Leading teams: Stop giving answers

Stop giving people answers all the time!

I love helping engineers and resolving tricky issues. This exposure to a wide slew of problems was awesome until I became responsible for large parts of the codebase. Then, I realized that my ‘answers-always‘ approach made me a bottleneck, got me randomized and did not nurture new leaders. The lowered problem resolution barrier (just ask John Doe) meant engineers were not considering options.

So I decided to try a new approach: “Question + Answer combos”. As the African proverb goes: “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”. The premise is simple: the problem resolution process has to be bi-directional. Rather than saying: “do xyz”, I’ll ask: “What is the problem and how can it be solved?”

This two-way interaction leads to higher levels of engagement. It simultaneously provides teaching opportunities by exposing the loopholes in flawed approaches. Time and time again, I have been pleasantly surprised by the results of this technique. The technical growth and rich interactions it affords continuously surpass my expectations.

Benefits of the Questions approach

  • Engineers take an amazing amount of pride and ownership since they own the solution. I have seen engineers fiercely defend their approaches (this shows craftsmanship and pride in mastery).
  • It leads to a diverse and large amount rich innovative solutions. This includes solutions that I would have never thought of.
  • Eliminates bottlenecks.
  • Provides technical growth for team members.

We are not automatons and do not need a taskmaster: that is incredibly limiting. Companies don’t hire the best and pay them $$$$ to tell them what to do. Rather, empower them with the requisite skills so they can make the right calls and decisions.

So stop giving people answers! Empower them to think and come up with solutions.


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