Let them go their own way

A mistake many newly minted (and some experienced) engineering managers (EMs) make is listening to their team (good!), discussing potential solutions and tradeoffs (good!), and then telling them how to solve the problem. Whoops!

Now the team relies on their EM to make decisions and hierarchy is enforced. Folks may walk away feeling good that a debate was had or voices were heard. But at the end of the day, the EM isn’t creating leverage for the team and the team isn’t getting the autonomy to make their successes (and learn from their mistakes).

Even worse: when some direct reports have the trust and faith of the EM to make their own decisions and pursue autonomy. But other members are not there yet and so the EM is “in the decision loop” for them. Double whoops!

Instead, the EM should help their team work autonomously, build trust, and solve problems on their own. The EM acts as a sort of bumper-bowling oracle. They listen and discuss with reports or the team as a whole. Then, instead of deciding, the EM specifies outcomes or tradeoffs to navigate by. Based on their research, intuition, and the desired outcomes, the team makes their own decision and implements it.

This applies to junior and senior developers. The feedback loop for junior developers may need to be shorter to make sure they don’t go down the wrong rabbit hole, but EMs and senior developers shouldn’t hover over them every minute telling them which ideas to pursue and which to discard.

By Adam Keys

Telling a joke. Typing.