On effective training for your Engineering Managers and Team leads

The most recent question I got was:

How do I effectively educate and train my EMs and TLs?

I tried several things personally and can list a few of the most effective ones.

Book club

The best way to learn is by trying something and making mistakes. But you can also learn from someone who did their own mistakes already. By reading books about your existing challenges and how others addressed them you can improve your skills without spending tremendous amount of time investing into something that is not yet proven.

The problem, though, is reading requires some concentration skills. Different people prefer different books and have different reading pace. This is where the idea of a book club really shines. The group of people interested in participating get together and select a book — let’s say, it is Andrew Grove’s High output management. So you pick the book and the deadline — usually a month to let everyone finish the book. A month later you get together to have a discussion about what everyone learned from the book, what they want to apply in their practice and what they think is controversial. I’m gonna describe the way we run the book club in a separate post, but this is pretty much it — pick the book, pick the deadline and do it regularly enough to finish 12 books a year, a discussion will help to reiterate on missing parts.


The interesting concept that I learned from Jade Rubick’s blog post is known as Mini-M support groups. Your managers have different strengths  and weaknesses, some of them are closing every candidate they talk to, others can struggle with it. Some can be good at setting development process, and others need to improve their skills. By running this group you are kickstarting communication process between your managers, and this communication process starts from problems they already have, so others can share their experience. I highly recommend checking Jade’s article for more details.

Same-level people intros

Being a member of several CTO/VP Eng groups, I have a lot of CTOs having the same needs and facing the same challenges. These CTOs are happy to intro their managers to let them learn something from your team, or have your people learn something from them. I see how motivated people become when they meet others facing the same issues — they are happy to share everything they learned and what worked best for them. One example here includes a person recommended by fellow CTO who was scaling his team and building a team structure for each scale — he described his experience and helped us to figure out what structure would be best for us at a current scale and what roles each manager needs in their teams.

Consulting with experts

Some challenges you face cannot be simply resolved by internal discussion or by having external managers share their experience. These challenges include something very unique for your team and company, and it could be related to your team location, development process, product features and many other factors. This is where you need someone with deep fundamental knowledge. One example from my practice was when we started noticing how classic Scrum process was limiting us, but we didn’t have enough knowledge to start transformation internally. I had to hop on a call with Aleksei Pimenov, the most experienced trainer and consultant in CIS area. Aleksei learned about our team specifics and suggested us some ideas and ways to start Kanban transformation. He also provided me with a comprehensive list of literature to learn about the topic. His recommendations gave us a huge boost and managers finally started changing the way we think about the development process.

Things I don’t recommend

I also want to mention one thing that didn’t work well for us. This thing is general professional development for managers. Don’t confuse it with the expert advice, which is a great thing. The general professional development thing is not intended to solve some specific problem your managers have, instead it is supposed to make them better in general. We tried several times, but every time the feedback I got was pretty mediocre — people didn’t see how the training was useful for them or how it was supposed to solve their current challenges.

As you can see, almost everything above is built around one simple principle — be specific about your current challenges and communicate with others. We managed to solve many internal issues using described approach and the feedback I got from my managers was extremely positive.

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