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The Cone Model for Teams' Support Network
Lay a strong support level for your teams, even when you are away
As managers, we need to provide an excellent level of support to our team members, from technical to emotional.
This is hard work that requires a lot of patience and trust from both sides and, once established, will help your team to grow pretty quickly.
There are many techniques to build this excellent level of support. 1-on-1s are great, but as you might have noticed, there is a 1-on-1 relationship in "1-on-1s" that can be insufficient and dangerous. Most managers have more than one direct report, and their attention must be spread between everyone. Sometimes some members need more attention, leaving the others with low support.
Your team support network looks like a triangle, and everyone depends on you. Every person needs a different amount of attention at a particular time.
This is very natural as each person is unique and might have a different level of skills. On top of that, some might be involved in a complex project while others have a chill week. You probably tell yourself, "This is very natural to me," and you are right. But it also will affect the growth pace of your team and can quickly go out of control.
What can go wrong? (or why do I need it)
Let's look at a few widespread scenarios. These can be avoided using the Cone Model.
1. Neglecting talent
Linda (A Senior Engineer) is a very talented engineer in your team. She joined one year ago and had high-speed growth, and since then, you never had any challenges with Linda. She always pushed ahead and took care of her growth. Naturally, you started to shift away from your focus from Linda to Denny (Junior Engineer), who has struggled a bit lately. Linda stopped growing. She started feeling that her growth pace had dropped dramatically and couldn't understand why. A few months later, Linda announced that she had accepted an offer from a different company. She wants to pursue her growth.
Have you made a mistake by shifting your focus? No. Denny needed more attention, and you have a limited capacity. The error was that you didn't take care of Linda's needs.
2. Blind spots
In the past few months, the team has been performing very well. Work gets done on time and with high quality. When you have a spontaneous conversation with another colleague, they mention that Henry (Engineer) has issues at home that affect his focus. You are a bit surprised, you had several 1on1s with Henry, and the topic never came up.
Are you a bad manager for missing that? No. It might be that Henry is a very private person and therefore doesn't share his personal issues with most people. It might be something you will be able to catch by yourself.
3. Out of your league
It was your first time using the tech stack when you joined your team. You have a sound engineering background and understand technical principles and designs, but you are still behind in a deep discussion about the specific ecosystem. Denny (Junior Engineer) is taking his first steps in the development world. He's been coding for eight months now and needs a good level of support. You try your best to push him in the right direction but cannot give him very accurate feedback about his coding skills.
Are you responsible for developing Denny's coding skills? Yes. Can you provide him with all the necessary support? No
So what can you do to avoid these scenarios? How can a manager provide such comprehensive support without spreading so thin that it will impact their other responsibilities? (execution, strategy, hiring, etc.)
You should minimize your dependencies and maximize the network between your team members. Instead of letting all your team depend on you for their growth, you should create a connection between people, leveraging the different strengths and weaknesses.
Identify the need
One way to create a connection is to identify a need for a direct report and surface it up during a 1on1. For example, Henry's need for mentorship in the team's tech stack. It's essential to explicitly indicate that you are not sufficient for the support in this area, but Linda can be a perfect match. You talk with Linda and let her know that you want her to spend more time with Henry and give her the main areas to focus on.
Sometimes you won't be aware of a specific need. Nevertheless, you must nourish the network. A great way to do so is to set expectations with your team. In your next 1on1, let them know you expect them to watch specific team members and even an area. "Paul (Senior Engineer), I'd like you to pay attention to Linda's system designs. Make sure to review them".
Read more here on The Magic of Setting Expectations.
How can a good network look?
Linda supports Henry: Coding in our tech stack
Paul supports Linda: On software architecture and system design
Paul also supports Denny: Coding in our tech stack
Denny supports Henry: Team collaboration and communication
And you support everyone :)
Managers should build strong networks and create an environment where they are not critical components. They should be able to stay away for a few weeks without impacting the team.
The Cone Model can be very efficient for directors of managers.
Thank you, Damiano Condorelli