But It’s Not How I Would Do It

I enjoyed this recent article from Tanya Reilly about Having impact in engineering by supporting other people’s ideas. Her post contains a lot of good advice, and I wanted to expand on the section, But it’s not how I would have done it, where Tanya highlights the importance of being open to different ways of achieving the same goal. It brought to mind the challenges I had around delegation in my early years as a team leader, and some related ideas that I’ve found helpful over time.

Being clear on what versus how

Whenever you’re delegating something, it’s important to be clear on the difference between what you want the person to achieve, and how they could go about achieving it.

Being comfortable with good enough

Just because the how is less important than the what, doesn’t mean that all approaches are equally effective — depending on the context, some will produce better results than others. As a team leader you are accountable for the quality of the work the team produces. I remember feeling the weight of this responsibility, and wanting to feel in control similarly to how I’d been in control of the quality of my own work as an engineer. I found this (apparent) dichotomy uncomfortable: being answerable for quality, while at the same time recognising a need to delegate and not micro-manage how people do things. To overcome this, I had to get comfortable with what “good enough” feels like.

Deciding whether to intervene

What good enough looks like is subjective, and depends a lot on context. One of the hardest questions you wrestle with as a leader is when to intervene and course correct if you perceive that things are going wrong, and when to stand back and let it play out (for the learning experience), even if you know the outcome won’t be as desired. We can learn a lot when we fail, and if you as a TL are constantly steering for others, not only will you have no time for anything else, but you’re also removing important opportunities to learn.

  1. How reversible is this decision in the future? If we start in a particular direction, and realise it’s not right, can we turn back and change our minds? What is the cost of doing so?

Engineering leader at Bloomberg. All opinions are my own.