As a teamless Staff+ engineer, how do you avoid feeling lonely?
From what I’ve seen, Staff+ engineers are usually heavily involved in a team/squad, or are squadless. If you’re newly squadless (and want to stay that way), it can feel really lonely given the drop in close collaboration with peers. Having gone through that adjustment years ago, I wanted to share some things that helped me in aggregate at Spotify.
- I had informal 1:1 catch up chats every now and then with folks I used to collaborate with or have a close relationship with. Laughing with them from time to time helped.
- I joined fikas (informal hangout time to chat or play games) for teams in my area. If I don’t know many people in the team and I’m very disconnected from their rituals, I might not join to avoid the “who are you?” dynamic; but I’ve seen others succeed there.
- I took on a few more mentees. This provided more opportunities to feel grounded/connected and like I was providing value to peers, as I would have in a squad.
- I paired with folks from various projects. Even though I’m detached from those projects, I could still hop in to help unblock or provide time-saving tips or context. Sometimes, folks come to me with problems they’re stuck on and need help paving a path.
You may find new “rituals” pop up that are more ad-hoc, but still necessary for carrying out your work.
- Being more skewed to the Business Partner and Strategist archetypes, I naturally collaborated closely with my manager and Engineering Manager (EM) peers on strategic things, so there were random meetings/huddles with them.
- I took on new rituals with EM/Staff+ leaders in my area: weekly or biweekly meetings for social and strategic purposes.
- The long-running projects I’m on have weekly scrum of scrums (stakeholder status/coordination/timeline-tracking) meetings, which lets me collaborate with folks during the meeting or in follow up chats.
Here are some other ideas I’ve seen other Staff+ engineers employ:
- Embedding in squads, on a rotation. This gives you the same team feeling and rituals, with the shared understanding that this is a temporary arrangement and that your top priorities are outside of the squad, but that you’re still contributing to the team’s efforts.
- Join a working group that meets on a regular cadence. This work is usually very detached from your main business domain, but gives you the chance to collaborate with different folks regularly.
- Meet with other Staff+ engineers in your company. They may be squadless and can offer support or tips on how they got through it.
Personally, I felt tied down being associated with squad rituals, so I preferred the freedom of being squadless. I think the freedom to find my own impact and schedule my own work days, was crucial for my transition to Senior Staff. Otherwise, I would have needed to be in the right team, in the right area, at the right time, with the right backlog to have that level of impact.
It felt very lonely for the first year of being squadless, but it was worth it for me to push that feeling and realize the points of collaboration I still had. Good luck and if you have tips to share, I’d love to hear them!