Sustaining Morale through Winning & Challenges

Michal Klos
Jul 26, 2019 · 3 min read

How can you sustain morale in the ranks of an engineering team over a long period of time? This is a really difficult question because there are so many factors that are outside of our control as engineering leaders. We may have hit our quarter, or we may have missed our quarter. The product we launched might be a success, or it might have major short-comings we didn’t foresee. We may have closed the big customer, or we may have lost them to a competitor. We are all pulling in the same direction, but sometimes we fall short. Over the years I’ve tried to focus on two sources of morale that as engineering leaders we have some control over.

Winning

The first source is that almost everyone loves to win and to be a part of a winning team. Setting and hitting goals, celebrating victories, and recognizing good work done by the team is the foundation of winning. As leaders, we may not always have control over all of winning at the company level — but we do have significant control for our team. When things are not going well, try to find the silver linings or celebrating the learnings from failure. There are always smaller victories on a team level that we can raise a glass to.

When things are going well, it is important not to take them for granted and get bored of winning… we may have hit our quarter for the 10th time in a row, but let’s go out and celebrate every single win, because those of us who have been around the block know that past results are not indicative of future results.

Challenges

The second source of morale is being challenged with meaningful work. As leaders, we have control over providing a challenging mission to our team. Giving members of the team or the team as a whole an autonomous project that is just slightly outside of their comfort zone and requires learning is a great start. This type of stretch challenge creates meaningful growth in a person’s career. Make sure to provide a support system but not to remove the challenge altogether.

For junior engineers, a good challenge is to create a design document for a project they are working on and to take feedback from the more senior staff. For mid-level engineers, the challenge could be to organize the project around milestones, break down the epic, and negotiate with product management. For senior engineers, the challenge could be to direct the work of other engineers, and to get more involved in phone screens and hiring.

Sometimes it is easy to get into a mode of just completing tickets, and we can accomplish a lot by doing this but without a cohesive story around it that brings meaning. As leaders, we should aim to package work into a larger objective or build a story around the work so that there is a clear connection between the work and the sense of accomplishment that the team should feel when the work is done.

Engine

These two sources of morale can act as a set of pistons in an engine that keeps the team moving forward in both tough times and good times. As leaders, we should strive to create meaningful challenges and then celebrate their completion. There will be extraordinary times when this will not be enough, but it is a solid foundation.

IndigoAg.Eng

Indigo Technology Blog

IndigoAg.Eng

Indigo Technology Blog

Michal Klos

Written by

Making agriculture more sustainable at Indigo through data engineering and data-driven applications.

IndigoAg.Eng

Indigo Technology Blog