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Coaching Corner Volume 4

Welcome to Cameron's Coaching Corner, where we answer questions from readers about leadership, career, and software engineering.

In this post, we'll look at a question posed by Bastien in the Engineering Manager's Slack Group on how to praise your team.

Context: New to Engineering Manager, managing 5 people and working in a 5 person team. My managees are not 100% on my team.

Details: OK, so I've quickly learnt how to spot mistakes and follow up improvements to both teams (one I manage and one I work on). I'm confident taking actions and communicating on all of that. But there is the other side -> congratulation and following up on behavior/action.

Example: The current team has low velocity. They recently finished the specs and review. It didn't happen for months (always late on that), but it's their "normal" velocity. I congratulated them, but I'm wondering if I should have since they "just did their job".

How do you congratulate your coworkers? Specifically

  • Do you? Why or Why Not?
  • How?
  • On trivial/exceptional stuff?
  • When and Where?

This is a great question, as there's a fine line between not giving enough praise (e.g., "Does my manager even care/notice?") and giving it so much that it losses its effectiveness (e.g., "My manager's praise doesn't mean much to me").

Should You Congratulate Your Colleagues?

Absolutely. Full stop. You should be congratulating your team for their accomplishments. It doesn't cost you anything to do so, and it can help build relationships with your team members as it's clear that you're noticing their efforts.

I don't recommend congratulating them on every single thing as that's an expectation of the role. However, if it's a behavior I've been encouraging, I'll absolutely praise them.

For example, I had a teammate that was chronically late to meetings, so much so that it put our project behind because they weren't communicating effectively. After having a conversation with them, they started being more communicative asynchronously, which helped us reduce the need for the meeting as they were able to lead the project.

It's crucial that I praise this behavior as it's clear they took the coaching to heart, and I want them to know that I'm seeing the improvements and that I'm appreciative of their efforts.

Outside of improvements, I'll also praise or send congrats for specific achievements and milestones. Some examples include:

  • Completing their first pull request
  • Shipping their first story
  • Shipping a feature
  • Handling a production support request
  • Resolving a production outage
  • Working outside of their comfort zone (e.g., an engineer doing DevOps work for the first time)
  • Getting over a slog of a story/feature
  • Celebrating a birthday or work anniversary

In most of these cases, you could argue that it's expected behavior for the members of your team. However, you still want to recognize and appreciate them for knocking it out of the park. I've found it to be a great way to keep the team's momentum high.

How Do You Praise People?

When it comes to praising people, a common adage is to "Praise publicly, criticize privately", and overall, it's good advice. However, you need to know your audience and those that you want to praise. I've had team mates that would not want to be praised publicly as it would put the spotlight on them, something they don't want.

In my initial one-on-ones, I'll ask the members of the team how they want to receive their praise and criticisms. Even though it's a bit more work for me, it helps me tailor my approach to each person so that it's more effective. I've had teammates that preferred to have their praise emailed to them or written down, whereas others are happy to have it verbally spoken to them.

The only time that I'll put a spotlight for praise is when the team does something terrific. For example, did the team ship a highly requested feature? Even though I might send private messages to the individuals, I'll shout out the team in our public channel for others to see, as it's important to highlight the effort spent to get it done.

How Do You Praise When Things Aren't Going Well?

All this being said, not everything is going to be rainbows, lollipops, and sunshine. There will be times where the team is struggling on a feature or getting through a slog of an item.

My approach is to keep the team focused so we can get through it, but to also have a retrospective on what happened and what we could do to prevent another slog from happening again.

In these cases, I'll congratulate the team for getting through it and showing tenacity, as it's not easy to get through difficult work.

However, I don't celebrate that it was tough or that we did an awesome job as at the end of the day, something's not working in our process and we need to figure that out.

Do you have a question about leadership, career, or software engineering? Would you like a different perspective on these topics? Drop a line at or you can fill out this form.