This time last year I was promoted to Head of Technology, Web Applications at IMG Arena.

Having had a number of senior management roles in the past I was looking forward to the challenge of taking on leadership of an established team of 21 software engineers instead of building a team from scratch. In the majority of my other leadership roles I was the first team member.

There are a reasonable number of differences between putting together a greenfield team versus leading a group of people who have done the forming, norming, and storming stages and are already performing.

I’ve learned some new concepts and had a fair few reinforced in the past year so I thought I’d take a moment to reflect and note a few of them down.

Relationships are even more important in remote work

When you’re face to face in an office on a daily basis it’s reasonably obvious that how you engage with your team has a big effect on their response to you and your work.

Being able to shoot the breeze and talk about other non-work subjects in-person with people aren’t your direct reports can establish healthy working relationships and foster trust.

I’ve found that after 4 years in remote senior roles it’s become even more clear that most people find it challenging to connect over video calls.

The loss of “water cooler” chat is having an affect on how people communicate with what feels like a real change in how much effort is needed to establish and engender a healthy culture.

I’ve been working on this by doing a few things:

This isn’t something that is simply solved by effort, but keeping it in mind and making it part of daily working life seems to be helpful.

Opinion amplification is real

I’m the type of person that likes to share my opinion on subjects I’ve experience of as soon as I see or hear them discussed and enjoy being part of a healthy conversation.

When I was a senior developer or tech lead that often to led to fun, interesting, and occasionally heated, discussions about tech and processes with members of my team.

I’ve noticed a difference now that if I weigh in too early it can stifle discussion among my team members; from what I can tell, my role gives much more weight to my opinions and people aren’t always comfortable with sharing a counter to my ideas.

I’m now learning to keep out of the discussion and enjoy the back and forth between team members, contributing my thoughts once I feel like I can add to the conversation without being a blocker.

Quite often that means I need to stay quiet altogether and trust the team to resolve issues themselves. I still get involved if I see things going awry or if they have the potential to derail a project or create unnecessary additional work but that rarely happens.

I’d like to work out how to encourage people to challenge my ideas in a healthy way and for now this choice seems to work well for the team.

Trust is a two way street

Throughout my career I’ve never really considered my ideas on trust.

The majority of the time I’ve thought that if I work with someone then I trust them until they prove themselves untrustworthy.

As a senior manager it’s become more apparent that the trust I have in my team members needs to be communicated clearly.

In addition I’m learning that I’m not entitled to their trust. I need to earn it.

I’ve been making sure I follow through on actions we’ve discussed, find out information for them as soon as I can, and be clear and honest with them at every opportunity.

Great questions are more important than good answers

Towards the end of 2023 I realised that I have a tendency to want to answer peoples problems for them. Not quite a hero complex but definitely not a healthy default when you’re trying to help people grow in their roles.

At the start of the new year a newsletter from Matt Lerner included a gem of wisdom from Matt’s hard earned experience:

Several years ago, I got a big promotion. I needed to shift from doing work and managing a small team to leading across the broader organization.

I gave myself a 6-word goal for the year: “Get better at asking great questions.”

I had no idea what I’d stumbled across. It became the most productive year of my career in terms of impact, team empowerment and personal growth.

First, I became a much better listener.

And I realized the best way to help people do their best work was not to spray my thinking into their ears. Instead, I could open up spaces in their minds and let them rework their own assumptions.

And my new superpower didn’t evaporate at the end of that year. That “great questions” muscle keeps on giving. Matt Lerner, Newsletter Jan 2nd 2024

Matt’s newsletter couldn’t have landed at a better time for me. It was a real “aha” moment.

Since then I’ve been keeping the revelation in mind and have been trying to ask better questions.

Those questions are not asked just with the aim of coaching someone through a problem but also to gain more understanding of how they tackle challenges and a deeper understanding of problems.

This change has already had a meaningful effect on a number of conversations and I’ve come away from them feeling like I was able to add to value without having to have a solution ready to go.