3 Chicago tech leaders share their secrets to making time for their teams

by Michael Hines
August 22, 2018

Tech leaders have no shortage of items on their to-do lists, which can make it hard to carve out time to spend with team members. Team and company meetings provide designated face time, but many leaders take things a step further to ensure their people — especially junior team members — are getting the support and guidance they need. Here’s how.

 

GoHealth Chicago tech leaders
PHOTO VIA GOHEALTH

GoHealth builds technology to make it easier for people to find the right health care coverage. VP of Engineering Jeff Gutierrez said he stays in touch with his team and their work by reviewing code and switching up where he sits.

 

How do you arrange your schedule to stay close with your team?

I carve out time for regular one-on-one meetings. These meetings are valuable to have on the calendar because they ensure I can talk with team members about topics that may not come up in daily conversation, such as their career goals and aspirations.

I’ve learned so much about coding and problem-solving from my team.”

What other strategies do you employ to provide support and guidance to team members?

I have resisted having a personal office and prefer to sit with my team. I like to roam around and usually sit next to the individual or team that I’m currently working with on a project. I do this two to three times a day, so I’m rarely at my desk! My team knows I have an open-door policy. I’m also always available for drive-by conversations.

Additionally, I review code. This is not an expected task for someone at my level. However, I find that reviewing code is the best way to coach data engineers, software engineers and data scientists. While in the trenches with my team, I am able to provide real-time guidance and better ensure each team member’s daily tasks align with both GoHealth’s goals and their personal career interests.

 

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from a junior team member?

I’ve learned so much about coding and problem-solving from my team. But, more unexpectedly: I’m a bit geeky with wines, and I recently learned from one of my team members that there is such a thing as honey wine and that it is called “mead.” It is now in my shopping list for the next time I drop by Binny’s.

 

Civis Analytics Chicago tech company
VP of ENGINEERING BRIAN FRITTON. PHOTO VIA CIVIS ANALYTICS

Civis Analytics’ cloud-based software and consulting services help companies up their data science efforts. According to VP of Engineering Brian Fritton, working with junior team members is a reminder to slow down and enjoy solving problems with software.

 

How do you arrange your schedule to stay close with your team?

We begin and end our week in a team meeting. On Mondays, we take 30 minutes to align on priorities for the week, introduce new hires and discuss potential roadblocks or opportunities. Sometimes, we invite members from other teams to come talk about what they do — it helps my team understand the business as a whole and where they fit in.  

Our Friday meeting is much more informal. We do trivia, give kudos to teammates and have team members present their “hack week” projects, which, as naturally curious techies, we really value as a source of learning and experimentation. It’s also a great way for me to learn more about team members I don’t get to talk to every day. It helps me get a sense for what new opportunities will help the team stay happy and grow professionally.

I love talking to them [junior engineers] because it’s obvious how hungry they are to learn and solve new problems.”

What other strategies do you employ to provide support and guidance to team members?

I do quarterly one on ones across the entire department. It really helps me understand what drives our team and learn what support they need. I ask our team leads and product managers to loop me in at the beginning of new projects so I can anticipate any potential roadblocks and make sure they have the right resources to succeed, and when possible, I’ll dive in to exercise my own engineering muscle.

 

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from a junior team member?

How to pause for enjoyment of the craft. Junior engineers are most excited about the art of software engineering. I love talking to them because it’s obvious how hungry they are to learn and solve new problems. When you’re leading a team, you can get tunnel vision from all of the processes, timelines, planning, etc. I try and eat lunch with them when I can. They’re usually teaching me about something tech-related that I haven’t heard of.

 

Daugherty Business Solutions Chicago
Chicago Delivery Director Deb Yeazel (C). PHOTO VIA DAUGHERTY BUSINESS SOLUTIONS

Daugherty Business Solutions is a technology consulting firm that develops software for local and state governments, startups, Fortune 500 companies, and more. Chicago Delivery Director Deb Yeazel said staying close with her consultants is crucial for building a stronger team and a stronger business.

 

How do you arrange your schedule to stay close with your team?

Time is carved out weekly for meetings between consultants and their managers, as well as with managers and their directors. Some weeks, those are one-on-one sessions, and other weeks the meetings are held as a small group. Monthly meetings are held at the account level to discuss our business plan, demo or review an existing delivery engagement and discuss other branch news.

Our people are not only the face of our business. They are our business. By supporting their career and development, we retain a strong team of skilled individuals and ultimately build a stronger customer-facing team.

Our people are not only the face of our business. They are our business.”

What other strategies do you employ to provide support and guidance to team members?

Our line of service leaders drive events and gatherings to bring common skill sets together across client accounts. A common line of service opportunity is a lunch and learn, which gives consultants a way to learn from their peers and provides a safe place to develop presentation skills. We also sponsor social and charity events quarterly for teams and leaders to get to know each other.

 

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from a junior team member?

I’m always learning from our team members. They share their working knowledge of our customers’ businesses with me, and together we close the gaps between customer functional groups. They provide insights on the culture of our customers so that I’m better equipped to support them and the customers with the right teams. Finally, they are a constant reminder that the strength of the team always outweighs that of one individual.

 

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