When I made the transition from individual contributor to manager, I felt the effect of no longer having a tangible and tight feedback loop for my work. I no longer had the binary outcome of my code either working or failing. My days became much more analog with long (sometimes infinite) feedback loops. This made it hard to know if I was really making progress or just marching in place.
I’ve learned to shift my sense of accomplishment by focusing on three key areas: productivity, atmosphere, and growth.
First, I focus on the productivity of my team. How would the team describe our goals? What’s the team’s understanding of how our work ties to the success of the business and the service of our customers? How would the team describe their confidence in their ability to get things done? Finding the answers to these questions usually led to ways to help my team achieve better outcomes.
I also work on the experience felt by the members of my team. I consider creating an “atmosphere of good feelings” a core part of my job. That means the people on my team feel cared for and show care for each other. While I try to have as few team meetings as possible, I use meetings as a way to gauge how my team is experiencing their work. In addition to achieving the objective of our meetings, I spend a lot of time reading body language and trying to see where each team member is on an emotional level. I also get a lot of this data from 1:1s, Slack, and sprint retrospectives.
Finally, I seek accomplishment in the growth of my team. In what ways does my team feel that they can now do things, as a team, that they couldn’t do before? What about as individuals? How can I provide opportunities for my team to improve themselves through education and training? Does our promotion rate reflect steady improvement?
None of this is easy, and there’s always more noise than signal. A lot of these outcomes play out over quarters and years instead of weeks and months. You probably won’t see the end of the story for most of the members of your teams. However, I’ve found that applying these general principles to the teams I lead has provided very positive results.
I know that a lot of this is fuzzy, but I have two resources that go a lot deeper than I can in one blog post. The first one is The Manager’s Path by Camille Fournier. She wrote a lot of it specifically for people navigating the change from individual contributor to manager.
I also recommend Eryn O’Neil’s talk called “Congrats! You’re the tech lead - now what?”