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4 Ways to Improve Your Engineering Team Health During a Transition

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By: Code Climate
December 01, 2022

Team Data Illustration

Changes within a company, like growth, restructuring, down-sizing, or shifting goals, can be disruptive for engineering teams.

Developers often look to team leads to understand how these organizational changes will impact them. Amid transitions and uncertainty, engineering leaders can be a beacon for their teams and help maintain the culture that they’ve cultivated. 

Read on for four steps leaders can take to continue to have a positive impact on engineering team health:

Prioritize psychological safety 

A phrase often referenced in leadership is psychological safety, the idea of fostering a culture within your team where engineers are comfortable taking risks, openly expressing their concerns, and sharing ideas. Tactics for enhancing psychological safety can include: 

  • Leading with curiosity to find a root cause of a failure or bottleneck.
  • Focusing on the work, not the engineer themselves, when identifying issues. 
  • Creating a safe culture free from microaggressions. 
  • Getting to know direct reports on an interpersonal level. 

Psychological safety promotes employee satisfaction, and it also often leads to better team performance. 

As Heidi Waterhouse, Principal Developer Advocate at LaunchDarkly said during our webinar on using data to promote psychological safety, “The faster a team moves, the more psychologically safe they are, the more they feel like they can take risks, but also the more they feel like they can take risks, the faster they move.” 

Keep an eye out for burnout 

Burnout is present across all industries, especially after the work from home era upended the way we work and challenged us to reevaluate our priorities. 

Understandably, feelings of burnout are not something employees often want to share with team leads, and once they get to that point, it might be too late to offer solutions. Managers might need to do some exploring in order to address burnout before it becomes a problem. 

Code Climate identified and addressed burnout on our own engineering teams by dogfooding Velocity

After several 1-on-1s revealed that engineers were excited about their work but feeling under pressure to ship new features, our engineering manager used Velocity’s Reports Builder to find out the number of pushes that happened after 8 pm. This inquiry revealed the team was working late more often than in previous months. 

Their manager used this data to make two key changes: adjusting the scope of their work to something more more manageable, and  giving engineers days off. She continued to check in with her team and make sure work was evenly distributed among ICs. 

Spotting and tackling undesirable trends, like engineers working on nights and weekends, allows leaders to make necessary changes before their teams experience burnout.  

Use metrics to communicate the business value of your team

During board meetings and stakeholder conversations, engineering leaders act as the advocates and representatives for engineering teams. It’s important for developers to know that their team leaders are championing their work, and communicating their impact with stakeholders. 

Software engineering teams power organizations, but because it’s so hard to quantify engineering work, it can be difficult to demonstrate the true value that work brings to the business.

With metrics, engineering leaders can make a business case for their teams by demonstrating trends in numbers to stakeholders. For example, the CTO of WorkTango, Mike Couvillion, uses revenue-specific metrics when presenting to his board of directors. 

In board slides, Couvillion now uses the following metrics to demonstrate efficiency: 

  • Innovation Rate
  • PR Throughput
  • Cycle Time
  • Average Coding Days

Objective data also helps leaders advocate for new talent or tools, because they can clearly demonstrate how those resources will help the company meet their goals. 

Address engineers’ concerns with enhanced 1-on-1s 

As we mentioned above, metrics are highly useful for showcasing the impact of your engineering teams, spotting burnout in advance, and identifying when and where teams might be stuck. 

Metrics can also enhance 1-on-1s, and ensure that conversations are actionable. You can bring concerning trends or units of work that need to be addressed to a meeting, and work with that team member to come up with a plan for improvement. Or, you can call out and celebrate successes, such as positive trends or progress towards goals. 

Yet metrics can’t replace conversations with direct reports, and 1-on-1s should leave room for topics beyond progress and performance. 

Part of fostering a positive culture is getting to know employees on an interpersonal level, demonstrating that you recognize their hard work, and offering collaboration and coaching when things go off track.

Taking the right steps 

If your company is going through a transition, it’s important to address your engineering team directly. Pay attention to cultivating or maintaining a culture of psychological safety so they can express their concerns or take a risk by trying something new; be on the lookout for conditions that might cause burnout; be their champion when talking to stakeholders; and have more impactful 1-on-1 conversations to address issues and offer support. 

To learn more about using metrics to enhance board meetings and 1-on-1s, speak with a Velocity product specialist

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