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How do I Know if my Team is Really Working?

I managed and led software teams for over a decade before I made the transition to coaching software development leadership. In that time, knowing what the team is working has been a challenge. Often we resort to status meetings, standups, “fake agile”, and any technique to discover just what people are working on. We have often heard teams referred to disparagingly as “managing a herd of cats”. To me this is unfair.

My nephew is working on his first digital media start-up. As a young man there is a lot of this seventeen-year-old to learn. I am doing my best to help guide him and keep him to task. We had a conversation recently where he told me: “I want you to know I am working. I am working hard I swear. How else are you going to know I am working”. My reply: “I will know you are working when you come to me with more ideas than I come to you with”.

The work is not about the labor in the modern knowledge based economy. The work is about the knowledge and the thought. I am reminded of building a large team a few years back where I negotiated for people in a large enterprise. The number one question was: “How many hours do you need?” My answer, always the same, I don’t need your labor, i need your mind. I need you mentally dedicated. The hours don’t matter. The result, most people ran in fear!

You see it is easy to commit to tasks and to hours in a week but to commit the mental energy to thinking about a project and internalizing a project that is a large ask. I take this into management of teams as well. Certainly, looking out output works but the output is at the end. How do we know if a team is really working? We know by the quality, breadth, and depth of the ideation around the conversation. You will recognize this as you will be struggling to keep up!

Focus eliminating obstacles from your team and focus on increasing your teams ability to dedicate their minds to the project at hand and you will see incredible work. In fact, it is often more productive to allow a team member a week of wandering on a side-venture just to keep the mental energy flowing. A creative team with their minds dedicated to the work at hand is the most productive team you will ever see. Matrix is bull-shit. Demand mental dedication!


Ennis Lynch

Ennis Lynch

Ennis Lynch is a Professional Coach Based in South Florida. His primary area of coaching focuses on coaching Software Engineering Leadership. On occasion he does Agile Transformation work as well but prefers coaching at the Team and Individual level vs. the organizational level.


If you have ever wondered: is professional coaching right for me and you are a Software Engineering Manager, Director of Engineering, Director of Software Engineering, VP of Engineering, or CTO reach out for a free initial coaching session. See if coaching is right for you. Initial coaching sessions are the real deal, no hard-sells, no "here is what you would get if you paid". Individuals that receive a free coaching session will get a normal private professional coaching session of 90 minutes (30 minute onboarding + 60 minute coaching) and it will be up to you to follow-up if you want to continue with help on your journey.


Ennis is always gathering research through a team building exercise called the Ball Point Game. If you are interested in a team-level exercise and want to participate in a research project to further the field reach out. The exercise is free in South Florida (and really fun)

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