As we’ve grown accustomed to in this interview series, we’ll explore the challenges and practices that leaders in tech implement to build healthy, happy, high-performing teams. Peter took a deep dive into his best practices for leading happy remote teams.
Rapid-fire: Who are you?
Who are you, what do you do, how did you get there, and what do you love most about it.
My name is Peter Awad and I am the Director of Development at Tekside.io. I took on the leadership role for the development team just weeks before COVID-19 sent us all into lockdown in March 2020. Despite the rapid transition to everyone working from home, I enjoy the opportunity to lead, coach and mentor our development team. I’ve empowered them to have their voices heard and have a contribution on the direction of the team and our processes.
What are the key pillars to lead high-performing teams in the current environment?
Given the characteristics of your current team: size, diversity, distribution, motivations, among others.
Some key pillars we have tried to adhere to are: no such thing as over-communication, staying connected as a team, and understanding our role in the value stream especially when working with our partners. While our company and staff are mostly based in southwest Ontario, Canada, we do have some remote and some international staff and we have always maintained an optional work from home component to meet the needs of our staff. So while the transition to everyone working remote has had its drawbacks, it wasn’t as disruptive as it has been for others.
EQ vs. IQ. What do you think about it?
I have always believed in hiring for cultural fit and teaching the rest. We have some extremely talented people in our teams but the important part is how they mesh with the team. The area of EQ for myself was always something that I didn’t grade myself very highly on and this year with my new role I have made it a focus in my growth and learning plan. Others have said I under rate myself, but the current environment has proven to make it challenging and I think every leader should make it a focus of growth for the success of their teams.
What are the main challenges you had to face in the last few months and what advice would give to new team leaders facing the same?
Now more than ever leaders need to be working on the business and not in the business. This means stopping and delegating a lot of the work we did because we were adept at it. As a leader your team doesn’t need someone to sit next to them and share the load (although occasionally this is needed), they need leaders that keep them connected and focused on their team or company mission. As someone who rose up the ranks from frontline support, I often found myself getting lost in the weeds of daily tasks and didn’t recognized that some of my team were stalling out. I had no one to blame but myself for not doing my job as a leader, so I became very obsessed with training and delegating the task that I was hanging on to.
What is your burnout story while working in tech?
Personally I have worked in tech for over 25 years across a number of unique verticals and although I have never personally had a burnout, I have seen it happen to others. I have always believed that to be happy and healthy in what you do, you need to have a personal mission statement or as Simon Sinek calls it “Your Why”. I believe that those that I have seen burnout lost sight of their why. When you can’t explain to others why you get up and go to work each day, you are well advised to take that as an early warning sign of burnout. The current environment has also made it difficult to recognize burnout risk in ourselves and our reports. Depending on the unique circumstances, many are struggling to balance home life or the other end of the spectrum, loneliness. Now more than ever we need to be vigilant when it comes to our team’s mental health.
What practices do you implement to keep your team productive and healthy?
While aiming for big goals and dealing with the current environment
Many of our tools and resources existed before Covid-19 but we have come to lean on them more now that everyone is working from home. Slack for our communications, Meet for stand-up, status meetings and one on ones. But one of the tools we recently added that I think fills a void many people are feeling is our Tuesday Trivia. We outsourced everything to a third party called Water-Cooler Trivia so that everyone gets to participate. Why we feel this tool is so important is that it fills in the missing social aspect of the office. The discussions before and after meetings, the literal water-cooler discussions where people feel that they build connections with their teammates. Over the past couple of months we have learned a lot about each other including our histories, passions and hobbies. It happens so organically that it really does help people feel more connected than we did in the early months of lock-down.
What advice would you give a 28-year-old you?
Arguably, 28-year-old me had a lot to learn about leadership. It was prevalent in a lot of the work I was doing, but I was focused on the mechanics of it, schedules, work assignments, etc. Culture was something that was just supposed to happen because you either liked what you were doing or you didn’t. I have since learned that culture and the work that goes into it, is a career long pursuit.
Now the fun part!
That would be a tie between The Phoenix Project and Making Work Visible
Favorite TV Show
Most crime dramas but I do really enjoy a good cerebral show like Utopia
What are you excited about now?
While the world has been talking about AI and machine learning for a while, I’m starting to see some companies using it in new and unique ways that are disrupting that status quo. I think we’re now transitioning from Early Adoption to Early Majority and the technology is becoming more accessible to a variety of technology verticals.
What puts a smile in your face every time?
I would have to say my 2-year-old granddaughter. There is something about watching someone discover the world with awe and amazement that is just so powerful. It’s similar to why I have always loved teaching people about technology. That moment people realize they have the power to do things and control them; it is like their inner child just burst out in joy. If we could all just sprinkle our lives with those moments, I think we would see a powerful change in the world.