Where to begin
The first thing that came to my mind after getting this breaking news was, ‘cool’! I, a software engineer, would have a real impact on who my manager would be and consequently what my everyday work would look like. I felt the power! But then I realised that with great power comes great responsibility…
So I started thinking about how I imagined my ideal manager. What’s important for me as a developer? And how should I measure whether a potential candidate meets the criteria?
Obviously, we were not left alone with our thoughts. We scheduled an internal meeting to discuss what we wanted to achieve and how our recruitment process would look. Our mission was to find a person who would be able to create and support happy teams in a highly effective organisation.
A development manager is neither project manager nor architect for us. We don’t require deep domain and technical knowledge. Instead, we felt the person needed to fit well in our working environment and help move us another step in our direction of travel. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But how to define a happy team or a highly effective organisation?
Some details about the way we work
The company is distributed between multiple locations (Hatfield, Kraków, Wrocław, Sofia, Barcelona). We work in small agile teams. Some of them do Scrum, some Kanban, and the rest… ‘Scrum-ban’. A few teams work as squads, without formally assigned leaders. All of us have great autonomy — this is one of our core values. Development managers support teams and help them grow. They look for potential improvements and directions in which we want to develop as organisation.
One of the few constants in our company is a change. We like to experiment: not only with technology but with Agile and management practices as well.
What makes organisations effective?
For me, the two main ingredients of effective organisation are: effective individuals, and good cooperation between them.
Good cooperation requires even better communication. Free and direct communication across the whole organisation (between all levels) is now a mainstream trend in all kinds of companies. It’s easy to say but harder to practice. Creating a respectful environment in which people are not afraid of voicing their opinions freely, their voices are heard and listened to, and there is trust in good intentions, is not a trivial task.
And what makes teams happy?
Sometimes I find it difficult just to define what makes me, as an individual, happy – and there are six of us in my team. One thing I am confident of is that a team cannot be happy without each and every of its members feeling happy.
Management 3.0 gives us some universal tricks when it comes to making people happy. Here is the list of twelve steps to happiness:
Looks easy, doesn’t it? But is the list complete? Does it work for everyone?
To sum up what a development manager means to us
The role is more about helping others than managing resources. It’s about listening and observing instead of talking. And most importantly, about making people learn what they need to be happy and effective and how to achieve it. Helping them by giving tools, knowledge, tips, and the freedom to use them how they like, instead of enforcing ready solutions.
The recruitment process
At this point, you should have a better feeling how this role is defined in our company. Let me shed more light on how the team played a part in the process of recruiting our manager, what we learnt from it, and how it impacted our further work.
Every candidate was scheduled a team interview – a 1.5 hour meeting with developers in our company. The aims were to:
- Decide if the candidate would fit well in our environment and if we wanted to work with them
- Give the candidate an opportunity to meet their potential colleagues, learn about our working environment, and decide if working with us looked like fun
At the beginning of the meeting, the candidate was asked to give us a presentation about developing great teams. This was just an entry point to the further discussion.
The course of the meeting was driven both by us and the candidate themselves, and usually differed slightly with every session. Our idea was to make it as natural and interactive as possible.
Most questions were based on the presentation, however, we had a few prepared in advance (in any interview we always want to know what a candidate expects from the role, what’s their vision, and what value they can bring to the organisation). We were also interested in their approach to handling conflicts and difficult situations, development of people, projects, teams and organisation.
We also made sure that there was time for questions from the candidate. It’s important to bear in mind that the team interview was more focussed on relations with our future coworker than on checking their knowledge.
How well did it work?
The first time we applied this process was at the end of last year, and the first successful candidate joined us in March.
Since then, we’ve found it very beneficial to get candidates exposed to the broader group of people, to the whole team with whom they’ll be working. Every person is looking from a slightly different perspective, which helps us making more informed decisions, and it gives candidates a broader insight into the company. It also helps to establish a better relationship with our future colleague from the very beginning.
We’ve found it especially important in the case of leaders and product owners. The first day our new development manager came to work I felt I knew him already, which made the conversation very natural.
He had very similar feelings. Wojtek – our first Development Manager in Wroclaw – shared his thoughts about the newly created process:
“During the team interview you have the possibility to meet the people you will be working with – hear about challenges in their daily work, what they like/don’t like. It allows you to make more informed decisions, not only compared to the recruiter or interviewer but also the website. You just feel the company culture. And believe me, it is much more important to feel this culture inside the team, during the team interview, than hear about it from a manager. It’s more impressive when (as in my case) you first observe the culture during the team interview, then hear about it from office head. You realise that you’ve just observed in practise what they are talking about. You know that it’s not a culture on paper but a living one. Last but not least, after a team interview, you’ve got ‘buy in’ from the team. You know that they accept you as their new colleague and manager and are open to work with you.”
Having software engineers involved in the decision process gives us a real impact on building the organisation, helps us to identify with results and take responsibility for them. However, it creates also some challenges, like putting aside personal objections to accept a group decision. The process is also time consuming and engages a lot of people.
Should you help recruit your next manager?
Introducing the team interview into the recruitment process turned out to be a very successful experiment, and I’d recommend you try it.
We’ve carried on with this approach for development manager positions, and have extended it for product owners as this role requires a lot of communication and coworking with the teams. Maybe one day we will do it for other positions as well…
Even if you are not interested in being a manager, it’s still good to remember ‘Management is too important to leave to the managers’ (Jurgen Appelo). Everyone has an impact on, and is responsible for, the environment around them. So be the change you are looking for!
Dorota Wojtalow, Software Engineer