At the workplace I’m leaving, the development group is split into two teams: Development and Production Support. I’m the Development lead — meaning I head the team that builds product enhancements and new features. Cupcake is the Production Support lead; his team handles the day-to-day technological help the rest of the business needs in using the central products, maintains the existing code base, troubleshoots production bugs, et cetera.
Now, apart from Cupcake, there’s really one other guy in the group who has the skillset to be the lead of the dev team — New Kid (who is actually the guy with the longest tenure; I’m second). But unfortunately, much to my surprise, New Kid turned in his notice the day before I did. This means Cupcake’s really the only one on the team who’s got the skills and experience to be the lead of either team.
So, assuming Cupcake would be running double duty if Sparky didn’t fill my role himself, I took the time to give Cupcake some tips about handling the personalities of my team. My team has three developers: Phoenix, the most skilled developer; Kabob, who’s a fairly green developer; and Hockey, a UI designer and the junior member of the whole group.
Phoenix is a great developer but he knows he’s a great developer. He also isn’t particularly skilled with interpersonal relations, mostly because he doesn’t seem to value the benefits of such things as diplomacy and communication. He regards them, often, as distractions from doing his job, which he sees as writing code. So I told Cupcake that Phoenix needs to be encouraged to understand the necessity of communication and how it benefits the team, and how using a little tact doesn’t mean he can’t be honest, and that it helps to work more closely with QA (and our QA guy has certainly been frustrated with Phoenix’s brusqueness in the past).
Kabob is a more junior developer and needs more direction. He also doesn’t want to need more direction and feels like he needs to pretend he’s better than he is in order to fit in with a group of largely senior developers. But he’s willing to take direction and when he does, he succeeds. He also has a communication style that creates friction against Sparky’s. Sparky hates being interrupted. Kabob is more stream-of-consciousness and wants to interject his thoughts in the middle of someone else’s conversation. He also really wants to be heard, and doesn’t trust that he will be heard if he waits until the other guy’s done talking to speak. So the friction is obvious. I’ve worked on making their communication go more smoothly (mostly by explicitly stating to both of them the things that cause friction, and playing referee when either Sparky or Kabob starts getting agitated), and encouraged Cupcake to continue to do so.
Hockey is actually not someone I’ve had a lot of time to get to know, but from a management standpoint, he’s been easy. He gets his job done fast and well, he’e easygoing, and he’s self-directed, but asks for assistance when he needs it. Basically, I didn’t have any suggestions for Cupcake because I never felt like Hockey needed any special management.
At first I felt like I was kinda being mean by telling Cupcake the bad points of Phoenix and Kabob. But then I concluded that, well, no, I’m doing both of them a favor. Because Cupcake is a good guy and naturally has all the soft skills required to be an effective lead (many of which I’m still developing). And he will, with the knowledge I’m giving him, be positioned to help my team continue to succeed at their jobs.
And to me, ensuring the success of each member of my team is the first responsibility of being a lead.