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3 Keys to Building Impactful Teams from Engineering Leaders



Great product development comes from a community of product thinkers. It might be an idea from an individual that instigates a seismic shift to an industry, but ideas are built on a foundation of knowledge that has been accumulated by the product community. 

To celebrate and elevate Toronto’s product community, Connected hosted the Product Engineering Dinner. The event brought together a group of innovative engineering leaders to discuss the challenges facing those who have been set with the task of building better products. 

Although the conversations ebbed and flowed between the different groups, one key focus area came up time and time again: How do you build impactful product teams? As leaders and team builders, Connected and our community of product thinkers pinpointed three key insights to act upon for other leaders—engineering, product, or otherwise.

Diversity is key

The lack of diversity in engineering departments, whether it is based on gender, ethnicity, personality, or class, has been under the spotlight in recent years. The need to attract different types of people to the table was unanimously agreed upon, though how to do so was an altogether more challenging matter. 

What we heard, however, was that hiring for diversity was critical to building better products. Having different voices and perspectives at every stage in the product development process increases the likelihood of creating something that drives impact to the end user.

Culture has to be systemic, not aesthetic

A lot of workplaces call themselves innovative. The emergence of design thinking and its integration into the language of everyday life has seen an explosion of companies trying to find ways to appear to be out-the-box thinkers and builders.

In reality, a lot of office spaces have added bean bag chairs, table tennis tables, snacks, and beer fridges, without championing the freedom of thought, working styles, and collaboration that make for a truly innovative environment. In several of the conversations that occurred at the event, leaders traded stories of how they tried to reinforce a culture of innovation—from creating knowledge share sessions (like the discovery and delivery clinics at Connected) to the simple act of strolling through the office and having non-work-related conversations to engage people in different ways.

Empowering individuals strengthens teams

At one stage, a group of people in attendance began discussing the Pioneer, Settler, Town Planner team-building framework. The theory of the framework goes that some teams should be built to be Pioneers, a group that ventures into new areas and seeks out new ideas; other teams should be Settlers, those that take the Pioneers’ ideas and make them reality; and the final teams should be Town Planners, teams dedicated to evolving the product and making it better. 

As the conversation unfolded, it became clear that it wasn’t just about having teams built for each purpose that mattered, it was about staffing those teams with people who identified with each of the roles. By empowering each individual to steer into their strengths and work at the “right” phase in the process for their skill set creates a team flow in which everyone knows their roles and can deliver to their maximum potential. A Pioneer team should be made up of individuals who are obsessive about big picture ideas, Settler teams should be staffed with do-ers who are motivated by the final output, and Town Planner teams are the ideal environment for self-confessed perfectionists.

Our Product Engineering Dinner gave us the opportunity to exchange ideas, challenges, and concerns with the Product Thinking community. This cross-company, cross-industry community is built around everyone’s shared desire to create both user and commercial impact through great products. By focusing our conversation around people and teams, the Connected team, as well as our guests, helped create the environments that will lead to the next seismic product idea.

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