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Engineering leadership | Blog Post

Five Ways to Develop Engineering Managers

Linzi Nield

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A few decades ago, stepping into engineering management looked much different than it does today. 

The transition meant zeroing in on becoming a great people manager and handing over the majority of individual contributor responsibilities. In this way, being an engineering manager was viewed as a skilled craft, and central to the success of many companies.

Fast forward to today, however, and most managers are being thrown into engineering management positions for the first time, without any training. In fact, a study by in 2018 found that 58% of managers reported not receiving any management training from their employers. Many managers today also remain burdened with individual contributor responsibilities in addition to the demands of people management.

That’s a glaring red flag, especially knowing that the success of an overall company hinges on a manager’s ability to motivate and empower productive teams. Managers are on the front lines for driving team output and job satisfaction within your company.

This means that the effectiveness of your remote teams depends largely on the leadership training and guidance that new managers receive from their direct supervisors in upper management. Building successful systems of training for your managers directly impacts your employees–as they inspire and empower your team, boost productivity, and drive company culture.

Here are five essential steps to move you from passively monitoring to actively working to develop engineering managers.

1. Build Impactful 1 on 1 Meeting Structures

Manager 1 on 1 meetings can vary from in-depth conversations to quick status updates and are great opportunities for managers to nurture the development of their remote team members by providing a safe and consistent space to hear their needs. To make these meetings more effective, ask your team members in advance to add agenda items to an ongoing one on one document so they enter the meeting prepared and focused.

Manager one on ones can also be impactful for the learning, development, and growth of a team member. Use this time week-over-week to track which projects they have had the most success with, and to check in on their overarching career goals. You can use these metrics to meaningfully assign projects that will guide them toward their vision for growth within the organization and to successfully empower your team.

2. Institute 360 Feedback Reviews

Beyond weekly 1:1 manager meetings, it’s wise to invest in training your engineering managers on how to perform 360 feedback reviews. This is a powerful way for new managers to receive and integrate honest and constructive feedback from supervisors, team members, and peers. These 360 reviews can even be held semi-annually to speed up internal feedback cycles.

These 360 moments also give direct reports a clear outlet for airing any challenges they are encountering. This gives managers greater transparency into any obstacles that may need to be confronted and avoids blind spots that develop as a natural course of doing the work. A critical area here is in aiding new managers’ abilities to perceive when they need to focus on developing ways to empower their employees.

As a supervisor, you can also use these 360-feedback sessions with your managers to proactively seek out any red flags, such as managers and employees not hitting goals and possible disconnects between HQ and remote teams. If you do see a red flag, get involved and offer support early. You may be able to quickly remedy the situation.

The Six C’s of Effective Management 

Jennifer Farris, Terminal’s Chief People Officer, recommends the six C’s framework to instill great management practices and help develop engineering managers:

Clear purpose: Does everyone understand the vision for the company and “why” the work they are doing is important? This is an empowering factor for your team, and if you’re seeing a lack of focus or drive, it may be that they feel disconnected from the overall purpose.

Cascading goals: What are we doing this month/quarter/year and how does it align with the purpose of the company overall?

Clarity of role: Does everyone know their roles and expectations?

Continuous feedback: Have you created mechanisms to give and receive feedback so that they feel empowered to speak?

Coaching: Do you have effective one-to-one communication and recognition with your team?

Career journey: Does each person on your team have career goals they are personally motivated by that you check in on and actively empower?

3. Give Your Engineering Managers a Travel Budget

As the team leader, it’s likely you have money set aside to visit your remote teams on a regular basis. It’s wise to give this same opportunity to your managers, after all, it’s essential that remote managers also foster tight relationships with their on-the-ground teams. Given today’s travel turbulence, you can also break down this budget into “on-the-go” times, where alternative methods of virtual meetups are provided. 

This investment also demonstrates that, as a supervisor, you care about the quality of the relationships on your manager’s team. It also shows that you value your managers enough to give them the time and space needed to empower their team, similar to how you give yourself the necessary time to build relationships with your own team in management.

4. Ask Engineering Managers to Make Themselves Available to Their Team 

Engineering managers are often not able to have daily interactions with every single employee. But it can be highly empowering for all team members to feel that their managers understand their work and are tracking its progress. One way to solve this is by hosting monthly office hours where people can pop in and connect. Managers can also select 5-10 developers each month for a “coffee chat” where they discuss work and get to know them personally.

For even more contact, managers can institute weekly standing office hours at a set date and time each week. Remote managers can create a waiting room in Zoom for these weekly office hours, and then let one team member in at a time to provide a more private space for answering important questions or a space for group consultations. Give the team flexibility here, so that they feel empowered to bring their issues to the table as they best see fit.

5. Hire Remote Engineering Leads

Beyond having remote engineering managers, Terminal recommends hiring a remote engineering lead as well in each market where you have large remote engineering teams. This remote engineering lead can take on a local leadership role where they help by providing direction and camaraderie for the on-site team.

This is especially useful if your company has large remote engineering teams in distant hubs around the world, where individuals will certainly benefit from having a team member on-site that can provide guidance directly. It also acts to empower them by making them feel that they matter and are important to HQ, which can be a major moral issue for large, spread-out organizations.

Working to Develop Engineering Managers Pays Off Over Time

Though investing time in developing managers can be challenging given all the priorities you’re facing, it will pay off in spades over time. Developing engineering managers will reward your efforts with improved productivity across your individual contributors and teams and result in a more engaged and commited engineering management team.

Ready for more tips on building and managing remote teams in our Remote Teams Playbook? Download it here.

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