Talking to people – the hard part of being a tech lead

Today, I stared at a to-do on my Trello board saying "schedule 1-1s with your team." Its been on my list for 2 weeks now, and even though I see it every day, I keep putting it off.

I recently became tech lead of my team after the previous lead left suddenly. This wasn't my first time filling in the tech lead's shoes, and I've tried to study a lot about being a lead (check out my recommended book list for new tech leads). One of the first items on any leads list, according to "The Internet(tm)", is to set up 1-1s with people who reported to me. Now, we all understand its a best practice that we should do, but how much we follow through it on can be questionable, kinda like saying you'll take a Cod Liver oil supplement, but the bottle has been sitting there, unopened on your kitchen counter, reminding you of how it tastes gross so you don't do it.

As I stared at the item on my Trello board, I decided to procrastinate it. I've already wasted 15 minutes by thinking about why I don't want to do it. Instead, I'll take an easy issue off the list for this sprint, to get me a quick fix - like a sugary drink that only makes you thirstier. Its familiar, readily available, and gives me the cycle of satisfaction of pushing code out to production.

Why did I keep pushing it out?

I thought devs would hate 1-1s. They just want to code without getting interrupted by "management" asking silly questions about your happiness. Why would I want to add another meeting to their calendar? They're senior so surely they'll speak up if they need something. So I can procrastinate this.

Maybe theres someone who I feel doesn't really like me or vice versa (it happens, we're only human), and I'll have to have a 1-1, face-to-face conversation with them, and boy, is that going to be awkward, so I'll procrastinate.

There might be someone on the team who's not quite carrying their weight. I might have to bring up something about it, but they're going to respond poorly and it'll ruin my day. Giving negative feedback is so emotionally draining, and I hate conflict, so I'll procrastinate.

So how do you solve these issues?

You know what helps? Talking to your team. Regularly. In private. Team meetings dont count, nor do retros.


You might have a senior dev who leaves your company because he felt people didn't care about his hard work. You thought he was doing just fine, he should have said something, right? He probably didn't have a chance to and felt uncomfortable bringing it up because they thought you would think its stupid and didn't care. If only you had a chance to regularly catch up with him and let him that it would be the opposite, he would have mentioned it.

You might have a low-performing dev who doesn't know they're not carrying their weight. They think they're doing a great job because no one has said anything about it yet - no news is good news, right! If only you had a chance to talk to them regularly, you could give them feedback and prevent the rest of the team from resenting both that dev for creating more work for them, and the manager for not doing anything about it.

You also won't have two product managers breathing down your neck, because your team was supposed to deliver an important feature for another team, but that got delayed because a dev had to re-do another dev's work in order to finish a new feature. If only you talked to your team.

So how do you do it? Easy - set aside a consistent time where you and your team mate can have a private conversation

  • about their compensation, and employment
  • about their work
  • about any problems with other devs, fine. I guess I'll just schedule my 1-1s to talk with my team today.

For other helpful resources for new tech leads, check out:


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