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Fostering a healthy team culture while balancing work priorities.

Amidst the constant hustle and bustle at Tesla, we strive to improve our balance, specifically within the core digital products team. What balance exactly? Gosh, everything! Adding new projects and people is a constant part of our growth. Moreover, we're a global company that has a physical presence in the US, Europe, Asia, as well as Mexico, and our core team spans and supports all these regions.

Manny's technical capacity for software development is unquestioned, but what really sets him apart is his empathy and his personal approach to work where he specializes in harvesting a team energy unrivaled in the IT world as far as I'm concerned.

Santiago Cavazos, Software Engineering Manager at Tesla
Software Engineering Manager at Tesla

While striving to balance work priorities with extreme focus, I make it a personal top priority to help foster and sustain a healthy team culture. I won't lie, it's not always easy to champion this initiative in the Silicon Valley way-of-life, but, for me, it's worth it and necessary. Without a healthy team culture, we can't be sustainably successful as a team or as a company, and we can't be sustainably successful as individuals at work or at home.

Manny has been a servant leader for the many years that I’ve known him: kind above all else, thoughtful of his peers and creative in his approach to problem solving.

Mikolaj Walczuk, Creative Content at Tesla
Creative Content at Tesla

What are the foundational characteristics of a healthy team culture? Well, collectively, I believe we need to trust and respect each other, and feel safe in order to aspire to reach our full selves and potential. Absent these things in a team, it's pretty dang hard, if not impossible, to be 100% successful, repeatedly, as individuals or as a team. This requires, among other things, leaders, well, leading by example.

Manny is adaptable and a leader. This combination enables him to effectively navigate his team and business partners through evolving business requirements.

Morgan Chatley, Sr. Manager, New Market Entry at Tesla
Sr. Manager, New Market Entry at Tesla

Creating a psychologically and physically safe environment for our team members must be a priority for leaders.

Note: While building a workplace culture that fosters trust, respect and safety is an on-going effort requiring everyones participation, in this post, I'm using "manager" and "leader" interchangeably to refer to a person who is responsible for the success of a team.

This isn't just about a "fun" environment - though don't lose the fun factor! - it's about a healthy workplace environment. An environment where individuals can take safe risks and be given the opportunity to both give and receive feedback to learn and grow. It's also about a physical environment that is safe and comfortable for our team members to work in and be productive, including working free of harassment and discrimination.

I've had the pleasure to work with Manny before and after he became a Manager at Tesla. Manny distinguishes for his outstanding communication skills, his unparalleled work ethic and his always positive attitude in adversity all this on top of being an expert at his craft.

Karla Arianne Reyes, Senior Manager - Cloud Platform
Senior Manager - Cloud Platform

Here are some tips for fostering a healthy team culture, which I've learned from my own experience and from others:

  • Listening is an extremely crucial first step.
    • By listening to and understanding our team members' needs and concerns, we can and should take action to address them.
    • Ask for feedback from team members on how to improve the team culture.
    • Essentially, listen to your team members on what's working, what's not and act on their feedback.
  • Empower your team members to take ownership of some ideas and suggestions being shared.
    • You shouldn't have to do everything, nor can you.
    • This is also a great way to foster a sense of ownership and pride in their work and the team.
  • Remove barriers to success.
    • If you're a manager or leader, you should be removing barriers to success for your team members. 'Nuff said.
  • Provide clear direction, goals and expectations for your team.
    • Publicly praise and recognize team members for their contributions and achievements.
    • Address problems and issues as they arise (don't avoid them whether that be toxic team members or just honest mistakes or miscommunications).
    • Give clear and honest feedback to team members, and encourage them to do the same with the goal of improving the team and the individual, not to hurt or embarrass anyone.
  • Celebrate successes.
    • Celebrate the wins, big and small, as a team.
    • Share individual and team achievements horizontally and vertically across the organization.
  • Encourage and support work-life balance.
    • Offer remote and flexible work schedules, mental health days, etc.
    • When someone is taking a day off, make it a point to not bother them. Let them take the time off to recharge.
    • To help with the latest point, don't have anyone person be single-point of failure for a project, including yourself.
  • Learn and train together.
    • Taking time to learn together as a team
    • Setup retrospectives of projects and learn from them
    • Pull-in cross-functional teams that might be impacted by your work to learn from them or receive training from

If all goes well, not only will your team have a (more) healthy culture, but it will also be more productive, engaged and successful. Additionally,

  • You'll have a pool of future leadership talent to draw from as your team grows.
  • When your direct reports move on to other leadership opportunities, perhaps even beyond your team, they'll be better prepared because of the experience they've gained from working with you in a healthy team culture.

I hope these tips help you and your team.

In my next post, I'll write more about empowerment. And, as someone who is continually figuring out this leadership stuff out, I'd love feedback and thoughts on this topic, so feel free to reach out if you want to chat.

Thanks for reading and getting to the end!

Manny is one of the most hard-working, dedicated and loyal members of the team who embodies the Tesla spirit more than anyone I know. He has gone above and beyond the call of duty more times than I can count.

Victor Barclay, Sr. Software Engineering Manager @ Tesla
Sr. Software Engineering Manager @ Tesla