Spotlight Q&A with Author of Dynamic Reteaming, Heidi Helfand

Heidi is the author of Dynamic Reteaming. She coaches software development teams using practical, people-focused techniques to build resilient organisations as they double and triple in size. Join Heidi as she discusses her book Dynamic Reteaming: The Art & Wisdom of Changing Teams.  

dynamic reteaming
Hi Heidi, welcome to the CTO Craft Spotlight Q & A. You’re doing a day two fireside session at the CTO Craft November conference. Can you tell us what your book is all about?

Hi! Yes, I’m looking forward to the fireside chat. My book, Dynamic Reteaming, debunks the notion that the best teams are the ones that are “stable” or “unchanging”. There is a myth about teams that we should focus on stability to achieve effectiveness. 

However, the reality is that our teams often change more than they stay the same. It only takes the addition of one person to a team or the departure of one person from a team to have a new team dynamic. And often, we’re dealing with much larger changes than that, with teams growing bigger and splitting, merging together, reorging and more. 

My book describes the common ways that software teams change and offers practical techniques to deal with or catalyse the changes you want to see in your teams.

Thanks Heidi. Can you give us a teaser about what you might share with our audience at the CTO Craft Conference?

When things are changing inside your company and all around you, you get to decide how you show up as a leader. People are looking to you for direction and a sense of calmness. So you have a big responsibility to step up as a leader.  

So, consider how are you going to approach that and what is the climate you want to create within your company?

What are the main ways your book can help CTOs or managers?

In the book, there are several relatable stories from software companies around the world which demonstrate how different companies have changed their teams deliberately or have dealt with changes to their teams and organisations that were not in their control.   

I offer practical techniques to plan larger-scale reteamings (which are essentially reorgs) and also several activities that you can do with your teams after they have changed to help kick start them.

Can you tell us about the research you did to write the book (i.e. did you speak to different organisations/leaders)?

I interviewed colleagues worldwide, transcribed the interviews, identified themes and patterns, and then wrote the book. I also included stories from my experience as a practitioner working in the software industry for the past 20 years.

In your opinion, do you think there is one way to build an effective team and why?

No. There is not one way because if there were one way, we’d all be doing that. There are a lot of different approaches to how to build a great team. You can read about the ways in a myriad of books, mine included.  

At the end of the day, these are our lives. The relationships we build with each other are a key part of team effectiveness, as is “the why” of what we are doing. 

These are some of the questions that come to mind on team effectiveness, and there are more;

Do the people in your teams know and care about each other? Is their work meaningful with a compelling purpose? Do you let people have a say in what you are building in your company and how it’s built? Are you delivering value to customers at a cadence that delights them and your business?

Do you think CTOs/managers get complacent in team management or are simply not always equipped with the experience or skills to manage their team effectively? 

I think CTOs and managers are often under a lot of pressure. How they control that pressure is key as you don’t want to spread it to your teams and create a climate of fear or potentially burn people out. 

As a leader, self-awareness and deliberately crafting how you want to lead people are key. It’s not easy. I’ve felt it in my role as a VP. But, how you lead needs to be a deliberate part of your strategy.

How has your background in engineering/technology helped you to write this book?

I’ve been working in tech for 20+ years as an early startup team member, helping companies grow into public companies or get acquired. I’ve been an IC, director, coach and VP. I tell many stories from my experience as a practitioner in the book, woven together with the stories from others. Over the years, you see and experience the humanity of building software, and I think people can relate to the joys and the horrors that I describe.

Do you think many hiring issues for employers are due to the pandemic, or were they happening before?

Here’s my take. Covid was a surprise and has resulted in more people working from home. Some companies shifted to becoming remote first completely and got rid of their offices. We went through a period that some called “the great resignation”. Covid became a “reality check” on life, and some people had epiphanies and shifted into other careers. 

Some people quit their jobs altogether. The focus became more on home and family. Some people who were asked to return to the office quit their jobs if they didn’t have the flexibility to remain at home. Things resulted in a greater demand for tech talent; there was a shortage and salaries went up. People were hard to find, hard to hire. 

Then we had another turn in the world with rising inflation. A recession has been looming.  Companies have started to reduce their workforces. Every week we hear of companies that are downsizing and having layoffs. Now there is a larger pool of applicants for jobs. It felt kind of like a roller coaster. I’m not sure where it’s going, but I’m optimistic that at some point, things will settle a bit.

As a woman in tech, how do we ensure that underrepresented individuals who haven’t had the same opportunities as peers are given fair and equal access to new roles and opportunities in tech?

This is a very good question which can be taken in many different directions, and I will focus it on what to think about with colleagues inside your company. 

I think it has to do with spreading a mindset of bringing others along. Inside your company, when you gather for meetings, be mindful of turn-taking and giving everyone the opportunity to contribute. Consider:

  • Are you leaving space to hear from more than the dominant voices in the conversation?  
  • Are you enabling communication to be multi-modal, involving speaking, thinking, and writing? How can you shift your in-person and virtual gatherings to allow all voices to be heard? 
  • Are you mindful of which voices you continually amplify?

There is something about creating a climate at work where people can express themselves fully and participate that isn’t always there. I would look at that space. When people can fully participate, I believe opportunities come their way, or they feel comfortable reaching for “known” opportunities. Getting the communication to become more inclusive is part of but not the entire solution. 

Finally, can you recommend a book or a podcast that every technology leader should read or listen to either in the space of coaching, learning and development or leadership in general? 

I like the book Creating Intelligent Teams, Leading with Relationship Systems Intelligence by Dr Anne Rød and Marita Fridjhon. This book has a lot of practical activities to use when your teams and organisation change and is a huge influence on my thinking in this space as I am trained in their coaching approach.


If you or your CTO / technology lead would benefit from any of the services offered by the CTO Craft community, use the Contact Us button at the top or email us here and we’ll be in touch!

Subscribe to Tech Manager Weekly for a free weekly dose of tech culture, hiring, development, process and more.