Be the team crier
In January, I joined a VC-backed startup in Ann Arbor (Channels.org) as CTO and have been managing our 5-person engineering team for about nine months now.
When I first jumped into this role, I assumed our team moving fast would cause us to feel like we were moving fast. I also assumed that this was so dumbfoundingly obvious that it felt idiotic to even say it out loud. After a great week, we’d look back on the great work we did and feel encouraged by our speed.
However, over time I came to recognize that this wasn’t actually true in two important ways.
Velocity isn’t felt equally
On teams, it can be really hard to keep a pulse on what work is being done, especially if you’re an individual contributor who’s heads-down working on your own features. This is greatly exacerbated in remote teams like most have been forced to become due to COVID.
Our company’s founder Curtis and I soon found that how we felt about a team member’s contributions for a given week were less tied to those contributions than they were to how close we were to those contributions. Had we reviewed the code, or had someone else? Was the work easily visible in the frontend?
Velocity isn’t felt equally by all team members. Just because you feel like the team is moving fast doesn’t mean that everyone else does.
Perception of velocity affects future velocity
The second thing I noticed was that the team seemed more focused and productive after I sent out an email clearly summarizing what we’d done in the previous week, even if I hadn’t felt like the previous week wasn’t a particularly productive one.
Sharing the highlights from the previous week immediately made people feel like we were moving faster: after all, a huge corpus of work just became visible. Once people felt like the rest of the team was moving faster, they felt increased pressure to be a good teammate and contribute more themselves. It feels great to be a valued member of a highly productive team; it feels crappy to be the only contributing member of an unproductive team.
Perhaps even more importantly, people felt like their contributions were noticed and appreciated. It should be no surprise that people do better work when they know that work will be recognized.
Be the team crier
You know the town criers that you can imagine hollering news in a medieval city square? As a team lead, you need to play a role sort of like that by regularly distilling and sharing your team’s accomplishments.
For my team, this means sending out weekly or biweekly email updates calling out the great work that team members have done. As an added bonus, being the author of this email acts as a powerful lever about which tasks are highlighted. I can be sure to explicitly call out grungy but important work that might otherwise go unnoticed.
Writing all of this down feels almost silly because it’s obvious that doing this is good. However, it’s one of those obviously important things that’s easy to forget about.
Note to self: be the team crier.