If you’ve managed to achieve any sense of calm over these last six months, we imagine Bhavini Soneji – VP of Engineering at Headspace – had something to do with it.

Ahead of her talk at CTO Craft Con: The People One on 1-3 December, we booked her in for a chat to hear her take on leadership, learning and how empathy and connection empower remote teams.

Hi Bhavini, thanks for joining me today – tell me what’s keeping you busy at the moment?

We are in the middle of our annual planning and that’s keeping me super busy through  strategising as well as making sure we’re able to be efficient and grow mindfully. 

Tell me a leadership tip you’ve learnt this year?

One of my favourite reads this year is Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. One of the pieces of advice is about identifying the areas in which you are diminishing rather than multiplying, even though you might have the intention of being a multiplier. So, for me, it’s been about learning how to be introspective and looking at those areas that might need addressing while also being transparent with my team so they can help me if they see me falling into that pattern. Self-awareness is definitely key. 

What is your top tip you have for motivating remote employees?

I actually have four! I think the biggest one as a leader is building that trust with the individual to know and understand what challenges they are going through and for them to be able to share that. AS a leader you need to build and foster a safe environment that allows your team to voice their struggles when they’re going through it, not just after.  We underestimate how much connection and that empathy is needed and so for me, one of the biggest things for inspiring that connection is just checking in with someone on a personal level – asking how they’re feeling or how they’re doing. 

The second is celebrating the journey. It’s about taking that time to acknowledge what was accomplished and not just saying ‘great!’ but also why? What were some of the great aspects? Given the modern age we live in and the noise, you need to find a way to cut through that and provide a sense of gratitude and satisfaction. 

The third aspect is helping your team members to visualise and focus on the next set of tasks so they know how to balance their priorities. They can then work out if they need help or a break.

Last but not least, one of the things we’re doing at Headspace is just making sure people are taking time off. [Because of Covid-19] there are no pressing vacations to take and so people tend to skip it but actually, that is worse because they need time to reset. So explicitly checking in and asking them when they are going to take a break, helps them do so!

What does a successful team look like?

There are different aspects of a successful team and I have quite a comprehensive view! First is happiness – is the team happy and engaged? Second, is the team growing and learning. As leaders we are matchmakers, we have to understand the things people are looking for in their work and the experiences and opportunities they want to have in their career and see how the business pairs up and supports that. Further, those discussions have to happen regularly with managers and with leadership so you can identify when a person is outgrowing their role and when they are ready for something else, so you can also identify where else in the company can they do that and help them on their journey. That learning factor is critical so how does the manager-employee relationship work together to ensure the person is set up for success and feels safe to ask you for help with advancing their career. 

Next is in regards to motivation, delivery and morale. In my mind that is significantly linked to what we build and the value it delivers. You need to make sure the culture is set up where you’re not just releasing things, you are also measuring the customer impact. If people are tied to their output and they hear what they did and how it positively impacted the end user, that joy – especially for engineers – is huge. If they shadow the customer experience including any gaps, then the engineers will also go and fix things without anyone telling them they need to. 

And finally, with all the above, it’s about understanding how it impacts the business and commercial outcomes, because that drives the company success overall as well. 

Thank you so much, Bhavini!


Catch Bhavini Soneji and some incredible other speakers at our forthcoming CTO Craft Con 2020: The People One on 1 – 3 December.

Find out more and get your tickets here!

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.