What to consider when growing your team


In the course of our working lives, we have to make a whole lot of decisions. In this entry, I would like to take the time to reflect on what I think are the most important decisions you have to make, hiring, firing, and promoting.

As the leader of your team, it is your responsibility to nurture it to maturity. This means you can not abdicate hiring decisions to HR, staffing firm or even hiring system.

Obviously most of us don’t really originate the teams we lead, we inherit them, still your most important work remains this team, when you took on the job, you became accountable for its performance.

With that said, let me delve right into what it takes to make great staffing decisions for your team.

What does each role do?

A characteristic of the modern economy is specialization. Within our teams, this manifests as highly specialized roles.

For example in a tech team you may have:

  • Backend developer
  • Front developer
  • Designer
  • UXer

Depending on your business even more nuanced roles may come up.

Looking at this composition, the most obvious take away is none of the team members are any good by themselves. What good does a Designer do if no one translates her designs to a working system?

As I stress in other posts, tech is an organ of the business, it gets its raison d’être from the business of which it is a part.

Thus your duty as the leader of the team is to carefully consider (best done with the team) what value the team offers to the business. Once this is done, consider how each role contributes to the generation of this value.

The exercise will help you more clearly see the roles, who would fit in them, missing roles and even redundant roles.

Remember, the character of the roles changes with the rhythms of the business. An example would be the perfect backend engineer role when the business serviced 20 customers may fit the bill for an SRE engineer now that the business serves 100 customers.

What strengths are needed for each position?

I used to believe all humans are equal in ability and temperament, all that matters is the effort put into the work. I have come to learn from experience this is not true.

Each person comes equipped with a natural set of strengths and weaknesses.

There is no point in trying to mold a naturally creative but otherwise disorganized person as your coordinator. Likewise, it would be foolish to strap your “by the rules kind of gal” into a position requiring constant adaptation.

Now, this is not to say weaknesses can’t be overcome, of course, they can, the challenge is even if they are, what you end up with is at best an average performer.

The point here is not to eliminate glaring weaknesses, even the most charming salesperson is to be relieved of his role if he repeatedly shows up to important meetings inebriated.

What are behaviors to look out for?

In time, I have come to realize people judge themselves by their intentions and not by their actions. This would be ok if intentions and actions match, but you must have come across individuals who consistently act against their self-interest in ways which dumbfound even themselves.

What is the implication of this odd fact as you make hiring decisions?

You must focus on behaviors and not on statements of intent. You must teach yourself to drill into the details. If an interviewee says I taught myself python, ask what projects they have actually done in this project, then ask to see the codebase. If you have the time, see the commit history!

When defining the role, think deeply about what behaviors they will need to exhibit in order to be successful in this role. This can help you and other hiring managers ask the right questions.

For example, I hold people who have self-taught in high regard. There is something special about someone who after all the stress of their day jobs still manages to get home and finish a course not directly related to their current job. This is a behavior, not an intent.

Now that they have joined, what next?

I am not one easily accused of micromanagement. I believe each team member should be able to set their own working style and priorities as long as they align with the business goals.

The problem is if a new hire or recently promoted staffer has no idea what the role involves. In this case, some guidance is needed.

This is because a person’s performance depends on both their ability and experience on the job. So a person who has great ability but no idea what the job is all about will likely fail. A person with low ability should likely not be in your team at all.

Personally, I use OKRs (Objectives and Key results). Together, we brainstorm on 5-10 objectives for the next quarter, I give them a week to think about it, we then whittle down the list to the top 3 and attach some measurable results to tell us if they met the objectives.

How do you make staffing decisions? Talk to me in the comment section below, my Linked in chenchajacob  or my twitter @jchex