Leadership with Shared Purpose

September 29, 2020

As the team I lead grows substantially, my role has changed during 2019 and the first half of 2020 from leading engineers to increasingly leading leaders who lead engineers.

One of the most obvious challenges in this period has been how to distil the principles by which I led engineers directly in such a way that as our leadership team became larger we could maintain some level of consistency and structure for our engineering organisation. As we grow we want to take advantage of new perspectives on engineering leadership whilst at the same time maintaining a clear and unified direction for our organisation.

Our journey towards this goal started by focusing in on our specific role as a leadership team and, more specifically, why we exist and what we want to achieve.

A clear purpose is an essential ingredient for any high performing team and purpose is one of the essential building blocks for the motivation needed to deliver high performance.

As a team we were clear that we needed to be focused around a shared purpose that could be the base for our group discussions and provide us with guiding principles for our decision making and overall direction.

What do we want to achieve?

We started the process by working to really break down what we wanted to achieve as a team. What was the one goal we all shared that could bring the greatest value to the organisation we lead?

Our focus has always been on the individual engineer - building up each engineer, enabling them to be the best they can be, strong in the knowledge that with a group of motivated engineers at least some of the hard work of building a high performing team would be in hand.

With this in mind we thought about what engineers really need to be productive and to be able to perform at their best. There are so many practical things that go in to this - a comfortable working environment, using the latest technology, working on an engaging product roadmap, working on a modern stack - but even with all of these practical elements in place it was clear that even more important than this was offering engineers an environment where they could be safe to experiment and focus on doing their best work.

Our shared purpose

We agreed on the following statement and engineering leadership pillars that we believe encompasses our every day work as a leadership team:

The leadership team exists to create an environment where engineers feel safe and encouraged to do their best work every day.

We will create this environment by:

  • Ensuring squads and engineers have the autonomy they need to be brave and motivated to create awesome shopper experiences that they can be proud of
  • Creating safe spaces and opportunities for every engineer to be curious and enhance their craft based on a consistent and well-structured development path
  • Collaborating with product line leads to ensure that each squad has a clearly defined purpose and reason for being that enables engineers to focus on product outcomes
  • Providing a clearly defined set of engineering and architecture best practices and the opportunity for every engineer to shape and evolve these practices for the future

As engineering leaders we typically split our time between proactive technical leadership - of a product squad or technology area - and engineering leadership where we're scaling our organisation and working with each individual engineer to enable them to develop.

This core statement - and the four pillars - enable us to align our activities and ensure we are leading with a shared purpose to achieve the best possible outcome for our team, our squads and each engineer. In upcoming posts I'll write more about each of our leadership pillars and how they can come together to enable us to create a high performing technology organisation.

If you have a new leadership team or an existing team that is perhaps not all pulling in the same direction, I'd highly recommend taking a step back and spending some time to think about what your shared purpose is as a leadership team so that you can regroup and move forward and start to lead with a shared purpose.

With thanks: defining a shared purpose only comes from working together and so I'd like to thank the Direct Shopper Engineering Leadership Team at the LEGO Group in London for their determination and focus in coming together to define our approach which I've shared here.