Becoming Glue12 Feb 2020
A memory that has stuck with me from my days as an engineer was being called the glue of the team. The importance of being glue has only grown since I became a manager. In An Elegant Puzzle: Systems of Engineering Management Will Larson highlights this importance:
Managers create stability by becoming glue. We step in as product managers, program managers, recruiters, or salespeople to hold the bits together until an expert relieves us.
Some of my biggest wins during these past two years a manager have come from becoming glue: leaning into things when I identified the need and importance of them rather than passing on them because they didn’t fall under the job description.
Product Manager - When I first became a manager the cross-functional team I was working with was not in a place to give us projects. I put on the Product Manger hat and created specs for papercuts by reviewing complaints in app reviews and also designed some experiments. The papercut solutions were well-received (negative reviews were replaced with positive reviews) and the experiments delivered really positive (percentage points) results.
Recruiter - In 2019 we had ambitious hiring goals. My initial involvement in the recruiting process grew dramatically as I talked with my recruiting partners and we identified opportunities to improve our process. For example, I learned reply rates on cold emails were much higher when coming from a manager so I started sending cold emails. When I became more involved in the candidate experience end-to-end we were able to interview more people, extend more offers, close more candidates, and do cool, new stuff like measure interview team calibration.
Project Manager - As a manager in a horizontal organization a lot of project management ends up falling on my plate: sending weekly updates to stakeholders, keeping JIRA tidy, updating roadmap plans, and a bunch of other operational work. Strong organizational skills and a penchant for executing this work consistently has made leaning into this rote work easy.
People Team - Seeing friends at companies like Facebook and Twitter share how those companies celebrate work anniversaries I decided to start something similar with my team. Back then, I only intended for the first run of the Twitch Praise Project to go to my two directs but we ended up scaling the first run of this program to my entire 200+ person org!
There will always be constraints, things missing, people you wish you had on hand, but the decision you make when you don’t have everything you need to succeed is critical: will you complain and spin unproductively or become glue?