Every team is unique. Combining groups of individuals will always result in a team dynamic all its own. Engineering leaders who find ways to encourage and coach their team effectively typically do so by recognizing that every team and person is their own, and working to understand their needs is key to everyone’s success.
While this understanding will come from many places, one objective way for you to understand your team of engineers is using data. By combining your experiences with the team members with insights from data, you’ll be equipped with the information necessary to empower your team to better understand you as the leader, their role in the organization and the ways they can further their career.
Here are a handful of positive approaches of adding data into your coaching toolset to bring your team together.
Use data for learning, not inspection
By using data as a team for learning and growth, everyone will benefit from the feedback provided. Leaders and managers using data to coach and build your team should fundamentally be about learning more about one another in order to help each other. Using data for inspection or tracking your team will only lead to mistrust. If your team feels like collecting data on their work is about monitoring them, they could view it as a big brother style breach of trust, and will impact morale and work results negatively.
Foster growth mindset feedback
Data can be a helpful component of feedback when leveraged in a mindful way. When using data in your coaching conversations or team discussions, you’ll want to foster a growth mindset that focuses on how their capabilities of great things, and provide ways the team can rise together. By looking for ways to spark their imagination, they may think about their own ways to improve, rather than reacting defensively to protect their current work habits. Discuss the data rather than taking the results as fixed. If results aren’t where you want them to be – think and talk in terms of “yet” and work with your team to build together.
Establish social norms for data use
Social norms are powerful influences on how individuals and teams behave. Using data for coaching can be new and uncomfortable for some team members who may not speak up about it. Be sure to explicitly establish parameters around how data will be used, and how it will not be used. It’s important for team members to know that you will act responsibly as a steward of their data. Gather input from the team in team meetings and in private as needed to ensure the approach is resonating, then tweak as needed.
Interpret data constructively
How you interpret the data is key to how your team perceives it. Make the interpretation collaborative with your team, and resist jumping to conclusions on your own. By using the data to spark conversations and uncover hidden patterns, your team can collectively conclude what the data is saying. Don’t assume you understand the data more than others, and make a point of being one of the last on the team to offer insights. This will empower the team to use what is shown to foster connections and discussion with you and each other.
Bring data into 1:1s
If done openly and supportively, using data to support your conversation from a coaching perspective in 1:1s can create a positive experience for you and the team member. Again, never use the data in a punitive way or to make early judgements. Simply bring the relative data and ask them about their thoughts. For example, you could ask: “Tell me about how x is going.” This will start a conversation that could lead to a productive outcome. Conversely starting with something like: “Why is x so low?” will likely result in a rebuttal or hardening of the team members position. Reflect on how you’re currently introducing data in 1:1s and make sure you’re setting the right expectations for using data in 1:1s.
Drive team meetings with data
Your team meetings are a great way to share data to increase transparency and foster incremental improvement across the team. Set the appropriate tone when you speak about data by using growth mindset feedback. Make sure you encourage team members to follow suit by shutting down any accusatory or negative data-driven comments. To set the tone in early meetings, It can be helpful to request insights from the team members who believe in using data and growth mindset feedback. It’s also important to specifically request insights or potential conclusions from those who may not be inclined to speak up, so everyone feels heard. To begin formulating your data-driven team meetings, start by asking your team how the data should be presented and used. After compiling the feedback, create an initial framework and adjust as needed.
Use data to manage up
Data can be a powerful tool to communicate to the rest of your organization, especially leadership. When used properly, presenting the right data can give your leaders the better context and more universal language to see your progress. Think about data as your team’s story and you’re responsible for telling it in a way that others can easily consume. Make sure that when you deliver data upwards, you’re explaining what the numbers are telling you and your team, so leadership can understand the story you need them to hear.
Aim for incremental improvements
As your team gets used to using data for coaching and feedback, look to make smaller incremental improvements. Going for major change can cause more harm than good, as it can send disruptive shockwaves through more than just your team. By aiming small, you’ll minimize the chance of upending progress, and even small improvements add up to big changes over time.
Celebrate success quarterly
Recap data on a regular basis to ensure you’re able to benchmark quarterly results and updates to show improvements, and to celebrate successes. Highlighting the wins and accomplishments of individuals and teams based on data is a great way to show fairness and offer merit-based praise.
Hold annual reviews with data
The annual planning cycle in your organization is another opportunity to use data to share results and celebrate success. Annual performance management reviews are a great opportunity to leverage data to have constructive and fact-based conversations with your team members. End-of-year performance reviews are typically tied to bonuses, raises and promotions, so it’s helpful to have concrete data for both parties to reflect on and discuss.
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