I’m currently in the middle of a department-wide reorganization. Teams will change their engineers and scopes, all to better fit our strategic goals. All teams will be impacted and will have a substantial impact on how engineers will work.
This is the first reorganization where I’m on the manager’s side. The wide variety of responses on potential changes reminded me of a reorganization a few years ago that went terribly. Today I will share the story of the terrible reorganization and how I earned the nickname “The Spokesman“.
A few folks left our company. The teams we had were either understaffed or way too big. That’s when our manager decided to change things for the hopefully better. Folks were nervous for days, what would the changes be? Will I be in the team with the engineer I can’t stand? In the absence of information, folks will come up with their own information. Even if it’s far-fetched.
After a few nervous days, the new team setup was shared. A big part of the department wasn’t happy. The teams didn’t make sense, products that didn’t fit together were combined, etc.
Most folks slept on it for a night. In the morning when folks were still complaining I decided to call a meeting. Everyone who was not happy could join and we would come up with a plan for how to improve the setup and tell our manager. Note at the time I was not a senior engineer or engineering manager, just a guy who was fed up with complaining folks who didn’t act.
I wrote down the improvements, and we decided that I was going to kick off a department-wide meeting with our manager, and everyone would fill in and explain their ideas.
The meeting started well, I opened the meeting and shared that we had some concerns and what we thought were good ideas to take away some of those concerns. I started going through the list, sharing the ideas, and waiting for the rest of the department to fill in on their ideas. Until they didn’t. An awkward silence filled the meeting, waiting for my fellow engineers to pitch in.
Several engineers who were very vocal on their concerns were now silent. When I called on them, there were no responses. At the moment I had a choice to make, continue the meeting on my own or call them out. I decided to screw it. We discussed the points before, so I knew the points. Maybe not in detail. But good enough.
As I went through the list, our manager agreed on several of the improvements, resulting in a better department.
Even though I was happy that the outcome of the meeting was good. I was pissed that several engineers left me hanging. I talked to several engineers about why they did not speak up. One responded by stating it was my meeting, and that I was the spokesman of the department. And they did not feel it was their place to respond.
I felt frustrated, I got the feeling that I took all the heat, while the other engineers got none. When I ranted to my teammates about the remarks from the other engineers, they joked around that I should embrace the Spokesman role. Need to talk to the engineers? Just ask Jelle, he’s the Spokesman. And called me like that ever since.
So what did this terrible reorganization bring me? A proper entry in my brag list, that may or may not have helped me become a senior engineer later that year. And the nickname of The Spokesman. I have a company-branded hoodie in my closet with that nickname printed on the back.