Great leaders design great teams

Exploding light bulb on a blue background
Throughout my career, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to engage with a number of fascinating people – across all levels, all disciplines and all geographies. One thing became apparent very quickly: great managers and great leaders optimize their teams by bringing the right components, people and resources together. They take unemotional assessments of their organizations, are 100% transparent, and put teams and structures in place to meet business goals – efficiently and effectively. What I realized is that these types of managers leverage their engineering talents to create elegant engineering organizations designed and built using the same everyday principles and practices they had honed throughout their careers designing software and systems.

Too often, as engineers, we feel that going to “the dark side” and into management we lose what we loved about engineering in the first place: that captivating “here’s a problem, solve it” feeling. It’s like we’ve been taught that moving into a management role closes out opportunity to challenge ourselves. Quite the contrary! In fact, what great leaders have taught me is that when designing an organization, we must see the management and leadership roles as ever-changing, critical design challenges! Managing, leading and organizing people can and should be a lot more like designing elegant software.

As general manager of Viasat’s Massachusetts Operations, I am designing teams. I ensure we are organized as a highly-competent, resourceful group – which includes forming a center of excellence around our internet media services business to building teams that are sought after and recognized across Viasat’s 20+ global offices as having intense depth and knowledge on how the internet works. Building a great team means really understanding the business situation you face, and making sure the organization has the people and tools to succeed in order to fulfill their mission in pursuit of Viasat’s greater goals: to make the ultimate communications network that will bring affordable, accessible internet to all.

And when I look to form the next great, successful team I turn to what I know best: engineering, and apply agile development methodologies, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration and cross-functional team discovery. We can break down team structures similar to how we break down the software development process – where code for each feature is designed, developed and tested in repeated cycles. This iterative development approach to organizing and optimizing team configurations allows strong engineers and ultimately strong leaders to look for innovations in how you structure team member’s efforts; where managers apply useful innovation techniques to empower each individual to be effective in their daily jobs.

While many technologists believe stepping into management and moving towards leadership is stepping away from the challenge of technical contributions – it doesn’t have to be. Most importantly, the best managers and leaders actively use their design skills to manage and lead optimally. Designing the organization can be an exciting challenge that is equally or more rewarding than designing products and systems.

Kathleen Wetherby is the general manager of Acceleration, Research and Technology and Massachusetts Operations for Viasat