There are many catalysts to building or expanding a tech team: your organisation has received funding, is tackling new challenges, developing new systems... Or maybe you’re just launching in!
Why is having a good plan for building your team important? 🤔
Hiring for new skills often becomes critical to a project, which often moves faster than a hiring process. In Europe, a tech company should typically expect to spend c. 2-3 months hiring a software developer and 5-6 months to form a full developer team. In many respects this is expensive time.
Better to plan ahead. Innovative HR resources such as at talent.io come on to the market to solve this blocker by reducing this time-to-hire, often to fewer than 20 days per developer.
So, however you came to be here, we’ve broken down 3 key considerations we’ve found valuable as we helped 1000s of startups build their developer teams (and scaled our own!). Here’s what WE think YOU should know to design, build, empower and retain an awesome and productive IT team!
Ever thought of the advantages and disadvantages of various team structures? What influences affect team outcomes? What decisions you can take?
The first step is to have a think on what your team structure will look like, which leadership style suits you best and what kind of team culture you are building.
Team composition, structure, task type and recognition/reward system all play an important role in determining whether the team will function well for your organisation. What a panorama, right?
Let’s take a look.
Clarify the authority and autonomy of your team.
Individuals and pairs in IT teams often tackle projects with a high degree of autonomy. Team members design and monitor their own tasks, and self-evaluate performance. In highly autonomous teams, members have a say even over their own team structure and can be involved in the hiring process of new team members.
In such a case, management is responsible for enabling the context of a team’s organisation.
The case for a high degree of decision-making autonomy:
Startup Story: My experience scaling from 30 to 70 people by Jonathan Azoulay, Co-founder of talent.io (medium.com)
Here’s how we’re handling our own growth at talent.io — and why we advocate prioritising collective intelligence and iterating on a co-owned company culture.
As team empowerment is positively associated with many productivity factors (job satisfaction, commitment, etc.) and negatively associated with turnover intentions, it is ALWAYS worth attention.
And there’s more! Psychological empowerment leads to an increase in task performance, innovation and creativity. And, of course, if individuals and teams are properly empowered, the ultimate and final boss output will be increased: team performance. This is the measurable output that shows you, in numbers, if your work is well-done or it could go better. The Mecca of improvement. Raise team performance and everything will shine.
Consciously choosing to empower your team will also help you to avoid micro-management. Micro-management is not only demotivating and annoying to people on the receiving end, but also exhausting and ultimately unsustainable for those in management roles.
Determine how large both your overall and your immediate working teams should be. For day-to-day collaboration an immediate team size of 5-6 is currently commonly found and recommended, occasionally stretching to a slightly clunky 10. This will always depend on the type of team work (size and complexity) that you pursue. Of course, large and small teams have their own benefits.
In the immortal words of MC Hammer, to break it down:
Perks of Larger Teams
Perks of Smaller Teams
Resources, space, time and individual and business needs play an essential role here. Don’t hesitate to use this rule of thumb when scaling your tech team and structure!👇
As small as possible, as large as necessary
You should be aware of the importance of good communication between team members, and how the whole team will communicate with management.
In interdependent jobs such as in software teams, high levels of communication, cooperation and transparency are critical.
Communication is vital for the company to trust the team and vice versa.
When the logic behind decisions is well communicated — especially in cases where a decision may be unpopular or the logic unclear — the affected team members are far more likely to sympathise, accept and even engage with it.
At the same time this sets a precedent for free communication where there are any pain points or broken systems, which allows for faster resolutions.
Communication seeds shared values within the company, which can be very positive for team building. Strong teams with shared values increase their own source of commitment through cooperation and teamwork.
Hurrah! You now have a team outline to do the work you need👌
But making sure that team members find meaning in their work is also part of the team design. This can be a management challenge relating closely to your company’s product or service (it can be more obvious for a company that employs people to help save baby seals than a company producing custom rubber ducks, though rubber ducks give joy too).
There’s a value to be found in the purpose of most businesses. Think about what yours is and be sure to communicate it.
Helping team members to see how their work contributes to a bigger plan and to the value of a service is a good strategy for any company.
Rewarding the team as a unit can reduce intra-team competition and increase collaboration. Group rewarding also decreases information control (the opposite of information sharing), increases informal training (itself a strong bonding tool between more junior & senior members — more on this in our article on why you should hire junior developers) and can be useful within teams where individual performance is hard to measure.
Building a team comes with challenges for both organisations and team members.
Thinking team-terms, it’s important not to forget that teams comprise of individuals
People have varying aptitudes within collaboration and interpersonal skills. You should pay special attention to the soft-skills of team members and not only to professional skills and experience. It’s important to factor optimising team environments and systems for individuals who require more support into your team planning.
Give people a chance to try different roles! If team members don’t rotate, especially if they are assigned to less desirable tasks, many will miss the benefits of team design and eventually get frustrated. Some people are happy once they’ve found their niche and can work within it, while others take impetus from personal career development.
Lastly for some individuals decision making and creativity can diminish when they feel too much part of a team. Take the time to know your individual team members. Teams can also be less flexible than individuals and turnovers and placements can negatively affect many other members of the team.
You’ve now got your team size and structure. What comes next? Five or six people are expecting you to tell them what to do, to give them a reason to come to the office every morning and to give their (work) lives meaning. It’s time to empower them!
High-performance management (supporting your team to perform efficiently) indirectly improves performance by increasing the amount of control that employees are able to take over their work. Setting a high level of freedom, maintaining a high level of motivation, making their work meaningful and knowing how their role contributes to achieving larger goals are all part of this practice.
Support, leadership and work design characteristics are directly manipulable by the team leader and the organisation and set the tone for the team environment. Offer support, resources and encouragement to the extent that you judge your individual team members to require it.
Remember that guidance and feedback are more constructive than pressure and criticism.
A healthy work environment helps facilitate the daily work of the team members, create commitment, shared values and increased retention.
A supportive and trusting relationship with team leaders are vital factors in a positive work environment, which as a manager you have a lot of direct influence over.
Spend time on your hiring! Getting the right players to complement your team is essential. Once your team is together, one of the things you’ll have the least direct influence over are the actions and interactions of individuals.
Hiring for company ‘cultural fit’ has lately become a byword for encouraging diversity, focussing on individual potential and hiring, based in part on whether it seems they could jell with the existing team.
Reality makes cultural fit a bit of a minefield. It can lead to favouring applicants who seem similar to those you already work with and being less open to different and fresh contributions of people who could ultimately prove equally effective team players. It can favour certain kinds of diversity (international & gender) over others (age & professional background — e.g. startup vs corporate).
For more discussion on cultural fit you can read our article on hiring diversity:
Tech HR Part 2: 5 Actions to Build Workplace Diversity by Yelizaveta Crofts (medium.com)
It’s hard to make an accurate assessment in a short period of whether someone will turn out to be a good team player — people express themselves in many different ways, especially under the pressure of an interview. Our first impressions are often wrong.
It’s easy to slip into treating ‘cultural fit’ as ‘personality’.
Instead it can be healthy to focus on interest, motivation and how an individual has been prepared for a role by their background and (not only professional) experience. You’ll be more likely to end up with a team of individuals who are engaged in your product & sector, driven to work for success and ready to contribute.
Well done! You managed to hire the optimal candidates and you provided the perfect environment for your team. Your team can feel self-determined, confident, be capable of making huge impact and sure of having a meaningful job!
Feeling the pressure? Building a tech team is a big responsibility and at talent.io we’re ready to help you out! 💪
Find qualified candidates who are actively looking for their next job — for free 😎.
Great Jobs for Great Developers: Job search made simple for developers in Europe. Build your profile in 5 minutes, receive 5 job offers that match your… (www.talent.io)
You know how to start already and which key factors you need to have in mind. May the force be with you!