The Engineering Manager Workshop

Becoming an engineering manager can be a daunting role change with unfamiliar routines and responsibilities for many technical contributors.

We can more quickly gain experience in the art and craft of people management by learning from each other’s struggles and successes.

I wanted to share an easy technique that’s helped our team at Glossier better support new managers; and foster collaborative, effective tech leadership in the process.

It’s a biweekly meeting we call the Engineering Manager Workshop (EMW).

The EMW is a casual, safe, judgement-free space to discuss real management challenges through coaching and advice from peers.

Format

As a participant, come with some practical questions or challenges in your work. Take turns presenting an issue, and take 5–15 minutes to discuss as a group. Clarify if you’re interested in coaching (open questions to help you figure out an answer), advice, support, or some combination. A facilitator keeps the discussion on track and ensures everyone has an opportunity to contribute.

At Glossier, it’s open to folks in the people leadership career track (Managers, Directors, etc). I encourage choosing participants such that no participant’s direct manager is in the same meeting. That removes power dynamics, and lets participants more comfortably discuss mistakes and uncertainties. For larger organizations, have multiple EMW sections so more managers can participate while ensuring their reports aren’t in the same section.

Rules

There are some important ground rules for participants that make EMW work.

  1. EMW is a safe, judgement-free space. No one will be graded for the kinds of questions they ask or advice they give in EMW. Be considerate and respectful of everyone’s questions, perspective, and experience. Of course, managers are accountable for how they apply ideas from the EMW in the rest of their work.
  2. Keep it confidential: do not discuss information shared in EMW unless explicitly given permission to do so. This allows the group to discuss actual, specific issues rather than anonymized hypotheticals.
  3. Keep a growth mindset. Everyone is learning and working to improve. Avoid forming a fixed opinion of a colleagues skills or personality based on the EMW topics. In fact, the EMW is a tool to accelerate learning and feedback. So stay open to colleagues demonstrating new skills.

Examples of good questions to bring to the EMW:

  • How can I help a particular employee get a particular project unstuck?
  • How do I give someone feedback about negative behavior?
  • How can I help two stakeholders to communicate more productively?
  • Sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing. Am I doing the right thing? (Imposter syndrome support)
  • What are next-level time-management and people-management skills to help me focus and be more effective?

Anti-examples of things we don’t discuss in EMW:

  • Gossip or venting. Specifically, sharing information and opinions that’s not clearly about helping the team and being a more effective manager.
  • Status updates, administrivia, and policy decisions: E.g., Do we need to cut scope for a particular project? What’s the process for performance reviews and promotions? These questions are not entirely about peer support: you should include your direct manager and possibly reports. Discuss them in a different venue (chat, email, or meetings that include your manager).

If you notice a discussion sliding into an anti-example; politely point it out, and ask to get back on track.


I’ve found the EMW to be a great tool to build a “first team” of collaborative peer leaders with strong cross-functional relationships.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here are what some colleagues say:

Brainstorming with my peers truly gave me great ideas to bring back to my teams. But most importantly, knowing that I have a support network gives me a biweekly boost in confidence.
Hugo Bastien
The great thing about EMW is it provides a safe space that is structured and recurring so opportunities to discuss management challenges are more frequent and shared for every to learn. This is genuinely my favorite meeting.
Thoren Palacio

Would a Managers Workshop help your organization’s managers be more effective? I encourage you to try it and find out.

If you’re interested in joining Glossier’s Tech team, we’re hiring.

Special thanks to Jeremy Salfen and Lara Hogan for inspiration and advice for the EMW.