Things to Figure Out as a New Manager: Part 3, Communication

Credit: Flickr / Ravi Shah

Now you’re a manager, communication (always important) has become even more import, and your words carry more weight.

How do you communicate… one on one?

… to the team?

… about the team?

One on One

In a relationship with a power dynamic, the burden of a good relationship is on the person with the most power. I first made this observation with respect to interviewing but it applies here too. If conversations with someone are painful, it’s on you to make them less painful. Showing up regularly helps, as does taking an interest in them as people. Ultimately, different people will have different ways in which they want to communicate with you, and you can learn their styles and preferences and make an effort to accommodate that. Different people also have different baggage that they bring to work. If someone isn’t used to their manager seeing them as a human being, that will take a while for them to get used to. If someone has had bad experiences in the workplace they might take a while to open up.

Be consistent, and be kind. Work on doing good 1:1s. Take time getting to know people, and use what you learn. But don’t delude yourself that it’s kind to delay telling someone something they will find out eventually – for example, don’t delay talking to someone about their performance if there are problems. These conversations don’t get easier.

To the Team

How often do you talk to the team as a whole? What kind of things to you talk about? How do you communicate a the direction of the team and keep things on track despite all those tempting diversions?

Get comfortable repeating yourself. Decide what you will do, and make hard choices about you won’t do. Talk about why you are choosing to do what you are doing. This is team direction communication.

The other aspect of this is communicating the kind of things you spend your time on. Figure out what you’re comfortable with. I do a version of this, each week I post some notes about what I’ve been working on to the team blog. Bigger things get their own post, but consistently I show up and share how I’m spending my time. With a smaller team I used to share my priorities in the daily standup.

How you communicate to the team depends on the size and how people are receptive to information – some teams like to write, and others like to talk. But it’s easy to not share what you’re doing, in part because people don’t ask and it can feel like there’s not much interesting to say about the activities of management. But people having some kind of insight into the kind of things you worry about and spend your time on is really helpful.

About the Team

How do you talk about the team to your peers? To your boss? How do you highlight what is going well, and how do you get the alignment and help you need from other leaders in the organisation?

If you manage a team that has been underperforming (and particularly if your joining the team was supposed to address that) how do you communicate that things are getting better – given that they won’t change overnight?

This depends very much on the organization, but again I think consistency is key – and patience. People are focused on their own priorities, and can take a while to notice improvement elsewhere.

This is part 3 of a series aimed at new engineering managers. Part 1 was about figuring out your schedule. Part 2 was about social support. For help and support, you can also ask for an invitation to the New-ish Eng Manager Slack.