Scaling Teams

Table of contents

1. Scaling hiring: Growing the team

  • A well-designed hiring process yields great results for the company.
  • Hire to cover gaps, not for warm bodies.
  • Better not to hire than hire poorly.
  • Diversity is key when the team has its foundations.
  • Treat well all the candidates.
  • Establish roles & relationships with recruiters and the recruiting coordinator.
  • Referrals, applies and sourcing (search for candidates actively) are the main sources of candidates.
  • Align hiring manager and hiring coordinator.
  • Culture and employer brand can help hires.

Open questions

  1. How to reach the perfect balance for strict and easy hiring process?
  2. How to know when we need to hire and when is not necessary? Re. warm bodies.

2. Scaling hiring: Interviews & hiring decisions

  • Screening process can filter candidates.
  • 4 steps/interviews per hiring is enough for the process accuracy.
    • Screening CV.
    • Screening call.
    • Challenge.
    • Interview.
  • Search for facts and achievements in CV analysis.
  • Orient technical challenge to what is needed in the company.
  • Search for candidates that prepared and learned about the company.

Install a process that ensures good decisions are made.

  • Models:
    • Hiring manager.
    • High-ranking hiring manager (like VP Engineering doing all the hires).
    • Consensus.
    • Hiring committee.
    • Bar raisers.
  • Balance diversity addressing bias.
  • Beware of the interview panel. Choose wisely how and who participates.

3. Scaling hiring: Close, onboard & beyond

  • Steps:
    • Offer.
    • Onboarding.
    • Off-boarding.
  • Better to have a single person (hiring manager) directing the candidate through all the process.
  • Create meaning when communicating the offer (always be closing).
  • Acqui-hires can be complex. You need to interview all employees, disband teams and set clear expectations.
  • Be aware of the acqui-hires antipatterns.
  • Check data & evaluate the hiring process: attrition, turnover, time between contact and offer, source, success in every stage, etc.
  • Onboarding: key to have good retention.
  • Onboarding evolution:
    • Improvised (initial stages): create a guide, document the process, assign a mentor.
    • Team rotation (+20 employees stage): perform easy tasks in each team plus improvised.
    • Program (bigger Co.): specific to area, bootcamp like. Beware of schedule, impact and apply all the above.
  • Buddy: can be combined with the other approaches.
  • Off-boarding means exit interviews for discovering root causes.
  • 3 main causes of attrition:
    • Culture change.
    • Lack of career advancement.
    • Lack of attention to organization.

4. People management: Getting started

Explicit focus on people management is vital to success, especially at fast growing companies.

  • Morale, alignment, goals.
  • Help to efficiently pursue a goal.
  • Top goals for EM:
    • Right people on, wrong people off.
    • Happiness, productivity through motivation, career, compensation and learning.
    • Focus on high priority, resolve disputes, decision-making and remove distractions.
    • Providing all necessary resources.

From ad-hoc to formal management

  • Search for burnout signs to act. Otherwise, face management debt.
  • Peter Drucker’s span of control means between 7 to 10 ICs for each manager.
  • Teams that need to grow quickly will get most benefit from dedicated people manager.
  • Prepare your team before introducing formal management.
  • Technical prowess !== management potential.
  • Communicate and rollout management structure.
  • Beware! this is not a promotion and shouldn’t be seen as one.
  • Important to introduce bottom-up mechanisms to influence in the roadmap:
    • Occasional skip-levels.
    • Roundtable discussions.

How to evaluate potential managers

  • Management potential framework:
    • Up: alerting, giving up feedback, etc.
    • Sideways: collaborating with peers.
    • Down: leading ICs instinctively, teaching and mentoring.
  • Traits: organic leadership, empathy, communication, mentorship, strategic thinking.
  • Negative traits: stress management, conflict avoidance, control, information hoarding.

Management reward cycle is way longer than IC.

  • Foster ongoing management education & set-up some structured learning tips like reading groups, shadowing or mentorship training.
  • Again, management role !== promotion.

Interviewing managers

  • Steps:
    • Pre-screening.
    • Check references.
    • Prepare IC to interview managers.
    • On-board like IC to help know the tech stack.

5. People management at scale

  • Management at scale comes with different problems.
  • Improve managers with:
    • Providing a mentor.
    • Establish a learning program (book club also works).
    • Assign someone for management quality.
  • Tribal identities can occur. Invest in manager to manager relationship.
  • Look for opportunities for manager collaboration. EM forum collaboration for instance.
  • Measuring manager performance is really important.
    • Define expectations.
    • Gather data about the team to measure performance.
    • Skip-level and other meetings to gather frequent feedback.
    • Competition isn’t feedback.
    • Seek for performance, not likeability.
  • Underperformance
    • Handle with care, planning and adjusting when letting go a manager.

Morale under rapid growth

  • Prepare the team to face growth. Explain opportunities and tackle skepticism and potential issues (loss of autonomy, fewer opportunities with newer hires, etc.).

    With growth can come a sense of having less impact and ownership.

    • Build empowerment from the bottom.
    • Focus failures on learning, not punishment.
    • Avoid formal processes that stop innovation.
    • Reward getting things done.
    • Let ICs work on what’s interesting for them.
    • “Team shopping” can be positive.

Work-life balance

  • Realistic, not arbitrary deadlines.
  • Leaders should be good examples.
  • Heroes are unhealthy for the teams.


  • Participating in diversity hiring or activities can be a burden for underrepresented people.
  • Beware of environment and null process (absence of formal process).
  • Promote work-life balance and use metrics to surface bias.

Continuous learning

  • Ongoing education is key for good engagement and performance.
  • Learning budget, conferences, meetups, etc.
  • Mentoring is very effective for young leaders.
  • Retrospectives, post-mortems and cross training are good strategies for team learning.

Career development

  • Career path is critical when introducing formal management.
  • Consider separate tracks for IC/Management.
  • Levels can be tricky when they’re introduced. Slotting and promotion.
  • A promotion process is key for growth.

6. Scaling the organization: design principles

The purpose of organization is to reduce the amount of communication and coordination necessary — Mythical Man-Month

  • Avoid diseconomies of scale (hiring reduces output).
  • Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation:
    • Autonomy
    • Mastery
    • Purpose
  • Organizing by skill-set is common in early stage.
  • Value Streams are affected after growing.
  • Goals while growing: move fast and connect employees to the product.
  • Principles:
    • Agile mindset.
    • Delivery teams (also, domains).
    • Autonomy.
    • Purpose and measure success.
    • Continuous value delivery.
    • Continuous learning culture.

Delivery teams

  • Can deliver 95% of backlog independently.
  • Cross knowledge, has all the necessary skill-set inside the team.
  • Embrace autonomy: motivation comes when they clearly understand the effect on customers. They have a good picture on whatever needs to be done.
  • Measure success & establish purpose: KPI team goals are fundamental. Go from company KPI to team KPI.

7. Scaling the organization: delivery teams

  • Can be build around: platform, features, company or customer.
    • Platform: it’s the easiest and works great on small companies. Does not scale well.
    • Features: scales very well. Can be difficult to handle growing amount of features without growing the team.
    • Company goals: keeps clear how to contribute. Can be difficult to scale.
    • Customer: develop for customer groups without dependencies. Clear alignment with customer needs. Hard to scale.

Value stream mapping

  • Can help improve existing suboptimal setups.
  • Good example of VSM from Phil Calçado p. 147.
  • From one team to two:
    • Beware of shared members when splitting teams (bus factor).
    • Sync between teams are good ways to avoid siloing.
    • How to improve: measure average cycle time.
    • Use VSM in retrospectives.
    • Search for heavy coordination time in retros.
    • Check VSM:

8. Scaling the organization: reporting structure

  • Question: which engineers should report to which managers?
  • Question: how many reports per manager? Drucker’s span of management responsibilities, between 7 to 10.
  • 4 ways to organize:
    • One EM per delivery team.
    • One EM per entire delivery team (including design & PM).
    • One EM per specialization (tech).
    • General people management.
  • Combining multiple approaches is what makes sense.
  • Next level: additional level of management (Director of Engineering).
  • Infra/platform teams are needed to treat inside team as user/customer.
  • Transition phase: combination stage is normal when adding platforms (Android, iOS, mobile, etc.). Can integrate later.

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