Team management in software engineering has never been and will never be easy. There are several factors good team managers should take care of to increase the possibilities of project success. One of those is how well they know their team. But why?
Team management in software engineering has never been and will never be easy. The work of a team manager is difficult since it is always assessed by higher management based on team efficiency (has the team delivered on time). However, it is also related to a number of factors that may not be under his/her control to solve, e.g. badly elicited or constantly changing requirements, inadequate time/budget to deliver etc. There are some factors, though, that a good team manager should take care of, to increase the possibilities of project success. And one of these factors is how well the team manager knows his/her team.
If you have worked as part of a team in the past from a non-management position, you know that the "people" factor is critical for success. Apart from being on time and communicative of what you do, you need to be able to at least get along with your teammates, if not like their spirit and mentality, to collaborate smoothly, support one another or even cover for, when the heat increases. This is what "team spirit" is about!
Bad team relationships may easily lead to disruption, with team members taking a self-preserving approach, focusing on their tasks and becoming indifferent when it comes to the bigger picture, i.e. to deliver what the team has promised. And this is one of the reasons why projects start failing, one day at a time...
It is, thus, crucial for team managers to be aware of the "health status" of their team. Good team management dictates that the managers have an open communication channel with their team, initiate and support team bonding exercises, and stand silently in the middle to spot possible friction points early enough.
A good team manager is something like a funnel (well, not exactly like a funnel, but you get my point). You should be close enough to the team and consume the information generated. Ideally, not during the process of a weekly project meeting where everybody focuses on how the sprint went. Instead, try it during less formal meetings like coffee or lunch breaks, or at least stand-up meetings that are less formal (in terms of scope). In these types of meetings, if you are patient and have your antennas open, you can spot the problem early enough. Even if you do so, though, you must not take part early in the dispute. This may generate even bigger frictions. After all, like all systems in nature, a team can self-organize and find new equilibria. And, like in any other people's relationships, team members adjust their behaviour against each other without needing the team manager to tell them how.
Once you have spotted the problem, you have to monitor project progress closely. Meetings should be more thorough, and project evolution should be at the top of your project monitoring agenda. Sometimes, just discussing the problem helps in finding a solution with no further action required. Even if this is not the case, offering your support (instead of your criticism) can really help out. The ones "in trouble" feel they can rely on you, while others think that the problem is acknowledged and not added to their list of tasks (in case that you propose that some other team member should step in). And even when you need somebody else's help, in the end, yourself being there means that you know the additional effort that the new assignee is spending.
Following the above approach can indeed help out in many cases. Try it out, and you will see how better you will understand your team and its particularities. Please be aware, though, that if you want to take team management to a higher level, you will need to keep track of data and additional statistics on the performance of your team members and the history of your projects.
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