Maker Mode, Manager Mode

Most team leads come from a technical background where they focus on completing tasks at hand. In doing this, we often neglect any sort of managerial tasks that may come up, which can be a sore point when we become a team lead.

The Two Modes

When we are promoted to this new leadership role, it isn't meant to increase our productivity. Instead, we need to start understanding the team members ambitions, helping them out and increasing their productivity. This will help ensure that the team reaches their goals. In order to do this, you need to switch into what is called manager mode.

However, many of us are still stuck in the maker mode, where we are use to getting tasks and focus solely on it until they are delivered. In this mode, we try to really limit our interruptions are so that we can get in the zone and code away. Your goal in this mode is to ensure that you deliver the required output.

Don't Neglect the Maker Mode

Like I mentioned earlier, developers don't often have much experience on the managerial side of things, so when we go into a team lead position there may be the tendency to give 100% of our time to the manager mode. At first glance, this decision may seem right, however in the long term it can have some serious effects as you may lose touch with the code and with that the ability to understand any implementation complexity. In addition, the team will sense that we are don't really know what is going on and will start losing faith in you.

It is vitally important that even as a team lead you still develop some code. I have been in this exact situation, where I gave my all in trying to learn the new managerial tasks and neglected the code side of things, which started to land me in some awkward situations, to say the least.

Excuse Me, May I Bother You?

Like I mentioned above, developers are almost always in the maker mode and try to get into the zone so that they can focus on a particular task. They also try to minimize the number of interruptions so no time is wasted going in and out of the zone. The preference in this mode here is to have no interruptions, no meetings and no status checks. Just the ability to focus on the problem at hand.

However, in manager mode the focus should be on the team and ensuring that they are learning & growing. We also need to ensure that any obstacles are cleared and constantly playing around with new ideas to help the team be more productive. The goal in this mode is to get lots of small wins, which will involve a lot of interruptions and assisting the team whereever possible. These interruptions become a part of your life!

Let's Focus

When I first became a team lead, I found that I was spending a lot of time in meetings and not getting around to actually doing work. I done some research on how to better handle the situationn and I came across some solutions to this:

  1. Declining meetings if you think there is nothing you can contribute.
  2. Block out periods of time in your calendar for maker & manager time. In this way, you get time to focus on some work and your team.

It is also important to have some sort of a signal in your team to let everyone know that you are busy focusing on a task. This way you can know to just send them an email, which they can read later, if it isn't urgent. You can discuss some of these signals with your team so that they know when people are focusing. Some examples of these are:

  • Wearing headphones, as this allows you to get in the zone
  • Go to a different location, such as small meeting room, or even work from home to reduce the interruptions.

Maker Mode Tasks

When you switch to maker mode it is important that you take smaller tasks that are less than 4 hours. Also try to keep these tasks simple and make sure that they aren't on the critical path. The last thing that you want to be is the bottleneck for the rest of the team. Some ideas of tasks could be something along the following lines:

  • Bug fixes
  • Looking into performance issues
  • Creating new tools to help improve the team velocity
  • Exploring new technologies or processes which you can then demo to the team and possibly try out

When you start in a team lead role you may feel overwhelmed, just like I did, but if you try to manage your time better you will find that things become much more achievable. If you still feel that you aren't getting to your work, then really look into possibly working a few hours from home so that you can get stuff done, and with that the sense of accomplishment.

Until next time...keep learning!

Mauro Da Silva

Learning everyday about software development, leadership & self improvement

South Africa