Chapter 27. The First Two Questions to Ask When Your Team Is Struggling

Cate Huston

I’ve never stepped into a leadership role without it quickly becoming clear why a new leader was needed. I think it’s normal for companies to hire new leaders when there are problems that need to be addressed. So, I suspect that as the congratulations die down, it’s also normal to look at the set of problems that surround you and ask, “Where do I begin?” (also normal: “What have I done?!”). I suggest, instead, starting with these two questions:

  • How do I create clarity?

  • How do I create capacity?

How Do I Create Clarity?

Every struggling team I have encountered seems to be experiencing some kind of existential crisis about “who we are” or “what is our purpose.” Often this crisis is framed as a need for defining a “vision,” but as a pragmatist (and someone who frankly hates the word “vision”), this seems beside the point. If we’re not shipping, how much does it matter what we’re not shipping? How can we possibly know what we should be doing two or five years from now if we don’t have a consistent idea of what we are doing today?

Here’s the thing about the “vision” problem: it’s a comfortable one. No one on the team feels threatened by it, because it’s largely someone else’s problem. Everyone can have an opinion about it, because it’s abstract enough that most people won’t have to do anything ...

Get 97 Things Every Engineering Manager Should Know now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.