Manager as a buffer

As a manager, you are a buffer for your team. You act as a cushion from both external pressures and internals. External factors are people outside your team. They are usually stakeholders wondering where the project stands. They usually apply pressure by either pestering you, or your team with questions. By moving deadlines, or cutting resources (e.g. moving people out of your team). There are sometimes good reasons for these to happen. If you aren’t communicating properly, it’s expected for people to ask where things stand. The same way with deadlines. I remember a marketing campaign we were about to do in the London Underground. This cost more than £1M. We were going to advertise a service we were still working on. This is one of the few legitimate deadlines I ever seen in my career. Marketing campaigns are booked months in advance, so we had to deliver. Personal moving around can happen when a more important project pops-up. For a startup, delivering a project successfully for a new customer can be a matter of life or death. All this to say that not all external factors are fabricated by people that are trying to make your life more difficult. As a manager, your job is to make sure all the pressure and stress stops on you. Your team should be focused on getting the job done and not be bothered by these things. The difficult balance is that you should treat your team members like adults. If there are new things about to impact them, they should definitely be aware. Internal factors can be when things are not going well. For the most part, the manager is the problem. It often happens when there’s no visibility where the project is, or a developer is not performing as expected. The manager might start to get stressed about the situation. The ramifications is that the team can easily pick on the bad mood. Invariably this has a snowball effect and things get worse. The manager can also be stressed by things outside work. The solution is always the same: stop. Find composure before continuing. Talk with the team and try to understand where things are and why. Talk with individual engineers if you feel they are delivering less than usual. Bottom line: don’t judge, rather observe the situation dispassionately. Act only after you share your observations and receive feedback. Rarely acting without seeing both sides of a problem leads to a good outcome.

Most problems that involve humans have the same solution. Clear, empathetic and assertive communication, combined with cool-headed interactions.