MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you build a strong team? is written by Jessica Rusin, senior director of engineering at MobileDay.
Building a strong team is something that all managers strive to do. When a team works together effectively, it positively impacts just about every facet of its department — from idea generation to bottom-line results — and engineering teams are no different. Through my experiences both as an engineer and a manager, I’ve found that there are a few keys to enhancing the structure and effectiveness of any team:
Embrace idiosyncrasies, yet foster team engagement
A person’s unique qualities are often the ones that make them brilliant, and the same can be said for teams. Engineering teams, like any creative group, are made up of avidly innovative, intelligent individuals who need to be challenged. One of the subtle elements of managing a team of engineers is understanding that despite their reputation for being loners, they too like to feel that they are part of something.
Most people have a number of differing needs that must be met if they are to feel fulfilled in the workplace. Being able to accept and accommodate these needs, even if they vary from your own, is one of the greater, but more rewarding challenges of operating a successful team.
Engineers, for example, tend to be people who do really well on their own. They like to knuckle down and work on solving difficult problems. Coaching can help nurture those collaborative skills, and it often turns out that with a little prompting, not only do engineers like to talk to one another, but get great satisfaction from knowing that they’re an integrated and crucial part of the organization.
When I’m looking to add a team member, communication skills are right up there in importance with engineering skills. New hires tend to start by beating the lone genius drum, but as the team grows over time, so does the importance of sharing and cooperating. You can be the best engineer in the world, but if you can’t communicate well, you’re not going to be able to collaborate to the degree required to produce and maintain a high-quality, scalable product.
Engineers, as are many employees, are straightforward workers who value transparency both in their own work and the company as a whole. They have highly sensitive B.S. meters. When they know you will be honest and open with them about their own performance and that of the company’s, they reward you with greater trust, which really shows in their level of work engagement. I find that my team members really care about what’s happening in other departments — customer success, user experience, sales and marketing — but most of all, they like to see how their work has an impact on those around them. When they feel their products are being used and appreciated by others, it drives them to continue to improve and innovate.
Allow for leadership, ideas and space
There are a myriad of leadership opportunities within any one team. One of the greatest things about being on a team is that you don’t have to be good at everything yourself. Rather, you can take the lead in areas where you excel and improve upon your weaker areas by learning from others.
Oftentimes leadership gets associated with only those roles involved with managing people. However, because it would be difficult for anyone to be an expert in all areas necessary for a technical team to function, it’s crucial to delegate leaders based on their strengths. People respond positively when they’re given more responsibility — they often take ownership and act with accountability.
One of the greatest challenges of being a team leader is knowing the optimal balance of guidance and space that any one person requires. In my experience, too much control can interfere with a person’s natural flow of creativity and thought generation. Give people the space they need to operate to their maximum potential and they will. The same can be said of the team at large. There may be many individual elements that make up a team, but when everything is balanced as a whole, the team will become far more effective than the sum of its parts. For me, managing a team of engineers is all about finding the optimum balance of personalities, skillsets and structure, and then standing back a little and trusting the process.
Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you build a strong team?
Talent alone won’t make your business successful by Sharon Price John, CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop.
The right (and wrong) time to embrace teamwork in the office by Barbara Dyer, president and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation.
How horses taught this CEO to be a better leader by Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3.
Why this CEO thinks making mistakes is admirable by Kristen Hamilton, CEO and co-founder at Koru.
How managers can stay connected to their team by Linda Addison, U.S. managing partner at Norton Rose Fulbright.
The difference between a great leader and a good one by Kerry Healey, president of Babson College.
The easiest way to reduce employee turnover by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.
3 misconceptions about leading a successful team by Samantha Dwinell, vice president of talent management at Texas Instruments.
How to build a strong team without micromanaging by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
Here’s the secret to getting better employees by Julia Hartz, co-founder and president of Eventbrite.