Team performance series

How to Build a High-Performing Engineering Team

Building up a high-performance team takes a variety of skills - from general management to engineering management, and hiring right.

Translate & align vision
Getting alignment in your team on your 'north star' helps decentralise decision-making
Measure what matters
Engineers and technical talent love hitting their numbers, but are you aiming for the right targets?
Develop top performers
Reward technical and managerial excellence by structuring the right benefits and compensation
In the world of technology, VPs of Engineering and CTOs aim to build high-performance teams capable of delivering quality products on time, it's rare for someone to do this consecutively successfully.

Building up a high-performance team takes a variety of skills - from general management to engineering management, and hiring right.

From creating manifestos and goal setting, and staying involved with career roadmaps to motivating team members, here’s how leaders can create a high-performing engineering team.

How do you structure a great team?

1. Map Out Goals and Team Structure

From day one, make sure you've got a clear idea of what you want to accomplish. HubSpot Co-founder and CTO Darmesh Shah said he relies heavily on guiding goals to lead the team and ensuring that everyone is pulling in the same direction. Leaders can leverage the following steps to build their goals:
  • Learn everything there is to know about the company's products and services
  • Make a quick presentation or product demonstration
  • Seek feedback from other industry leaders on what they think might be possible over six months, one year and five years
  • Put together an outline for what kind of team members you'll need in those time periods
  • Consider the different levels of skills required in the team
  • Plot the duration that members should spend on their respective tasks based on their experience level
Having a laser-sharp focus on what your main business goals are, who and what kills you need ensures that everyone is working towards optimising returns of efforts.

2. Hire & Build a Diverse Team

For a team to be successful, the VP of Engineering at Harvest, Kevin Stewart strongly believes in having a solid hiring plan and strategy in place, including the most suitable benefits, budgeting & compensation package.

When hiring, it’s also important to recognize diversity among teammates—being receptive to different points of view, acknowledging errors and valuing individual contributions are just some ways to build a multi-talented and open culture. The success of world-class processes can't exist without a diverse team that is willing to try out new solutions and challenge existing ones.

Structuring a team does not just mean adding new members but removing those who do not align anymore. With the exception of dangerous or drastic actions - it's vital to provide people with opportunities for corrective actions when possible.

3. Create a Cultural Manifesto

Gregory Chang, Head of Sales & Customer Experience at StoreHub, believes that culture is one of the most important assets for a team. A cultural code sounds trivial at first glance, but he established that these documents or materials are critical for:
  • Providing clarity for your entire engineering team
  • Establishing consistency across roles and functions
  • Attaining cohesion through the years
  • Reminding everyone of their culture and the way they do things
Kevin Scott, former VP of LinkedIn also advises asking 'how' before 'what'. A lot of managers and engineers focus on the method - What strategy is best?, What should we standardise? You will realise once you’ve shift your approach from “What?” to “How?”, more enduring solutions arise.

For example, try first asking yourself: How am I going to lead them? Or better yet: How can my teammates thrive? Let this line of inquiry re-orientate the entire team's collective mindset towards winning together.

What makes a successful engineering team?

1. Fuel Inspiration with Career Roadmaps

When discussing how Hubspot attracted exceptional people, Shah explains,

“One of the core tenets of HubSpot culture is that we want to increase individual market value. In other words, we want someone’s currency to have risen higher at HubSpot than any other place they could have gone. We think this focus on individual market value will make for a better, higher-performing team — but it also helps with attracting exceptional people.”

Stewart concurs that using career ladders and roadmaps as a recruitment tool shows the foresight which leaders put into their future employees. Creating roadmaps tailored specifically to fit each individual, with detailed outlines of expectations and resources is necessary so that they can feel valued in their teams and company and fuel their inspiration to perform.

It created not only an environment where high performance was encouraged but also one which attracted similar exceptional talents; those who love learning, seeing growth and advancement.

2. Build Team Motivation and Agility

Hotjar’s new VP of Engineering, Mohannad Ali leverages Amazon's 'Growth Flywheel Theory' to transform energy from the team at individual scales through goal setting. Mohannad gets buy-in from his team by laying out old business cases so everyone knew what was needed for success. He would also make sure that people were given more responsibility as well as accountability when he gave them open lines of communication, feedback and goals.

The result? A highly motivated team who is eager to bring home more wins. They do this by constantly reflecting on the project, prioritising tasks and taking advantage of “high-velocity decision-making” approach- a cornerstone under Jeff Bezos' leadership style - which involves empowering employees with skills and independence to execute decisions quickly and efficiently.

This iterative process ultimately lets members understand how their work connects back to the company's overarching strategy, rather than getting lost in the sea of speculation fueled primarily by self-interest.

3. Strengthen Communication

Okta CEO Todd McKinnon offers that the most important principles in executing a high-performance team are: iteration, bottom-up empowerment and open communication. With diverse people and potentially virtual teams, setting up explicit rules so all team members are aware of these regulations allows for growth by understanding.

Communicating takes many forms, including the results from iterations and recognising escalating misalignments early on in order to remedy them before they become too serious. This may look like one-on-one meetings or conducting company-wide surveys.  

The more people know about what is going on within an organization, the better; deferring to individual teammates and trusting them to come up with a solid plan for every iteration helps keep everyone involved while at the same time getting things done faster.

Making team participation completely voluntary encourages personal commitment which leads not just to higher productivity but increased engagement with the right members.

How to integrate your engineering team with other teams

We asked five NewCampus Contributors to weigh in with their tips on building top-performing engineering teams that work well cross-functionally:

Ben Meneses-Sosa (VP of Engineering)

"One of the best communication tools for engineers is to teach them to talk non-technical: how to translate technical concepts into non-technical language."

Manfred Ekblad (VP of Technology)

"Aligning to avoid having conflicts later on. You want to do it in harmony with everyone else. The only thing that helps really is communication and transparency."

Rami Levi (Director, Quality Engineering)

"The skill that is very important is helping the team navigate permanent uncertainty and clarifying expectations.

Roberto Gonzales (VP of Engineering)

"Never forget that you need to grow your team. You will have alot of business pressure, you will need to deliver, but you need to grow your team. If you don't grow your team, you are failing your company."

Rangga Aditya Putra (Head of Engineering)

"When you match their expectations, things will work much faster or slightly in your favour."

Key Takeaways

Translate & align vision
Getting alignment in your team on your 'north star' helps decentralise decision-making
Measure what matters
Engineers and technical talent love hitting their numbers, but are you aiming for the right targets?
Develop top performers
Reward technical and managerial excellence by structuring the right benefits and compensation
Building strong engineering teams don't stop after one cycle - each one has its own timeline based on the structure of the organization and what they're working on together.

People are brought onto teams and learn, contribute, grow and then sometimes leave. What remains are lessons learned about how to build on a foundation for success, one which grows stronger over time because it was built right in the first place.

Become a Contributor

Join our intimate community of senior leaders in engineering, data & analytics at Asia's fastest-growing companies.
Leona Ho
Director, Growth Analytics
Alka Gupta
Director of Data, People & Talent
Amos Tay
Data Analytics Manager
Puneet Gambhir
Head of Risk & GrabDefence Business

Train your engineers to be better managers

For hypergrowth companies seeking to scale their products and their people, NewCampus offers management training through our Management Essentials 4-Week Sprint.

Hear what some of our previous learners had to say:
I'm used to learning code and getting better at coding, but this was a different skill to learn and improve on.. I really enjoyed alot of the homework because we get to do them during our 1-1s and they really helped. I actually refer back to the frameworks in my day-to-day now."
Elyse Go
Data Science Manager at Kumu
"It's important to create a culture of feedback in your team to improve efficiency. Always assess the motivation of your direct reports as it helps in having effective 1:1s"
Chetan Malhotra
QA Lead, Express VPN

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