When I was younger, my mum always said that “nobody ever notices a clean house, but everyone notices a dirty one.” Little did I know this would be my first lesson on management.
Three months ago, I started as a Team Lead for the first time at Paddle. In my previous workplace, I’d been promoted to Lead after six months working as a Developer. Back then, while stepping into a new role had its own challenges, I already knew the people, the domain, and where we were headed as a business. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this is already half of the battle won.
Ways of Thinking
When you move into a position of leadership, your way of thinking can often split in two: half of you will think as a manager, someone in a position to fix or improve a situation. Whilst the other half will think as an employee, who needs to ensure their career is headed in the right direction and their personal needs are met. It can be a battle as well, to understand the point when you’re able to change the circumstance, or when it’s time to move on.
In my first week at Paddle, all of these thoughts struck me at once. Starting over in a new company is already difficult, but starting and knowing that you are there to understand quickly a) what is happening, and b) how to change it for the better, is a whole new level. Who are the people in your team? What are the team dynamics at work? What are the conflicts, aspirations, strengths and weaknesses of your teammates? Add to this the fact that it was my first time working in a start-up, and I often felt like my brain was short-circuiting from the information overload.
Arriving at Paddle
Company-wise, I’d only had two significant experiences in my career before I joined Paddle: a company with more than six hundred employees with an Engineering team a hundred strong, an another company of fifty people with a single six-person Engineering team. I’d also never understood the meaning of a flat structure and to be honest, considered it a myth.
Once I arrived at Paddle, I understood what it meant for a flat structure to be in place and one of the most important things that comes with it: a level of autonomy and trust I was unfamiliar with up to that point. From day one I was heard by everyone, from the developers in my team, to the Engineering Manager, to the CPO. My experience and my approach was valued to the point where I was told to take over the team as and when I felt comfortable, and that I had the freedom to handle things as I best saw fit. It was summarised as “your team, your rules”.
By taking it one day at a time, I was able to start gathering more domain knowledge and understand the culture at Paddle whilst also implementing small improvements in processes that involved the team. I’ve always been a big believer in servant leadership (sharing power and putting the needs of your people first), so my first point of focus was removing waste and ensuring the team focused on the most important thing at any given time.
Key Learnings and Challenges
One of the key things I have found over the past few months has been that it is invaluable to lean on the Seniors in the team to help you out when it comes to direction. They are, after all, the most knowledgeable people in terms of how things should be done from a technical perspective, so their views and ideas are fundamental. They are also key in helping onboard new members of the team and to push for the platform to be upgraded and improved.
Another difficult challenge for any leader/management figure is that, technically, the work never ends. It will often be on you to set your own boundaries. There is always more to do: catching up with what is happening, learning more about the domain, keeping up with upcoming requirements, working closely with the Product Manager to refine the work that comes into the pipeline, coaching and line management, and this without even counting fires and anything unexpected that needs an immediate action.
There are days when it’s hard to mentally check out when you walk through the door, and days when everything happens all at once and it can be draining to deal with every task, not unlike a chef endlessly delivering dishes in a restaurant. Work can often also be unnoticed as you are not actually doing anything other than enabling others to do their work.
If you’re good at what you do however, everything should run smoothly and your team continues to function well with or without you. Indeed, nobody notices a clean house.
Interested in the way we lead Engineering teams at Paddle? Check out our Team Lead positions here.