Building a winning team

Mentoring, training, and educating entry- and mid-level engineering team members will pay off in the long run.


Fall is the perfect convergence of sports. Football is in full swing. Basketball and hockey are just starting. Golf continues to be played in the warmer states. European football (soccer) is underway in several countries. Baseball just wrapped up its season with playoffs and the World Series. Teams and individuals I’ve never even heard of are playing their hearts out for a cup, trophy, or other accolade.

Fall is also the perfect storm of conferences and events. Technical experts are presenting at myriad events around the world. Awards and lifetime achievement honors are being given out. Fall classes are starting for those going back to school or continuing their education. Engineers are wrapping up the continuing education required to keep their license active.

Autumn may be busy, but it’s never too busy to consider personal improvement. Business or professional development skills are required at all levels of a career. The ability to design a new system or specify the right products are vital to your day-to-day work; however, to get ahead, improving personal and personnel skills are high on the list.

According to this year’s Consulting-Specifying Engineer salary survey, 63% of respondents manage or supervise junior team members. The majority (40%) manage 1 to 5 employees directly. While mentoring programs and formal training programs at engineering firms help, they’re not always enough. Technical continuing education comes in many forms: online webcasts/webinars (83% of the 2016 salary survey respondents use them), conferences and seminars (79%), and professional organizations (68%). Professional development follows along those same lines; conferences and seminars (68%), online webcasts/webinars (66%), and professional organizations (57%) assist in helping engineers develop “soft” skills to give them that professional edge.

But the challenge is that many junior team members—straight out of college—don’t have these day-to-day leadership tools. They’re not ready to be brought to a client meeting due to lack of communication proficiency. While they’re a whiz at drafting something via a software program, they haven’t set foot in a building to see how their design comes together. “Clash detection” is something they learn about in theory; seeing a too-tight mechanical room often doesn’t happen until someone has been on the job for 10 years or longer.

One-third (37%) of survey respondents plan to work fewer than 10 years before they retire; engineers need to take the data from this salary survey and put it into practice. Mid- and senior-level team members need to start—this fall—taking a junior member of the team along to a charrette or client meeting. You need to spend this winter ensuring that, in between gut-wrenching football games and exhilarating team wins, your team is ready to jump right into the game in the spring.

If you need ideas, there are several ways to start the conversation. I suggest you start by asking those that you supervise or mentor how they’d like to get more involved in the game.  

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