Resilient Management

Aug. 17, 2020 · 17 min read

Resilient Management by Lara Hogan.

In 1965, psychology researcher Bruce Tuckman published Tuckman’s stages of group development. These are the four stages a group goes through as it evolves from a bunch of strangers to a unified collective with common goals:

  • Forming is when the group comes together in its new state. Your team might have a name, and probably has some understanding of its goal, but it’s likely that other processes or patterns still need to be defined or updated.
  • Storming is where you start to see some friction. It’s startling, because you just experienced the excitement of forming a team! But I promise: storming is a necessary part of these team dynamics. You’ve gotta feel some confusion and clashing to make it to the next stage.
  • Norming is where things start to iron themselves out. Individuals begin to resolve their differences, and clarity is introduced. You start to find your groove.
  • Performing is that coveted flow state. You’re effective, you’re communicating well, and you’re shipping.

These stages will repeat throughout the lifecycle of a team, even if you’ve been together for years. When a new person joins, or a manager changes, or the mission changes, these stages of group development can restart with those Forming stage feelings again.


As a manager, one of your primary jobs is to foster a foundation of trust on your team. This will be the underpinning of the team’s overall health. To foster trust, you’ve gotta start by understanding each other: each person’s needs, preferences, and approaches to work.

(Paloma) Medina’s work draws on research indicating that humans have six core needs in the workplace: BICEPS:

  • Belonging
  • Improvement/Progress
  • Choice
  • Equality/Fairness
  • Predictability
  • Significance

Human learning and growth requires the right amount of four things: new challenges, low ego, space to reflect and brainstorm, and timely and clear feedback. How are these four going for you? Is there one you need more or less of?

“What are you optimizing for?” is a question I ask a lot as a coach. You might be optimizing for delivering on time, or making users’ lives measurably better, or giving your teammates a ton of autonomy—and that framing can help you identify your “style” or “philosophy” as a manager or leader.

For example, someone who optimizes for transparency in how they manage their team might express their approach this way:

I’m a transparent leader who values clarity and gaining a shared understanding. You’ll see this when I gather extra context when there’s confusion, run early drafts of decisions by people who might disagree, and send out work progress emails on a predictable cadence so people always feel like they’re being kept up to date. I support my team by dumping buckets of clarity on any situation, and I stay aligned with company values by gathering as much info as I can about company announcements or a change to our roadmap to help my team fully understand the reasons behind changes. I thrive in an open and honest environment. I commit to being thorough and clear.

Contrast that with someone who optimizes for building up their teammates:

I’m a collaborative leader who values learning in real time. You’ll see this when I facilitate collaborative brainstorm sessions for the entire team. I support my team by pairing on problems to help them get unstuck, and I stay aligned with company values by ensuring no one’s working in a silo and everyone has opportunities to learn new skills and approaches from each other. I thrive in a growth mindset environment. I commit to being a good listener.

And compare with someone who might optimize for strategic thinking and meeting business goals instead:

I’m a thoughtful leader who values delivering business and stakeholder value. You’ll see this when I run lots of experiments and build in time for user testing. I support my team by setting clear and measurable project goals, and I stay aligned with company values by ensuring that our work moves the needle on our organizational KPIs. I thrive in a user-focused environment. I commit to being transparent when our work quality comes at the expense of speed or hitting deadlines.

None of these approaches are bad or good—they’re just different, have varying tradeoffs, and demonstrate how our individual values lead to optimizing for certain qualities, processes, or approaches over others.

Coaching Questions

  • Which core BICEPS need comes up the most often for you?
  • What are your work styles and preferences? What are your own answers to the “First 1:1 Questions”?
  • What do you wish you could optimize for in the day-to-day of your manager role?
  • What kinds of introspection have you avoided doing with your teammates so far? Why?
  • As you introspect about your own needs, preferences, and optimizations, what new realizations could you share with your manager in your next 1:1?


managers need to be able to help their teammates navigate this storm by helping them grow in their roles and support the team’s overall progress.

To spur this course-correction and growth in your teammates, you’ll end up wearing four different hats:

  • Mentoring: lending advice and helping to problem solve based on your own experience.
  • Coaching: asking open questions to help your teammate reflect and introspect, rather than sharing your own opinions or quickly problem solving.
  • Sponsoring: finding opportunities for your teammate to level up, take on new leadership roles, and get promoted.
  • Delivering feedback: observing behavior that is or isn’t aligned to what the team needs to be doing and sharing those observations, along with praise or suggestions.

In mentoring mode, we’re doling out advice, sharing our perspective, and helping someone else problem solve based on that information. Mentoring is ideal when the mentee is new to their role or to the organization; they need to learn the ropes from someone who has firsthand experience. Managers often default to mentoring mode because it feels like the fastest way to solve a problem, but it falls short in helping your teammate connect their own dots. For that, we’ll look to coaching.

In coaching mode — an extremely powerful but often underutilized mode — you’re doing two primary things:

  1. Asking open questions to help the other person explore more of the shape of the topic, rather than staying at the surface level.
  2. Reflecting, which is like holding up a mirror for the other person and describing what you see or hear, or asking them to reflect for themselves.

“Closed” questions can only be answered with yes or no. Open questions often start with who, what, when, where, why, and how. But the best open questions are about the problem, not the solution. Questions that start with why tend to make the other person feel judged, and questions that start with how tend to go into problem solving mode—both of which we want to avoid while in coaching mode.

However, what questions can be authentically curious! When someone comes to you with a challenge, try asking questions like:

  • What’s most important to you about it?
  • What’s holding you back?
  • What does success look like?

Help your teammates reflect by repeating back to them what you hear them say, as in:

  • “What I’m hearing you say is that you’re frustrated with how this project is going. Is that right?”
  • “What I know to be true about you is how deeply you care about your teammates’ feelings.”

You can coach them to reflect, too:

  • “How does this new architecture project map to your goals?”
  • “Let’s reflect on where you were this time last year and how far you’ve come.”

Choose coaching when you’re looking to help someone (especially an emerging leader) hone their strategic thinking skills, grow their leadership aptitude, and craft their own path forward. Coaching mode is all about helping your teammate develop their own brain wrinkles, rather than telling them how you would do something.

Sponsorship is all about feeling on the hook for getting someone to the next level. As someone’s sponsor, you’ll put their name in the ring for opportunities that will get them the experience and visibility necessary to grow in their role and at the organization. You will put your personal reputation on the line on behalf of the person you’re sponsoring, to help get them visible and developmental assignments.

When you’re in sponsorship mode, think about the different opportunities you have to offer up someone’s name. This might look like:

  • giving visible/public recognition (company “shout outs,” having them present a project demo, thanking them in a launch email, giving someone’s manager feedback about their good work);
  • assigning stretch tasks and projects that are just beyond their current skill set, to help them grow and have supporting evidence for a future promotion; or
  • opening the door for them to write blog posts, give company or conference talks, or contribute open-source work.

The best feedback is specific, actionable, and delivered in a way that ensures the receiver can actually absorb it. As we know, our amygdala will go into overdrive when it perceives a threat, and sometimes catching a whiff of incoming critical feedback can threaten any one of our core needs at work.

Specific actionable feedback: Observation + Impact + Request (or Question)

My observation shouldn’t be “When you write emails, it seems like you’re mad.” Or even “You write emails that are too short.” Those aren’t observations! Those are my judgments about their behavior. A solid, fact-based observation of this behavior could be “Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed that your emails to me contain fewer than five words on average.”

“This adds much more time to the overall process of us communicating.” Bingo! We’ve landed on an impact that relates to how I feel, but is also measurable and understandable by the other person. And it’s likely something they will genuinely care about and want to address.

A good question to ask might be “Can you help me understand what you’re optimizing for?” This way, I can gain some empathy with them, and they will pause to process what’s going on for them in those moments.

Maybe they’re writing short emails for a totally legitimate reason; posing a question about it could open the door to address their needs, too. So the next question could be “How could we come to a compromise going forward?” This would create an opportunity for me and this other person to collaborate on a solution together.

Coaching Questions

  • Mentoring, coaching, sponsoring, and giving feedback: Which is your default mode? Which do you want to practice more? Which do you need from your own manager right now?
  • What’s a lightweight piece of positive feedback you can deliver tomorrow to practice the feedback equation?
  • How might you share the feedback equation with your manager when it’s time for them to give you some feedback?
  • Where is there an opportunity to hone your mentoring and coaching skills as you help a teammate learn how to deliver specific and actionable feedback to someone else?


develop clear expectations in collaboration with your team, document them in a searchable, central location (like a wiki), and keep them updated over time as the environment and people change. Team-wide expectations that I think are worth documenting and iterating on are:

  • teammates’ roles and responsibilities, including the manager’s role
  • the team’s vision or priorities
  • how teammates should be collaborating, communicating, and shipping work

Responsibility assignment (RACI) matrix

  • Responsible: the person or people who do the work to complete the project or make a decision.
  • Accountable: the person (just one) who must ensure that the project gets completed or the decision gets made. They’re on the hook for the quality and timeliness of the end deliverable, and often do the most communicating to stakeholders as the work progresses.
  • Consulted: the handful of folks whose opinions are sought as the work progresses. These people get more of a vote in the deliverable than those Informed, but they’re not actually working on the project or making the decision themselves.
  • Informed: people who are updated either as major milestones are hit, or when the deliverable is complete. They don’t get a vote in the process, and they’re not actively working on the project (though they may be impacted by the end result).

Team vision and priorities

How does your local team’s environment tie back to the overarching company mission? What’s your team’s “north star”? How does your team work toward it every day?

Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, wrote about one way to create this kind of clarity: a Vision, Mission, Objectives, and Strategy (VMSO) statement.

  • Vision: the team’s north star; a dream of what the future could look like.
  • Mission: a more grounded version of the vision that describes the team’s role as it works towards that north star. It’s still inspirational and motivating.
  • Strategy: how this team goes about achieving that mission every day. This isn’t a laundry list of to-dos or projects—it’s more about what this team is uniquely set up to do.
  • Objectives: measurable goals that reflect the mission and strategy, to help benchmark the team’s progress.

Team practices


  • Meeting description
  • Who should come
  • Meeting goals
  • Ground rules
  • Timing

Email and chat channels

Does your team have expectations around work hours, on-call situations, or emergencies? Does your team have ground rules about how people approach their communication with each other? Document these details to give everyone extra clarity and context.

  • Which email address will get a message to all members of your team?
  • Which email address should be used for asking questions about the status of projects?
  • Is there a URL for checking the current status of your team’s OKRs?
  • Is there a specific Slack channel for questions about the feature, tool, or product your team is responsible for?

Collaboration and interaction

  • approach problems together, like pairing on code, or splitting up group work;
  • communicate with each other, with you, and with stakeholders, like updating JIRA tickets, notifying a particular group of people when there’s an issue or an outage, or sending a launch email; and
  • hold each other accountable (including you!); for instance, routinely giving specific and actionable feedback to help others grow.

Coaching Questions

  • Where does your team need extra clarity in their day-to-day? (The team’s roadmap? Their job responsibilities? The company’s overarching strategy?)
  • Which of Vision, Mission, Strategy, or Objectives is already solidly defined for your team? Which needs some work?
  • What’s one team practice that you want your teammates to help define and document this quarter? (How the team conducts standups, sends launch emails, collaborates, etc.)
  • What kind of clarity do you currently need from your own manager? (Your responsibility? The strategic direction of the company? etc.)

Communicate Effectively

A big shift in the new eng management is giving the team a lot more context about what’s happening around them and why. It’s very different from the traditional instinct to “shield” the team from things outside of engineering.

—- Marco Rogers

As a front-line manager, you will be continually tasked with communicating information to your team as the organization around you evolves. You’ll need to leverage all of the methods and mediums at your disposal to keep your teammates informed, and to mitigate threats to their BICEPS core needs—even when (no, especially when) you don’t have a say in a change to strategic direction, or where your team’s desks are located, or how people’s bonuses will now be calculated.

The good news? You’re in the best possible position to help your teammates navigate these storms. You know these individuals best, and what they need as a team. You know how they’ll hear and react to big news, and that means you can give feedback to those in charge and help sculpt messaging so it will be heard and understood.

As a leader you’re constantly making trade-offs on how much change management process to inject vs YOLO/figure it out on the fly. One thing I’ve learned: Never YOLO the communications plan. Never.

Julia Grace

Here’s her template:

  • Header: author, date, status (e.g. draft)
  • Background:
    • the What (most important thing you want to communicate)
    • the Why (why’s it changing)
  • People:
    • who knows
    • who will be directly impacted
  • Timeline:
    • what will be said in [IRL or channel] when
  • Talking points

Let’s see it in practice!

  • Feb 2 Draft by Lara: Pritika leaving
  • Background:
    • Pritika has decided to take a new role at another company. Last day 2/16.
    • Her direct reports will now be interim-managed by Emily, and we will hire a new manager for Pritika’s team ASAP.
  • People:
    • Only HR and Emily know.
    • Anyone who reports to Pritika will be directly impacted.
  • Timeline:
    • Pritika will share this news (why, timing, direct report changes) privately in 1:1s tomorrow (Tuesday) with each of her direct reports.
    • Tuesday at 3pm we will hold a team meeting for folks to ask more questions. Lara, Emily, and Pritika will all be there.
  • Talking points:
    • Lara: thank Pritika in team meeting for creating and shaping this team.
    • Emily: how often she will meet with each of Pritika’s direct reports.
    • Emily and Pritika: will do manager handoffs with each person individually before her last day to make sure there’s continuity of career progression.

Delivering Sensitive Information

Put yourself in their shoes:

  • Which of their BICEPS core needs could feel threatened? Why?
  • What are the first two or three questions they’ll want to ask?
  • What if they’re not already bought in to the reasons behind this decision/news? How will you help them get there?

Some prompts for this brainstorming:

  • Map big changes back to the things you know people care about
  • Plan out who can be informed early on
  • Optimize for creating clarity and transparency as soon as the information is set in stone
  • Remember that others’ reactions can threaten your amygdala

Wrestling with misalignment

Sometimes, you’ll be tasked with communicating information that you don’t agree with or believe in

The absence of trust is the foundation of most team dysfunction.

When you disagree and can’t commit to a higher-up’s decision, first be transparent and professional about it.

Disagreeing and committing is the most mature and transparent move you can make.

It also means you’ll need an outside place to vent about your concerns so that they don’t bleed into your team environment.

Leaders who disagree and commit are often in tune with what’s best for the group; they’re not creating unnecessary friction.

Coaching Questions

  • What are some talking points you use all the time that you can share with some of your peer leaders, to make their jobs easier?
  • Who can you lean on to help you gut check wording and tone when you need to have a difficult conversation with a teammate?
  • What does your manager care about most? How can you translate your team’s strategy into that language?
  • What’s your default communication energy? What energy is the hardest for you to embody or project?
  • What’s a communication skill, practice, or approach you rarely do, but should do more?

Build Resilience

Understand what trauma looks like and how it shows up in your colleagues. It will look like distraction, low energy, people excusing themselves from meetings, tears. Just expect it and think about how you’re going to deal when it happens.

Nicole Sanchez

When you delegate more complicated projects, you need to support your teammate as they work on them.

  • Tell them how and in what medium you will support them
  • Tell them that you expect this to be a stretch for them, and that’s the point
  • Use a RACI

There’s a lot of natural anxiety and insecurity that the new person won’t build your Lego tower in the right way, or that they’ll get to take all the fun or important Legos, or that if they take over the part of the Lego tower you were building, then there won’t be any Legos left for you. But at a scaling company, giving away responsibility—giving away the part of the Lego tower you started building—is the only way to move on to building bigger and better things.

Molly Graham

In the Storming and Forming stages, this is crucial for you to be proactively doing, because it empowers your teammates to take part in the shaping of team norms. And in all of the stages of group dynamics, giving away your Legos could help significantly with your energy drain.

Saying no

If it’s not urgent, and not important, it’s time to say no.

As you grow your own support network, I recommend that you always be on the lookout for people who:

  • will push you out of your comfort zone,
  • have different levels of experience than you do (both more and less!),
  • have experience in a different industry, and
  • are good at the things that you’re terrible at.

Who in your network currently gives you each kind of support, skill, or perspective?

Coaching Questions

  • In what ways does your organization support employees during different kinds of crises? What extra support would be helpful to your particular teammates?
  • What do you need more of at work to help you navigate storms of change?
  • Where is most of your energy going right now? What refills it?
  • Who do you consider an emerging leader on your team? What’s held you back on delegating bigger projects to them?
  • What are the biggest gaps in your Voltron crew? What can you do to remedy them?

Embrace the goop.