Managers are critical for team success – but it’s a hard role to do well. The Project Oxygen research from Google showed that high-performing managers have happier and higher-performing teams. However, managers have a lot of competing priorities to juggle and may not have much support in the role.
At Multitudes, we ran interviews with over 50 software engineering managers across different company stages and geographies and found four key challenges.
“There’s an overload in terms of the roles and responsibilities for a manager.”
Managers are always juggling – from supporting their team, executives and other key stakeholders to balancing between giving feedback and getting their own work done. They want to do a good job, but the volume can be overwhelming, which makes it hard to know where to focus.
Recommendation: When you bring in support for your managers – be it coaches or tooling – make sure that it will give them insights about what’s most important to focus on, not just surface a long list of problems.
“[Success for my team means] they’re working well together and enjoying each other’s company, but are also focused on what we’re trying to deliver.”
Over and over, managers mentioned one particular juggle: balancing the business’s high-level goals with people goals (like supporting wellbeing, learning and development).
The challenge for managers is figuring out how much time to spend on each. To make it harder, the tools that they have usually focus on one or the other, not a holistic picture of both.
Recommendation: Use tooling that shows the whole picture. For example, Multitudes shows delivery insights like the flow of the work alongside people insights like who needs a check-in about burnout.
“The key is providing people with data upon which they can improve, allowing them to control that themselves.”
Managers want early warning signs of risks to wellbeing, collaboration, and team performance – but only if the data isn’t creepy. They feel better when each person gets access to their own data, and they see data as the starting point for conversations, since numbers alone aren’t the full picture.
Recommendation: Always make sure that team members have access to their own data, not just managers.
“Glue work [...] is less apparent. Actually anything related to supporting people, supporting other teams, is something that I, as a manager, might be less aware of.”
Engineering leaders want to do a better job of recognizing & appreciating glue work – work that makes others better off, e.g., giving feedback, improving documentation, or mentoring. They look for it when hiring or doing promotions because it’s essential to a team’s success, but it’s harder to spot since it’s less flashy than building a new product.
Recommendation: Find ways to measure glue work – for example, at Multitudes we look at who’s giving lots of feedback to others.
When engineering managers are better off, they’re more able to support their teams – and the whole company is better off. We hope these insights help you build happier, higher-performing teams!