I am used to working (as a software engineer) as part of teams with team members working together closely, where the technical supervisor/lead more or less controls the flow of the work and interacts with the team a lot.

I am now part of a team where the people work separately/independently and the technical supervisor/lead does not interact with the team at all (except during stand ups).

I am not sure if this "setup" is rather common since I haven't encountered it before (I always had a different notion of what a team is), so I am not sure what the best way is to organize my day/tasks in the most productive way, especially since it seems I won't get any feedback on problems until the evaluation times.

So I am looking for advice from more experienced people on how to be most effective when working in such "teams."

  • You talk about "stand ups" which implies that you're doing some sort of agile development process. Normally, that would involve daily stand up meetings. Is that the case here? Or are you meeting less frequently? Assuming you know what you're going to be working on over the next day, it would seem like you'd just need to know what you need from the lead for that day of effort. Do you really need feedback more than daily on a general basis? As opposed to the occasional unexpected roadblock that appears mid-day? – Justin Cave Sep 16 '15 at 20:12
  • @JustinCave: We are doing daily stand ups and that is the ONLY interaction with the supervisor where she takes notes. There is a backlog but not everything is "ready" and various things come up during the day. Also because there is no much "team" work it is hard to understand the productivity of the other members to compare. Something mentioned in the standup as done for all I know might have been finished in 5 mins or 5 hours – smith Sep 16 '15 at 20:22
  • @JustinCave: It is not about feedback more than once on a daily basis. It is NO feedback till the actual evaluation. As mentioned there is no real interaction with the supervisor/lead – smith Sep 16 '15 at 20:26
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    I'm still trying to understand exactly what you're asking. In your initial question, it sounds like you're saying that "evaluation times" are "during stand ups". Now it's sounding like you're saying that's not the case. What are the "evaluation times" if not the stand ups? If you have a problem that is blocking you and you state that you're waiting on a resolution in the stand up, what happens? Why do you need to know whether someone else's completed task took 5 minutes, 5 hours, or 5 days as long as it is completed? – Justin Cave Sep 16 '15 at 20:35
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    OK. So your problem is not your ability to be productive. Your productivity isn't suffering because you're not getting feedback to resolve technical issues in a timely fashion. Your problem is solely about your your performance evaluations and how you stack up to the productivity of your colleagues? How often is "every x months" in reality? Monthly performance evaluations are rather different than, say, annual evaluations but both would be "every x months". – Justin Cave Sep 16 '15 at 21:00

I have worked in environments like this before. The key to surviving and thriving is the ability to be self directed. I ended up not having my contract renewed at the last heads-down shop where I worked. When I asked them for feedback they told me that I "asked too many questions" and I didn't work on things on my own.

I countered with "I did everything you asked me to do" and they said I didn't select bugs from their Bugzilla banks to work on myself. That was the standard way that they got their assignments.

That floored me. I said "but you never told me I was supposed to do that" and they said "it should have been obvious (to any intelligent human being)".

In retrospect it was obviously not a good match for me, and they needed to have a better understanding of how to communicate. At most of the jobs I've done, you would never just assign yourself work, especially in an environment that billed itself as "Agile". I got my assignments from PMs or the team lead. (BTW, they, like your company, had no interaction except the daily fifteen minute standup.) It never even occurred to me that I was not doing something that they were expecting me to do or that the team lead was annoyed at having to tell me what I was supposed to be doing. In some ways, my bad. But more their bad, IMO.

Key for you will be to get them to be upfront with their expectations. Tell your supervisor that you really want to be a key producer. Ask who some of the department superstars are, and find out what makes them "stars" in his eyes. That will tell you what you need to do in order to get his approval and a good performance rating.

Often, in a heads-down not-particularly-communicative environment, people are not used to even thinking about things like that. They know what they like but they don't know how to articulate their values nor how to direct others to fit in with the organization's expectations.

Different organizations, like different machines, have different interfaces that you need to plug in to. If you plug into a port that worked for the old machine, you may find yourself wondering why nothing is working.

Don't rely on them to tell you if you are doing what you need to be. You will need to be proactive and honest. Ask "what can I do to improve"?

And one last thing. You say that you have worked in a team up til now, and it sounds as if this is your first experience with heads-down. You will need to decide if this is the right environment for you. Personally, I hate heads-down. It makes me feel isolated and uncertain. I'm a team player and I enjoy being part of a team and I need feedback on my performance.

There are others who love the independence and lack of distraction. Neither way is better...you just need to decide what is a better fit for you. Give it a chance and give it your best effort, but if you decide that it just isn't the job environment you are comfortable in, look for something else. It will be the best decision for both you and them.

  • I have never heard of the term "heads down" before. Is it a literal statement? Also asking for such feedback in such an environment doesn't it reflect bad? I mean if they expect you to realize things your self as you mentioned. – smith Sep 16 '15 at 21:35
  • " or that the team lead was annoyed at having to tell me what I was supposed to be doing" that kind of lead would give such feedback ? – smith Sep 16 '15 at 21:38
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    Heads-down (as I've heard it) usually refers to a fairly non-collaborative environment. Each person works in isolation as much as possible, with a minimum of time spent interacting with co-workers. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Sep 17 '15 at 20:17

What you describe is presumably a variation of an agile software development methodology. There are a million different implementations but daily stand-up meetings are a common theme. They exist to update the team on your assigned tasks to monitor progress, identify issues and detect major blocking concerns early in development (when they're easier to react to or fix).

During those dailies you should either be assigned stuff to work on during the day or pick your own tasks. You'll give feedback on your progress the next day. If the planning is accurate and no problems are discovered, most people will have little to say as their tasks were done and they're ready for the next batch.

If you feel like you're in the dark about your performance and want feedback, the answer is simple: ask for it. Just drop an email to your manager and ask if you can schedule a meeting to discuss your performance and goals for the coming year. Good managers will take the initiative for those meetings themselves but if they don't, or it's scheduled for too far in the future it's perfectly reasonable to ask for an additional feedback.

As for your coworkers: their performance is really no concern of yours. As a coworker you don't have the perspective on their day-to-day tasks that their manager will have or any of the other data you'd need to accurately estimate their performance. Focus on your own work and aim to excel regardless of what your coworkers are doing.

  • I did not want to mention it to be honest, but I don't really feel comfortable for asking some meeting with the lead/supervisor. I mean we don't interact at all during the week... – smith Sep 16 '15 at 21:24
  • Also I am concerned that this meeting for additional feedback might make me look I can't evaluate myself (which is true) but I don't know if it will reflect negative on me. – smith Sep 16 '15 at 21:29
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    @smith I've ammended my answer. As for asking for feedback: that's really the only reasonable option here. Especially if you're new to the team or the company it's perfectly reasonable to ask how you've been doing, what your manager/supervisor would like you to improve and what a successful year will look like. I can't really offer more advice than getting over your doubt on this and politely asking for input. Unless you have reason to believe that the manager will react like a sleeping dragon that shouldn't be a problem. – Lilienthal Sep 16 '15 at 21:45
  • Well that's the issue. Since we don't interact at all I have no idea what she thinks or how she reacts. I find it strange this no interaction at all. Never happened to me before – smith Sep 16 '15 at 21:51

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