Hi there! My name’s Daniel Kuperman, and I work in product marketing for Atlassian. Here, I'm going to share what I wish I'd known when I first became a people manager.
When I first got promoted to a management position, I was simply given four people and told to run with it. I’d had my share of bad managers, and I knew the obvious things not to do. I’d also had some good managers who I wanted to emulate. But what I didn’t have was guidance on how not only to manage the work my team would do, but how to manage the people doing it.
If you're a new manager, you've probably wondered things like: How do I start? What do I do first? How can I avoid stress for my team and myself? That’s what I’m going to help you with today.
Crafting your operating model
Let's start with a piece of advice that may seem counterintuitive: Focus less on the work and more on the people in your team.
I like this quote from Daniel Pink because it outlines what we as people managers need to focus on:
“Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another.”
In other words, first, we need to ensure our team members have the autonomy to do the work. Then, we need to ensure they have the self-determination to get it done. Finally, we need to ensure they can meaningfully connect with one another.
So, how do you ensure people feel in control of their goals? How do you help them gain mastery of product marketing skills and express themselves? And how do you foster creativity, community, and a sense of belonging?
Whether you manage just a couple of people or have several layers under you with managers overseeing team leads overseeing multiple people, you need to create your own operating model.
By that, I mean you have several ways to engage your team and you have several tools at your disposal. You need to find the right combination to foster autonomy and competence to get the job done, as well as a sense of cohesiveness so each person feels they belong. With that in mind, I've put together a suggested framework you can modify for your needs and team.
This framework consists of three key elements:
- Play: Create a blueprint for how your team will work, communicate, and connect.
- Guide: Give your team clear direction and align their work to outcomes.
- Grow: Set expectations, provide feedback, and help your team grow in their careers.
Let's dive in, starting with Play, where you set up how your team works, communicates, and connects.
Step one: Play
There are some specific plays you can run to establish roles and responsibilities. The goal is to agree on how you meet, communicate, and work together.
Play #1: Roles and responsibilities
Let’s start with roles and responsibilities. First, you need to identify the work product marketing needs to focus on at your company. Based on your team size and members' skills, decide if people should specialize in specific areas like sales enablement and analyst relations, or take more of a generalist approach.
For example, one person might own messaging, another analyst relations, but all share responsibility for collateral. Depending on your company’s products, go-to-market strategy, and workflow, the organization of responsibilities will vary. The key is clearly establishing who owns what so each person knows what's expected of them.
So, how do you get to that point? Well, you can run a roles and responsibilities play, using a whiteboard or online doc. Create three columns: roles, responsibilities (what others think), and responsibilities (what others think).
This exercise helps reveal any challenges the team might be facing. It also clarifies what each person's work entails. You may see that some team members don’t fully understand what they’re supposed to do, or that they’re duplicating others’ efforts and piling more onto their plates than necessary. As a manager, you can then clarify everybody’s roles and make sure the team is aligned.
Play #2: Work-life impact
The second play I like to run is all about helping the team to understand each other’s personal and professional situations so they can collaborate better. It’s especially useful for teams working in remote or hybrid environments. This exercise focuses on three key work-life impact areas and asks participants to mark their situation on a quadrant.
The first impact area is the home setup. It’s all about your physical workspace – do you live alone or share space with others? What are your household responsibilities and potential distractions? This is especially relevant in today's hybrid work environments where team members may spend significant time working remotely.
The second area is work style and collaboration preferences. Are you someone who thrives on social interactions and tight collaboration? Or do you prefer to work independently with longer periods of uninterrupted focus? Do you like people checking in frequently or do you prefer to be left alone? This helps uncover optimal workflows and communication styles.
The third area is the support network. How strong are your connections and relationships across the company? Are you a newer employee still building networks or a veteran who knows the organization inside and out? This is important because strong internal networks can aid in getting work done efficiently.
As each team member shares where they sit on these three matrices, important insights emerge.
Let’s take the example of Tillie. She explains that she lives alone so she has very few distractions to deal with. However, her role requires tight collaboration with colleagues she's just getting to know. As a newer employee, she lacks the connections that veteran team members have already built up, so she needs help meeting more people across functions to be more effective in her role.
Having everyone complete the matrices and share their results builds a mutual understanding of everyone's work situations, lifestyles, time zones, childcare needs, and other factors. The goal is to surface challenges early and head off issues proactively. As a manager, you can help make it a safe space by modeling openness and vulnerability yourself.
Play #3: Working agreements
In this helpful play, you essentially create a social contract for your team. It’s super simple to set up; you just need a collaboration document like a Trello board or a Confluence page or, if you’re doing this play in person, a whiteboard. This should be divided into three columns:
- Brainstorm – Where everyone can share their ideas
- As a team, we agree to… – Put ideas to a vote before adding them to this column
- Parking lot – For ideas that merit further discussion some other time
Use this play to establish things like how often the team will meet, what your main communication channels will be, and how you’ll manage different work types. This is a great way to set expectations early on.
Play #4: Ritual reset
Every six months or so, it’s a great idea to sit down with your team and review what's working and what needs to change. Here are some questions you may want to discuss:
- Which meetings are effective?
- Which meetings are ineffective?
- Where is communication breaking down?
- How can you improve the ways you work together?
Look beyond your team
I’d recommend inviting the other teams you interact with - product, sales enablement, demand generation, and so on – to get in on the fun. Run plays together to align on launches, workflows, and rituals. The goal is to optimize collaboration across the organization.