I’ve been spinning in circles. I was the first engineer and 3rd employee at a company that grew from a problem statement to a team of over 550 people with a 1.3b valuation in 3 years. In that time, I’ve moved from being the only engineer to managing managers of engineers. The company direction has shifted, my manager and peers have shifted (many times!). The changing definition of ‘good’ gives me that dizzy feeling like after you stop spinning and wobble around - everything is moving and it is hard to tell which ways is up.
This is my attempt at writing out a few things I think are ‘up’.
I’ve managed an engineering team 3 times, and built both products and teams from scratch in consulting and in full time roles. My role at Cityblock has been the first time I’ve both managed managers and worked within a medium size non-tech company in high growth mode.
Like many engineers who move into management, I had absolutely no ‘practice’, ‘training’ or ‘mentorship’. My management qualifications were mostly that I got annoyed with inefficient process and then tried to fix them (often causing bigger problems). However, I did get a little advice in my first 3-4 years of managing. The number one item was ‘make sure people don’t quit’ and later, that I should ‘drop the ball more’. Though far from actual management training, they were surprisingly helpful at the time.
To augment those nuggets of wisdom, I tried to read few great books. But, the knowledge didn’t stick. I imagined 'managing' as this very deliberate set of planned actions to evolve your team. However, at a high growth company like Cityblock (in year 2, the team grew 700%), I simply didn't have the time or energy to consult a variety of materials, internalize the lessons and then put the lessons into practice. Sage advice came from trusted peers and friends.
As a result - my number one recommendation for a manager of managers would be to stop reading this and instead build a network of people you can call for advice (and who you support in turn). I deeply wish I had done that more. Today, I use Merit and Orbital Studios.
This is a set of lessons learned that I've broken into three general categories (Note: they are links to full posts):
Small things to remember
- Always work to make yourself irrelevant.
- You always can solve other people’s problems - no matter what lack of autonomy you feel. Make sure your team knows this.
- Be a force of unbending consistency.
- Relationships are far more important than you imagine.
- You can only fully control yourself.
- Remember the 5 factors of effective collaboration from @Camille Fournier
- Are you talking to one another effectively?
- Do you know where you are going?
- Do you know how you are getting there?
- Do you know how to tell of you are getting there?
- Have you done the work to make sure your team can actually get work done?
Short books with actionable information and/or frameworks
- The Manager's Path
- The Making of a Manager
- The Art of Leadership: Small Things Done Well
- A short list of articles and tips