Taking over a team, what should you do?

As team leaders, chances of us taking over a team rather than creating a new one are higher. When taking over a new team, I have found very useful to go through several steps to find out some information before moving forward.

As a baseline, I first want to state what is important for me at this stage, so the next steps make more sense to you. I believe that some characteristics must be present in a team to make teamwork possible, and one of the most crucial one for me is communication. If there is no open and clear communication, then you are opening the doors to all sorts of problems, starting with misunderstandings to not delivering any work. So let’s go through my observation points:

Communication

This is the most important one for me and the key to all the successes or failures in the team. It is of vital importance to understand and define the communication means the team feels most comfortable with. Some do prefer verbal communication (this is also my preference when the team is on site) and some do like more written communication, especially when part of the team is remote. From experience, a mix of both, a hybrid communication works pretty well. It maintains the human touch as well as leaves chance for missing or remote people to stay informed as well.

Team dynamics

I believe every team has an individual spirit. That is not individuals, but the group acting together. It is like a one way hash of the team. It is like that as if you remove one person from the team, or if you ad one, the team spirit is different, so the hash changes. The team dynamics tell you how well the currents in the team flow. How well do the team members communicate and get along with their teammates? Who dominates, who leads, and who is the strong influencer? Who is more silent and needs help to get heard and who maintains the balance of the team? Finding answers to these questions will help you determine where and how should your focus be directed to try to get the team to an optimal performance level,

Individuals in the team

Although the team spirit is super important, individuals in the team are as important as the former. Every team member has their unique personality, therefore, their influence on the team is individually different. Ignoring one team member may result in breaking the whole team dynamics. One needs to continuously foster and maintain the individual relationship with every team member. One thing that helps this a lot is having 1 on 1 meetings regularly to check how they feel about the team, is there anything that can be improved or changed that can contribute to having a better engagement or more interesting experience.

Strengths and weaknesses of team members

To take the team to an optimal performance level, I find it of utmost importance to fine-tune or calibrate the way individuals contribute to the team. Every individual has strengths and weaknesses. The importance is to engage them on things they are best at while allowing their teammates to cover on their weaknesses. This contributes to people feel better as they perform best when they do the things they feel most strong at. One might argue that we should push our teammates to improve on their weaknesses, and yes, I agree, but remember, the focus of this post is on improving team performance, there will be another post on helping individuals thrive 😉

Conclusion

When you take over a team which is already established, it is not an easy task to find out how to behave best so you improve the team performance and do not decrease it. My usual approach in these cases is to take my time, usually for a sprint, and do nothing except observe these characteristics. After I create the picture in my head, then I start approaching individuals to find out more about them and complete the picture. It is this time when I create a list of things that need to improve and start acting on improving what needs to be improved and reach a fluent delivery cycle.

Do you have a different experience or opinion? I’d like to hear about it. Please share it with us.

How to unleash employee creativity

At my current company, Springer Nature, we have a great benefit of having the freedom to dedicate 10 percent of our work time working for a side project, learn something new, or on anything that can help us learn something new. Our employer gave us this freedom so we can grow personally and professionally, but one observation I have had during these months that we are practicing this was that it also helps to unleash employee creativity.

How we do it?

This initiative firstly started as a Hack Day for developers. Then we renamed it to “10 percent time” so it can be more inclusive to other profiles that are part of our department, such as UI & UX designers, PMs, and POs. We spend every second Friday of the month by doing something other than work related stuff, something that would in one way or another help us learn something new. Sometimes we do an online course, test that new version of a library we use every day, evaluate a new framework or even learn a new programming language. Beginning of the day we do a joint stand up where we share our plans for that day with other participants. Sometimes someone likes somebody’s idea and we join forces for that day to create something awesome. By the end of the day, we gather together and share what we have created and what did we learn. Some do a demo, some showcase their code and some just summarize their learnings. During this sharing session often people get the inspiration for their next hack day, or sometimes we realize that a presented idea could be of a benefit for the company to grow as a project and we pitch it to our colleagues and management.

What did we do during these days?

During the previous Hack Day, one of my colleagues did create a simple  NodeJS CRUD API as she wanted to learn NodeJS. On the other side, as I usually do backend stuff, from time to time I am quite interested to learn things about frontend. For a long time, I wanted to learn Vue.js, so I volunteered to create the frontend for that API. During those few hours of coding, we managed to do a simple Vue.js application and implement a frontend for CRUD operations of that API. The code can be found at https://github.com/acelina/books-fe GitHub repo. Of course, I didn’t become proficient in Vue.js in one day, but next time I need a frontend for my app, at least I know where to start and I value this.

In another case, me and a colleague of mine started a Hack Day project to improve the process of managing code challenges for our developer candidates. We worked on this project for  three Hack Days. The result was an application that included features like managing the automatic creation of a GitHub repo for a candidate, including there her code challenge and give her the privileges to commit to that repo. It also included the feature to manage the workflow of submission, so when the candidate creates a PR of her finished code challenge, the application will remove her from project collaborators and notifies us in a Slack channel that a submission is ready to be reviewed. It was a three fun Hack Days for two of us and it resulted in a production-ready application which eliminated manual labor. There are several other successful results which came out of this 10 percent time.

What we achieved?

I understand that the projects we do during these days are never ready for production, but we achieved to create a culture of sharing the knowledge with others and by it to foster employee creativity. This 10 percent time creates space for us to experiments with things we don’t have the time to experiment during our regular work days because of deadlines or priorities. It also helps us to grow professionally and personally. Sometimes it results in a useful thing for the company as well, and most importantly it helps us to unleash our creativity while having fun. As a developer, I value this a lot in a company, and I would recommend every company to start practicing it. You never know where brilliant ideas come from!

Resume

WORK HISTORY

Jan 2019

Director of Engineering

CleverShuttle, Berlin

Responsbile for 27 people allocated in 5 cross-functional remote teams, I guide the engineering teams to delivery excellence. By coaching and leading by example, I help my teams to get the best out of themselves, further develop and expand our organization, and build a healthy and strong engineering culture.

My responsibilities include:

  • Develop and implement the Technical Strategy and Roadmap
  • Oversee development teams and coach engineering managers
  • Oversee the running and development of the cloud infrastructure
  • Talent acquisition (hiring process, interviewing, managing external contractors)
  • Talent retention (coaching, personal growth plans, personal improvement plans)
  • Stakeholder management

Hiring · Team Building · Team Management · Team Leadership · Management

WORK HISTORY

Jan 2019

Teamlead Backend & Infrastructure

Schindler Group AG, Berlin

Responsible for:

  • Leading multiplie teams of 10+ members distributed in three countries
  • Defining and improving of Software Development processes and practices
  • Defining and evolving of Software Architectures of our products
  • Software Solution development
  • Cloud Infrastructure Solution development
  • Hiring, coaching, and mentoring

Technologies: Azure and Kubernetes

Feb 2017 – Dec 2018

Tech Lead

SpringerNature, Berlin

Main responsibilities included:

  • Leading the dev team
  • Architecting web software solutions
  • Serve as a single point of contact for PO & PM
  • Tech planning
  • Coaching
  • Help recruiting new devs by conducting interviews and evaluating technical challenge solutions
  • Development of web applications and APIs using Ruby on Rails and Kotlin programming languages
  • Development of web applications and APIs using Ruby on Rails and Kotlin/Http4k/SpringBoot
  • Implementing search using Elasticsearch

Nov 2015 – Jan 2017

Senior Engineer

BCG Digital Ventures, Berlin

Engineering of web applications and APIs using Ruby on Rails and Sinatra frameworks. Responsibilities included developing microservices for:

  • Billing and invoicing
  • Processing credit card payments

Jun 2014 – Oct 2015

Software Architect

Protax2 – Ministry of Finance, Republic of Kosovo

  • Co-architect the Property Tax System in Kosovo
  • Develop the system in coordination with other developers and requirements team
  • Work with Scrum

Oct 2013 – Oct 2015

Course Instructor

American University in Kosovo – Training and Development Institute

Teaching courses

    • Java fundamentals
    • Front End Web development using HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript
    • Back End Web development using PHP and MySQL
    • Microsoft developer curriculum

Jan 2009 – Oct 2015

Freelance developer

ACWEB

Developing software applications for various clients. Notable projects

    • Bulk SMS delivery web application
    • Student Management web application
    • Exam Management web application
    • Accounting software application
    • Creation of several web sites
    • Development of several mobile applications (iOS/Android)
    • Consultancy services to various institutions and companies

May 2006 – Jun 2014

Software Developer

Raiffeisen Bank Kosovo J.S.C.

I have been part of the web application development team. My assignment here was to design, develop, and implement the loan processing application, which covered the whole lending process.

Oct 2009 – Sep 2013

Lecturer

University for Business and Technology (UBT), Kosovo

Lecturing following subjects:

    • Web Engineering
    • Web applications & E-technology
    • IT Security
    • Web programming
    • Object Oriented Programming

EDUCATION

2010

Master of Science in Distributed Data Management

University of Hartfordshire, UK

During postgraduate studies in UH, I have had the opportunity to study advanced level courses on Web services, Advanced databases, Secure systems development, Measures and models in software engineering, and Mobile Standards, Interfaces and Applications. The master’s thesis was a research about the impact of Web Service Orchestration in Service Oriented Software Engineering. I have developed a Visual IDE which allowed users to compose web service orchestrations without seeing the code.

Graduated with distinction.

2006

BSc of Computer Science

University of Prishtina, Kosovo

My undergraduate studies were mainly focused on computer science and programming. I graduated with a research project studying the use of digital certifications by Secure Electronic Transactions (SET) protocol developed by Visa and MasterCard.

Certifications

2014

Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT)

Microsoft Corporation

Certified trainer for Microsoft .Net web development stack

2014

Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD): Web applications

Microsoft Corporation

Developing full stack web application solutions using Microsoft .Net platform

2014

Developing Microsoft Azure and Web Services

Microsoft Corporation

Accessing data on premise or on cloud using Web Services and Azure

2014

Developing ASP.NET MVC 4 Web Applications

Microsoft Corporation

Developing web application using Microsoft .NET, ASP.NET MVC 4, and C# programming language

2012

Programming in HTML5 with JavaScript and CSS3 Specialist

Microsoft Corporation

Creating web sites/web applications using HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript

2011

Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) – Accessing Data with Microsoft Framework 4.0 (ADO.NET 4.0)

Microsoft Corporation

Accessing Data using Microsoft .NET 4.0 and C# programming language using ADO.NET, Entity Framework and WCF Data Services

2011

MicrosoftCertified Technology Specialist (MCTS) – Web Applications Development with Microsoft .net Framework 4.0 (ASP.NET 4.0)

Microsoft Corporation

Developing web application using Microsoft .NET, ASP.NET Web Forms, and C# programming language

2009

Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) – Application Development Fundamentals – C#

Microsoft Corporation

Programming with Microsoft .Net and C# programming language

2008

Sun Certified Java Programmer (SCJP)

Sun Microsystems

Programming with Java programming language

Awards

Best employee in cost effectivenessRaiffeisen Bank Kosovo J.S.C.

In 2009, I was chosen best employee in cost effectiveness as a result of my efforts on cutting costs using process improvements

About me

Arian Celina, M.Sc.

With over 17 years of experience in software engineering and cloud architecture, I am a passionate and effective leader who guides and empowers cross-functional remote teams to deliver high-quality web applications and solutions. As the Director of Engineering I oversee the technical strategy and roadmap, the development and coaching of engineering managers, and the running and development of the cloud infrastructure.

I believe in fostering a growth mindset and a strong engineering culture among my teams, and I use communication as a key tool to align tech and people processes, manage stakeholder expectations, and facilitate collaboration and learning. I also enjoy being involved in talent acquisition and retention, solution development, and software architecture design and evolution. I have a strong technical background in building backends for web applications, including the cloud infrastructure,

My detailed experience can be read on my resume.