January 29, 2024

4 min read

A people-first approach to building teams can make all the difference in your company’s success. Tracer’s SVP of Engineering has a proven playbook of how to build a highly effective team.

Of the many extracurriculars I did growing up, dance had the most impact on me as a person. I spent hours learning, choreographing, and performing with my peers, honing each part until the performance flowed. Everyone's steps and positions were tailored to their unique strengths, and the more we understood how to support each other, the better we performed.

As a leader, I aim to create similar cohesion on my teams. I view our success as collective, not individual. That's why I take a people-first approach to building teams. This philosophy is based on fundamentally focusing on an individual's strengths, while meeting them where they are in their growth journey—then investing in them!

Time and again, this approach has seen people feeling valued and appreciated and has motivated them to grow in the area of their weakness, embodying a culture of learning and growing. This is a major aspect of Tracer's core values—specifically, 'Building Community'. Each person helps make Tracer a place to take risks, speak up, and feel heard. It often results in people going above and beyond to make their company successful.

Here is my playbook for organizations to adapt a people-first approach in building teams.

Determine the skills that you want on your team and create the corresponding roles

To build effective teams, the first step is to identify the “Why” and the “What” your organization is trying to achieve. Then, determine the skill set required to achieve those organization goals and create roles and responsibilities corresponding to them.

The ultimate goal is for all teams to be aligned in delivering to the business needs.

Build a team with individuals who have complementing strengths

You don't need every person to have every skill. Keeping this in mind, this step involves matching or hiring team members with roles that fit their strengths, while complementing the overall team. The matching process requires managers to spend time with team members to learn more about them.

It also helps to be transparent with the team—explain why you are looking to build a balanced team that focuses on people's strengths and still provides opportunities for individuals to grow in other areas. This honesty encourages employees to bring their actual selves forward and not portray the skills in the job description.

Weigh and reward all strengths equally

This is a critical step to keep the teams functioning collaboratively and effectively. For example, in the software engineering departments, a software engineer writing code and delivering individual changes tends to be weighted higher over a technical delivery lead who writes less code but integrates the multiple system components together for a complete product delivery. The reality is that both of these functions will have to be done well to make a unified product experience for the customer.

That is why, at Tracer, we weigh both these roles the same and reward them equally. Tracer offers a career ladder for each of these tracks that are parallel and one can make a choice of which path to choose without having to worry about which one would advance them. By weighting both skills the same and rewarding it, the team members go that extra mile to make a unified product experience for the customer.

One of the best side effects of rewarding all strengths equally is the impact on team camaraderie. Team members genuinely appreciate what their colleagues have to offer and proactively partner to deliver results.

Provide a safe environment for people to learn and grow

If people only focus on what they are good at, how will they grow? This is one of the most common questions I receive when discussing a strengths-based approach to building teams.

The simple answer? Invest in the growth of your people. This step requires that leaders and the company set up a framework for team members to create active growth goals and track progress towards achieving them. This requires companies to provide them with funds, time, and resources to achieve those growth goals.

However, gaining the knowledge isn't enough—employees need real-life practice for new skills to stick. So, as managers, you have to actively look for opportunities for your team members to participate in non-critical projects to practice the newly learned skill in a stress-free environment.

Like everything else, nothing is constant, so, be sure to revisit the above steps and keep your strategy up-to-date as business needs evolve.

Lastly, do every step with sincerity and genuineness and follow up your words with demonstrable actions. The secret to the above recipe is in how you go about doing it!