How to Scale Tech Teams: A Short Guide for CTOs

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How to Scale Tech Teams: A Short Guide for CTOs
Table of Contents
  • Meet Alvaro Moya, a tech leadership guru
  • Why scaling your tech team may be inevitable
  • 4 important steps for scaling tech teams successfully
    • 1. Be aware of your team’s growth
    • 2. Start early
    • 3. Find out the positions to be filled
    • 4. Identify suitable candidates
  • How to spot potential leaders in your team
    • 1. Go for self-leaders
    • 2. Choose employees with the ownership mindset
    • 3. People who go beyond the nine-to-five may be a great choice
  • How to make transitioning to leadership positions easier for newly appointed leaders
    • 1. Have the conversation early enough
    • 2. Create peer leadership opportunities
    • 3. Promote progressively
    • 4. Train for soft skills
    • 5. Cut them some slack when they fail
    • 6. Create a healthy balance of their leadership and technical duties
    • 7. Empower them to take charge
  • What to do when you feel robbed of the time to properly train your team
    • 1. Outsourcing
    • 2. Partner with HR
  • How to tackle large-scale projects while growing your tech team
  • How to preserve the company culture while scaling your team
    • 1. Hire for culture fit
    • 2. Embody the company’s culture yourself
    • 3. Remind the managers of the company culture
  • How to bridge the gap between the tech leads and non-tech top management
    • 1. Cultivate business skills
    • 2. Negotiate a tradeoff
  • Final thoughts on scaling tech teams

As your business grows, it becomes necessary to expand the teams within your organization to maintain productivity at a high level.

New teams and sub-teams may be formed, as well as new employees hired to get the job done. In addition, growing teams require different chains of leadership inside the company.

Being a tech executive in a growing organization, you’ll need to hire and manage the tech leads and coordinate the team to achieve the goals of your business. This is quite a lot to figure out independently and requires a unique approach.

Luckily, we’ve teamed up with Alvaro Moya—an experienced CTO who is passionate about tech leadership—to share some of his expertise on scaling tech teams with us.

Read our article to tap into Alvaro’s insights if you’re looking to create a high-performing team of leaders who will make autonomous decisions, hire great people under them, and maintain your company culture.

Meet Alvaro Moya, a tech leadership guru

Alvaro Moya’s professional journey clearly shows his passion for entrepreneurship, innovation, and leadership. He holds a first degree in Telecommunications Engineering, but he fell in love with computer science and development, and pursued a tech career instead.

He started his career as a Computer Vision Researcher at his alma mater, Universitas Carlos III de Madrid, where he researched, designed, and developed computer vision projects for corporate organizations. A few years later, he joined Coca-Cola as a developer.

Alvaro’s passion for entrepreneurship and innovation has always been a strong drive for him. He nursed a dream and mission to lead. Thankfully, he had the opportunity to start a tech startup with some friends and filled the CTO role himself there.

Alvaro has co-founded several tech companies across different industries over the years. This has allowed him to grow in the CTO position in more companies in diverse industries. His passion for entrepreneurship has basically led him all the way from nothing to unicorn. He currently leads a remote distributed team of 60 people.

Alvaro identified the need to train tech leaders looking to scale their teams. In his words, “There are many boot camps for developers, but who is training the people who will manage these developers to enable the team to grow seamlessly and organically?” This led him to launch Lidr, an ecosystem for tech leaders, where he and the Lidr mentors train the CTOs and engineering managers of the future.

We wrote this article based on our live session with Alvaro. If you’d rather listen to what he had to say about this topic, you can watch it below:

 

Why scaling your tech team may be inevitable

Every organization desires growth, and with growth comes more responsibilities. For example, there may be a need to develop new products or customize existing products to meet the expectations of several stakeholders. Market demand for the company’s products may increase exponentially. You’ll also need to ensure that your company stays ahead of the competition.

During this phase, your organization may need to work with limited resources to maintain the growth level. There are also budget and time constraints to deal with. These challenges can only be met if you have the right team on board.

Unfortunately, people do not grow as fast as companies do. “Employee growth will always be linear and not as fast as a company’s growth,” says Alvaro.

Thus, it may be difficult to handle the increased workload and expectations with your current team. Therefore, you’ll need to scale your team and appoint leaders to oversee the team to solve this problem.

4 important steps for scaling tech teams successfully

Growing a tech team is not a walk in the park. It requires proper planning and establishing frameworks to ensure that the company’s activities are not disrupted and the revenue is not affected. Also, you need to make sure the company’s culture is not lost in the wind while scaling your team.

Here are four important steps that will help you grow your team sustainably and successfully.

1. Be aware of your team’s growth

Being conscious about your team’s growth will help you make better decisions when scaling your team. For starters, you’ll hire employees with a goal to train them to become leaders. You’ll also factor it into your budget planning.

2. Start early

According to Alvaro, the best moment to train your team is yesterday; the second-best moment is today. Growing a team may take months of planning ahead. Therefore, it’s best to start planning as soon as you notice growth in the market or product usage.

3. Find out the positions to be filled

It’s best to find out where your team needs extra hands or leadership. This will enable you to come up with a plan to fill the vacuum. You’ll also be able to maximize time and resources and ensure that your business does not suffer during the process.

4. Identify suitable candidates

Once you’ve identified the positions to be filled, the next step is to identify suitable candidates for these roles. It’s advisable to hire from within the organization where possible. Go through the profiles of current team members and identify the best fit for the role.

How to spot potential leaders in your team

When scaling your team, it may be hard to decide who gets promoted to leadership positions and who doesn’t. You don’t want to make the wrong decision, and you’ll need to justify your decision to the non-tech top management.

If you’re at this crossroad, here are signs to look out for when looking for team members to fill leadership positions.

1. Go for self-leaders

To be a great leader, one needs to be able to lead their life first. Self-leadership is a great quality for aspiring and non-aspiring leaders. Self-leaders often embrace leadership roles that align with their passions, interests, and goals. If you don’t appoint self-leaders, you’ll end up modulating the employee’s skills to meet the company’s requirements, which requires a lot of effort.

2. Choose employees with the ownership mindset

Another great quality to look out for in leaders is the ownership mindset. If a team member always takes ownership of projects, they may be suitable for leadership positions. Employees who take ownership of projects can deliver results with minimal supervision and guide others to achieve common goals.

3. People who go beyond the nine-to-five may be a great choice

Team members who take up informal leadership roles outside the company, or work as freelancers, or have managed their startup in the past may be leadership material. It takes someone who consciously explores other interests beyond the regular nine-to-five to manage and oversee other team members and still perform their duties.

Besides, one acquires a wealth of knowledge when managing startups or leading teams that will benefit any organization.

How to make transitioning to leadership positions easier for newly appointed leaders

Transitioning from a developer to a manager or team lead can be challenging. It’s common for new leaders to struggle in their new roles for some time. However, you can support them during the transitioning phase by doing the following:

1. Have the conversation early enough

It’s important to inform employees that they are being considered for leadership roles within your organization early enough. This is best done during the hiring and onboarding stages. However, you can always have this conversation when the need arises.

When informing employees of the leadership positions they may take up within the organization, it’s important to lay all the cards on the table. This will enable them to make the necessary plans for a smooth transition to such roles. Also, they’ll be able to decide if they want to make that move or remain in their current role.

2. Create peer leadership opportunities

The best way to learn how to become a leader is by being one. You can prepare your employees to become leaders by creating peer leadership opportunities to practice and hone their leadership skills.

Peer leadership programs give employees the opportunity under little or no pressure. This makes leadership less frightening to them and the transition to actual leadership roles smoother.

3. Promote progressively

No one anticipates receiving more than what they can handle. Therefore, it’s best to ensure that employees are aware of the career path within the organization. For instance, one can expect to go from developer to team lead, team lead to a manager, manager to VP of Engineering, VP of Engineering to CTO. This progressive career growth allows employees to be better prepared for each role.

4. Train for soft skills

Leadership requires more than technical skills. A good leader should possess soft skills such as conflict resolution, communication, negotiation, empathy, time management, problem-solving, etc. You can support newly appointed managers by training them on these soft skills.

5. Cut them some slack when they fail

According to Alvaro, giving new managers psychological safety for failure will help keep them focused. In his words, “Ditch the old-school management, sink-or-swim technique and support them when they fail instead.” This way, they’ll learn from their failures and improve.

6. Create a healthy balance of their leadership and technical duties

Leadership roles come with unique responsibilities such as budget planning, making presentations, and hiring team members. Combining these duties with one’s hands-on developer duties can be difficult. Therefore, it’s advisable to create a healthy balance between technical and managerial skills.

For instance, a team lead may handle 70% technical work and 30% managerial duties, while a CTO’s duties may be 90% managerial and 10% technical. Of course, the ratios may differ in different organizations. What’s important is maintaining a balance to ensure that the employees are not overwhelmed.

7. Empower them to take charge

Empowering managers and team leads to take full responsibility for their teams and projects makes processes easier. Thus, you should delegate technical decisions to the managers and team leads.

Alvaro recommends setting the boundaries as long as they still get a blank check to take charge of their teams and projects. For instance, you can give them the business context to work with. This will stimulate them to think and make decisions with the business in mind.

What to do when you feel robbed of the time to properly train your team

In between planning, budgeting, and executing projects within steep deadlines, it may be hard to squeeze out the time to train your team. However, you don’t have to end up with a team that is unprepared for the work ahead. You can still scale your team in the following ways:

1. Outsourcing

You can partner with consultants and trainers to scale your team. Platforms such as Lidr partner with organizations to train future tech leaders. Lidr has many frameworks and resources that have been grouped to suit the organization’s needs and company culture. Do check them out to learn more about their services!

2. Partner with HR

You can also partner with the HR department to train your team. For example, you can recommend employees for training based on the identified skill gap. This should be done continuously to ensure that the employees grow in their roles.

How to tackle large-scale projects while growing your tech team

Large-scale projects usually require certain changes, such as product modifications or the team migrating to a different infrastructure, to work efficiently. If not properly managed, these changes can disrupt your team’s expansion and productivity. However, you can make large projects work without interrupting your team’s expansion.

For starters, learn to rely on the team during this phase. Your role should be to coordinate and support them. Focus on high-level coordinating tasks like budgeting, setting up the project team, and setting deadlines. Trust your team to handle the fine details of the project.

Also, large-scale projects may drag on if not properly planned. To ensure that such projects are completed on time, focus on planning ahead of the project start date. Estimate the time, resources, and people needed to bring the project to fruition and work with the estimates.

How to preserve the company culture while scaling your team

It’s easier to pass on your company’s culture when working with a small team with employees reporting directly to you. However, as your team expands, the responsibility of preserving that culture falls on the managers and team leads. And if they’re not prepared to uphold the culture, your company’s core values may fall by the wayside.

You can avoid this by preparing middle management employees to become catalysts of the company culture with the following steps:

1. Hire for culture fit

Whether you’re hiring managers from within or outside the organization, make sure to hire people who are a great fit for your company’s culture. Candidates who display a good understanding of your company’s core values will be able to transfer these values to their team members.

2. Embody the company’s culture yourself

Humans generally learn from observation. Newly appointed leaders are more likely to look up to and imitate their superiors. Thus, a good way to ensure that your company’s culture is not lost in the transition is to reflect the culture.

3. Remind the managers of the company culture

Don’t stop telling employees about your company’s culture. More importantly, when employees are taking up leadership positions in the company, you should remind them of the company’s core values and educate them of their responsibility to uphold the culture as leaders.

How to bridge the gap between the tech leads and non-tech top management

Non-tech top management often have the final say on company projects. As a result, it may be difficult to work on certain projects without their approval, especially non-revenue generating projects.

However, you can bridge the gap and persuade top management to see things from your perspective with the following tactics.

1. Cultivate business skills

Non-tech top management teams are inclined to evaluate projects from a business perspective. Hence, you need business skills to present the projects to the top management from a business standpoint.

As Alvaro recommends, “Engage your team in mock projects using business case studies such as building a chatbot for a business.” This will help your team gain high-level business skills, understand how tech applies to the broader environment and give them insights into the needs of the consumers and company.

2. Negotiate a tradeoff

While the project may benefit the company in the long run, budget constraints, limited resources, and time may make the project less likely to be approved. Hence, you should be open to negotiating a tradeoff with top management.

With good negotiation skills, you can present the benefits of the project persuasively. As Alvaro says, the management will be left with three options: to do it now, do it later, or not do it. As long as you’ve presented the project’s pros and cons to the top management, they’ll be able to make a decision.

Final thoughts on scaling tech teams

The strategies discussed in this article will surely come in handy when you need to scale your team. However, it is recommended that you prioritize the people in your company over anything else.

After all, it’s the people who create products and make decisions that affect the organization. Also, your impact as a leader will be determined by their impact. Thus, it’s advisable to put them first when making such decisions.

Thank you for reading our guide. We recommend that you watch the full stream of our conversation with Alvaro at the top of this page to get all the details and tips that unfortunately didn’t make the cut here.

Feel free to also read other helpful guides for tech leaders and managers on our website. We recommend the following articles and resources:

Interested in more content like this? Join our Tech Leaders Hub to connect with and learn from industry experts!

Also, if you’re looking to extend your tech team, we’re here to help. Our team of specialists are available to support your project in no time. Just reach out to us and we’ll see what we can do for you.

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