Every week we share a work experience from a subscriber so that you can start tough conversations with your coworkers, leadership, friends... anyone, without making it personal. Copy this link to share on Slack, social media, and email.
Here’s what’s on the agenda today: an engineering leader walks by a meeting and notices an uncomfortable interaction involving two female team members and other leaders at the company. 🎧 For more discussion, check out our podcast episode.
Did you see that?! You’re running a team responsible for making sure that software products work correctly. One day you’re asked to support a product in bad shape that hasn’t been a priority for the company until now. You assign one of your best team members to lead the project, but as time passes things don’t change fast enough. After digging in, you realize that your team is struggling because the product isn’t properly defined, so you bring in an additional senior resource to improve documentation.
One day you walk by a meeting where the door is open and two male product and engineering leaders working on the product are verbally testing your two female team leads to assess their product knowledge.
Something seems wrong here. You’re caught off guard and don’t know how to respond. Your mind is racing.
Is this appropriate? Did your team need to be quizzed? Was this normal in the industry? Should I have been there? What should I do now? After the meeting your leads tell you that the experience felt condescending. Frustrated and embarrassed, they’re determined to prove their expertise to the engineering leaders. You attend the next meeting to support them, and they proudly own the room, but you feel like you could have done more.
Patriarchy at its best? You might ask yourself, would this have happened with male leads? It’s easy to go down this path. Let’s say the answer is no, and you flirt with the idea that your product and engineering counterparts are sexist. Let’s be real, you’re probably right... at least a little. We’re all a bit something. 😒 But what does that change?
EVERYTHING. It’s tempting to start with the circumstances that created the problem. Your team is underperforming, and there must be something you can improve to take the pressure off. Surely that will help. If the product is doing well, everyone's considerate...until something unexpected happens. But what if you first ask what felt wrong and why? As soon as you do that, you recognize that while circumstances need to improve, a rash change in process singled your team leads out in an uncomfortable, condescending way. Focus on that.
Control the process. Your ego is lit. Ready to assert some authority.
But pump the brakes, ego. You can't police every single interaction between your team members and the rest of the company. And don’t you have better things to do? After all, you trusted your team enough to be at this meeting without you.
So how can you be there without being there? Imagine your peers starting a test, and one of your leads saying: “Let's revisit this. My manager has asked us to hold on any process changes until we’ve reviewed them together. I will start that conversation right after this meeting.”
Shouldn’t the most urgent (translation: important!) process changes be reviewed by you anyway?
Give your team the power to slow things down. But to be clear, your team already has this power. Your job is to make sure they’re aware of it, and to support them when they need it. 🙏
We'll leave you with these questions... When are you in situations where there's not a balance of power? Are there clearly defined processes that normalize the way you work?