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Best Practices For Leading A High-Performing Developer Team In 2023

Maor Rudick

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Every engineering leader wants to build a high-performance team that can set the standard for velocity, quality, and innovation. Yet, to do that, you need to focus on creating a culture of continuous improvement where everyone in the team is committed to learning and growing.

While we know this may seem easier said than done, we’ve put together some of the best practices that our very own engineering leaders have learned on the journey of creating a production-grade developer tool, especially throughout the rollercoaster this past quarter has been (crazy economy and marketwide layoffs, we’re looking at you…but yeah, not just you).  

So let’s get to it.

But First, Empathy

As an engineering leader, it’s essential to understand not only the technical side of things, but also the emotional side. Your employees aren’t pieces of code that should work exactly as you’ve asked (or written them) to.  Each one is unique, with a different set of needs, emotions, and perspectives. By understanding this – and them – you’ll be able to communicate more effectively and develop stronger relationships to foster a more positive and productive work environment. 

The need for this is even more apparent when it comes to on-call. Being on call shouldn’t be a dreaded experience. Let’s be honest: how often are the on-call people paged? How frequent is it? How much are they suffering? 

Being on-call isn’t just about being the dev equivalent of a firefighter. Instead, it should be viewed as a badge of honor that recognizes an individual’s maturity and skillset in making sound decisions under pressure. As a manager, it’s imperative to consider the price your team – and company – is paying for this. Because, like anything in life, there are consequences, whether that is burnout, work-life balance struggles, drain on motivation, and more. By listening and understanding your dev’s feelings and experiences with this, you can ensure that none of these happen, and you’ll continue to run a smooth sailing ship.  Rookout CTO, Liran Haimovitch, discusses this more in-depth in this talk

The Economy May Be Uncertain, But You Shouldn’t Be

The current economic climate is characterized by significant uncertainty. Whether it’s the fall of banks, untimely mass layoffs, or political upheaval – well, we feel like we’ve felt it all, and we’re only one quarter into 2023. 

Economic uncertainty can lead to a decreased demand for products and services, reduced budgets, and shifting priorities. All of these affect your team’s productivity, whether it’s their ability to deliver on time or within budget. Truly, nothing kills productivity more than a sense of uncertainty. Motivation goes down, productivity goes down, and everyone suffers for it.

So acknowledge the uncertainty and its potential impact on the team. Be the rock and use communication as your best weapon. Allow your developers to understand changes that are happening in priorities, deadlines, and more. Work with them to identify problem areas and see where you can streamline processes and prioritize work that is more closely aligned with the company’s current goals and needs. 

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Lead By Example

As a leader, you set the tone for your team. Lead by example and model the behaviors you want to see in your team members. This includes taking responsibility for your mistakes, demonstrating a growth mindset, and showing a willingness to learn from your team members. This goes beyond a willingness to stay late to finish work when there are a lot of deadlines in play. 

For instance, AI taking over the world has been a hot topic lately. So maybe it’s time to chat it out with your engineers. Are they afraid AI will take over their work? Talk to them. Open a conversation about your vision for how AI can be used as a tool to optimize productivity. Assuage their fears – no one is losing their job to a computer (well, at least not in this round of the matrix). 

Or maybe it’s about creating a healthy work-life balance. Show them that it’s okay to take time off and prioritize mental health. Using vacation days and being away from your laptop won’t lead the company to a downfall. If anything, it’s more beneficial all around. The better they are, the better everyone is, and the better everyone will perform.

Create a healthy engineering culture

It’s essential also to emphasize the importance of creating a healthy engineering culture that fosters experimentation and risk-taking. By combining the right organizational culture with the right tools (observability, anyone?), you can create a team that’s truly unstoppable. The goal isn’t to create systems that never fail but rather to create systems that can fail without affecting customers while allowing for learning and testing.

This includes fostering a learning mindset. Encourage your team to experiment, take risks, make mistakes, and learn from failures. Make sure to create a safe environment where people are not afraid to make mistakes and can learn from them. Encourage your team to always look for ways to improve processes, systems, and products. Celebrate failures as opportunities for learning and growth, and use feedback to improve continuously.

Promote Ownership and Autonomy

Give your team members the freedom and autonomy to own their work and make decisions. This will not only help them feel empowered but also increase their accountability and commitment to the work they do. Let’s look at the facts: your developers are highly skilled professionals who bring high levels of expertise and creativity to their work. 

By promoting ownership, team members feel more invested in their work, take pride in their accomplishments, and feel more motivated to deliver high-quality results. Giving them more autonomy will allow them to use their skills and judgment to decide how to achieve their goals best and lead to more innovative solutions, increased productivity, and more. 

Additionally, giving team members ownership and autonomy can help attract and retain top talent as it demonstrates a commitment to supporting and valuing individual contributions. Who doesn’t want to work somewhere that values them, their work, and their time and investment? 

Set clear goals and metrics 

Ensure your team understands what they are working towards and how their work impacts the company’s goals by aligning efforts towards a common objective. When team members are clear on what they’re working towards, they can align their efforts towards a common objective. This helps avoid miscommunication or misunderstandings and ensures everyone works towards the same goal.

Setting metrics allows you to measure progress towards the goal – and let’s be real, this is quite important because how else do we prove we’re making an impact? This helps you identify what’s working and adjust your approach as needed. Metrics also allow you to track progress over time, so you can see how far you’ve come and celebrate milestones along the way.

Clear goals and metrics make it easier to make decisions. When you have data to back up your decisions, you can be more confident in your choices and more effectively communicate them to your team.

Go Forth And Lead

So there you have it, folks! With these insights from two industry experts, you’ll be well on your way to building a high-performance engineering team that’s second to none. Happy coding!

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