a respectful team environment and to make it clear that you won’t tolerate discriminatory language or behavior. Beyond that, you can set some values around reward and advancement that make it clear that success on your team is something that happens interdependently, not as a competition.
6. Is the team self-improving?
Self-improving teams critique and change things as part of their process. They’re not afraid to discuss what worked and what didn’t, make suggestions and implement changes knowing that some changes will fail.It can be really hard to get teams reflecting on what went right and wrong with a project, because the process is scary. But getting to a place where these “postmortems” are a matter of course is the outcome of a self-improving team.