Lift your team up

By Marc Littlemore
4 min read

I've always loved the following saying:

“A rising tide lifts all boats”

Although John F Kennedy may have borrowed it from the chamber of commerce of the New England Council, the idea behind it really resonates with me. The true meaning behind it was to suggest that an improved economy will benefit all participants. However, I like to apply it to how you build a positive team culture. By helping one person, you quickly help to lift the whole team up.

As a manager of a software engineering team, I help to set the tone for team. It's my responsibility to ensure the team are happy, that they're constantly learning, and that they can grow their careers. By building an environment where everyone helps to bring their team mates up, we end up with a positive and inclusive culture.

So how do you help to lift your whole team up?

Believe in your team. You hired them for a reason. Don't let them join your team and then leave them to get on with the work in isolation. Give regular feedback. Help them to thrive. When they're doing a great job then tell them. Share their successes with others. We have a kudos Slack channel where I love posting my team's small and big wins. Encouragement and positivity is infectious.

We're all human. Life is never easy and we all face challenges in our own lives, especially in 2020 and 2021. Have regular 1:1 meetings with your team and be an active listener. Accept what they're willing to share with you and share your own life, as much as you both feel comfortable with. It'll help you both to understand each other and build a positive relationship. Feeling understood will help them to feel accepted as part of the team.

To make everyone feel included they must feel heard. Ensure you enable every to voice their opinion in your meetings. Don't only allow those with the most confidence or loudest voices to speak. Lift everyone's opinions so that they feel part of the team, even if you can't always act upon everyone's views. As Simon Sinek quite nicely puts it, "be the last to speak".

As a team lead, your job is to multiply the makers on your team. As a technical leader, your job isn't to always know the right answer. It's to find the answer by allowing your team to be the experts that you know they are. See the potential in your team and help to amplify their voices. You'll have much more impact as a leader and it'll bring your whole team along on the journey with you.

I love learning. It's something I actively try and encourage my children to understand. Every day should be a day of discovery in finding something new to learn about. Create learning opportunities for your team. I run a weekly team learning session where I mentor some of my less experienced team members to increase their knowledge and understanding of both programming and our team's domain expertise. I share my own knowledge and help to bring them up too. It's not a zero-sum game. By sharing what I know, I'm helping the team and in turn, they'll teach someone else. I've learnt so much more by teaching my team and it's helped to lift me up too.

You can lift the whole team up by sharing your network, especially if you've been at a company for a while. You'll have gained a reputation, and hopefully a good one. Use this to sponsor members of your team. Introduce them to other people they might not normally meet and create those opportunities for career growth. Lend your privilege to others who may not have it yet. A short introduction to another team might not mean much to you, but it'll do wonders for the confidence of your engineer who is being raised up to represent your team.

Inspiration is a funny term and I often struggle with it and the idea of being inspirational. You should strive to inspire your team to do their best work by aspiring to do some or all of the things I've talked about above. You can share the history of why your team has created the application architecture that you have. It can inspire them that they can help to build similar too. You can also set the vision of the future and be an inspiration for what could be. By listening to your team, you can help them to build the team's vision for the future too.

You might not realise how much you help the team by lifting them up. Your accomplishments will mean a lot to the team but remember to be happy to do so without a fuss. Sometimes you might not even realise you're doing a great job until somebody tells you so.

Build that positive environment and keep on helping to lift the team's boats.

The rewards will also come to you too.

Marc Littlemore avatar

I'm Marc Littlemore.

I’m a Senior Software Engineering Manager who works with high performing development teams and loves to help to grow other software leaders and engineers.



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