Our latest digital panel event took place last week featuring experienced Technology Leaders from Tide, Deliveroo, Pollen, Bulb & Expedia.
The last 18 months has bought about a significant amount of change across every business, industry and team around the world. With technology businesses at the forefront of our post-pandemic recovery, we wanted to create a discussion around some of the biggest challenges technology leaders are facing today. From navigating this period of change, managing people who are more resistant to change, adjusting to hybrid working models, and building high-performing teams to power you through the journey ahead – it was a brilliant discussion that could’ve gone on for hours! We’ve saved you the time and shared a round-up of their key insight and advice below.
A huge thank you to our brilliant panel:
Read on for a round-up on all their advice shared on 6 of the biggest challenges Technology leaders are facing today.
Adjusting to change and navigating the pandemic
Giorgos: We focused on 3 things during covid – our first priority was to ensure business continuity - no downtime or any distractions, which we monitored really fast.
The second was to weather the storm. We had aggressive growth plans, which didn't stop, we just adjusted them slightly but continued to scale massively both as a business & employee base.
And the last one was to come out of the everything stronger. We focused on our members (users) and our internal employees, as people will always be your most valuable asset.
As a company, it’s in our DNA to look ahead in the future constantly to be proactive, instead of being reactive. So we haven’t seen a huge detrimental impact and if anything we've seen lots of positives. Productivity has been really high and we’re now moving into a hybrid model.
Managing people who are resistant to change
Sam: Somebody might be resisting change for a reason that's not immediately obvious. I find it useful having 1-1s with people, and if you've had a great coaching conversation with them they often become advocates for the change. People might feel threatened or insecure about something that's not going to happen, but it's not obvious until you've had that conversation with them.
Adjusting to a hybrid working model
Managing your time and ensuring your team are making time for their own wellbeing
Giorgos: Lead by example, communicate what you’re doing and share it with your team. Whether it be having a hard stop at 6pm on some days, blocking out time for exercise or lunch breaks and publishing the fact that you’ll be out running at a certain time and won’t be available. Whatever I do to promote my work own life balance, I make sure that my whole team has awareness and are trialling their own things that work for them.
Sam: Slack is infinite, so you have to impose your own boundaries on it. And if that means not installing Slack or email on your phone so that you have a clear divide between work and home life, then go for it. Something that I was experimenting with was going for a walk at the end of the day and treating it as my home commute, which I would also publicise in my Slack channel to make everyone aware.
Jon: I often book in my 1-1s together and host them with my headphones in as I go for a walk. I’m not able to keep as thorough notes or action points as I used to, but it's been really nice and it's really helped my team, and now others are doing the same thing.
It's easy when you're in the office to see if someone is slipping through the cracks and to make a quick analysis of what’s going on, or to stop by and ask if they want to grab a coffee to find out what’s happening. That's a lot harder in this environment and something that we can still get better at. We have a very large stand up a couple of times a week, not to talk about project work, but to check in, see everybody's face and maybe tell an interesting story or talk about things that are coming up. And that's helped me a little bit to worry less about people slipping through the cracks and to get a sense of what's going on with people.
Mattia: We've made a point of regularly reminding people of the mental health and wellbeing resources they have available to them, and actively encouraging people to make use of them. It’s important to check in and connect with people to find out about individual circumstances. How are they living through this pandemic? Is there anything I can help them with?
Building High-Performance Teams
Sam: At Pollen we're looking for various kinds of factors and our interviews are an an evidence-based process. ‘Tell us about a time when…’ questions help us to understand the scope of the impact and the complexity, so we ask for lots of examples. We don't look at a laundry list of skills, we look at how that person uses those skills in real situations. And from that, we gain confidence about whether they can do the role that we're offering.
Jon: As a company with natural attrition, you're going to lose some of your highest performers, it's just the nature of the beast. So if you're not looking to hire people who are at least as good as what you have today, then naturally what's going to happen is the talent level of your organisation is going to go down over time. You have to hold a standard really, really high when it comes to hiring.
Mattia: We want to see people at their best, and often when they come to an interview, people are stressed and worried and anxious. So we tend to send them a guide about what we're going to be looking for and the sort of questions we might ask. That way people can come prepared with examples that demonstrate a time they did something, but they showcase the behaviours that we're looking for.
Karina: We always try to keep our questions based on real experiences rather than ‘how would you approach a situation like…’. Your behaviours are very different when you are in a real situation, and you’ve experienced the pressures you felt in that time. It’s easy to say how you would approach something, but we will get more insight hearing someone explain how they tackled a similar problem.
Sam: Squad or team health checks are a really good way of measuring a high-performing team outside of the manager/employee working relationship and getting feedback and a temperature check that way. But you must be quite careful with engineering metrics. It's good to look at the team level; is the team delivering quality software in a sustainable way?
Finding a leadership style that works for you and your team
Jon: A big part of growing people is giving them more and more ambiguity to deal with, and then helping them to deal with that ambiguity. The only way you learn to be right a lot is by being wrong a lot, right. So you have to give people room to learn and to make mistakes.
Sam: Coaching is there to remove any mental blockers that somebody has, and the idea is that they have the right answer, you're just helping them get there. If they truly don't have the right answer, that can be a frustrating situation for them to be in so you may switch into mentoring or teaching mode - making it clear what the outcome is that you're aiming for, aligning on that outcome, and then agreeing a cadence on the way there that works for the person. Ask yourself, does this person have the right skill level in order to get there? If they don't have the right skill level, then they're going to need a bit more support, and more frequent check ins.
Giorgos: As managers and leaders, we must make a risk assessment on giving people space to fail and learn, but not allowing the company to fail as well. When you're in a fast-paced environment your appetite for risk is usually less, as you want to get things done right, so you need to find a balance. In some circumstances, being more direct is necessary to ensure things get done and to avoid any critical mistakes being made that will impact the business.
A massive thank you to our brilliant panel for their time and valuable insights. To be kept in the loop about all of our upcoming tech events, subscribe to our monthly tech newsletter here.