The Incubation Team, Your Key To Developer Success?

Bringing In New Developers? Try The Incubation Team Methodology

Develop New Talent and Retain Talent More Effectively

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This is a more in-depth explanation of what I touched on in this video.

What is an Incubation Team?

The concept is simple. A small team you use to incubate new talent and groom them for the larger organization. This team does not always act as a team, think of it as your reserve bench. You can pull people to join and support other teams for a sprint or a whole project. After some time, they move to support another group or team.

You want to keep this team small, usually less than 6 people. This allows the manager to focus on what each team member needs to succeed. Bi-weekly 1 on 1 meetings help keep your finger on the pulse of each team member. Your goal is to develop them for the larger organization. The extra benefit is seeing what their goals are and how we can help them succeed.

To understand the full benefit we first need to understand the problem.

Imagine this…

You get hired into a new company. You have passed all the interviews and technology riddles. You solved whiteboard problems and proved yourself as a capable engineer. Does any of this make day 1, week 1, or even year 1 easier? What if you are on a 90-day probation, how will you prove your worth in 90 days?

This situation will cause anxiety and sleepless nights. Your new teammates will be trying to understand too much at one time. A new business, new teams, and architectures. I have seen burnout in as little as 60 days trying to make a good impression. Why would we want to burden or burn out our new talent? Even if we set reasonable expectations, there is unseen pressure to perform in today’s environment.

Even within a large company, moving from one place to another causes the same issues. Say you spent 4 years in the world of user data (authentication, profiles, PII). You then move to eCommerce and sales, what a difference even one floor apart.

How does an incubation team approach help?

Imagine the different approaches to learning how to swim. First by being thrown into the deep end or second by starting in the shallows with a teacher. (I was thrown in the deep, and it still haunts me apparently)

This team concept allows new team members to learn at an easier pace and actually digest what is going on. This includes:

  • Architectures
  • CI/CD
  • The new team language (the acronyms we all love to make up)
  • Dynamics of the teams

This also gives a great benefit to the managers. Say you hire for a role in a team like Engineer 4 specializing in GraphQL. What if after time either you or the engineer decide that’s not the best fit? Would they be happier on another team? Those changes are more difficult midstream or sprint. What if you could place people in the best spot for everyone as soon as they settle in and feel comfortable.

2 Scenarios For Success

The Specialized Hire

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When you find a specialized hire you are trying to fill a role. Usually, what happens here is that you throw that new talent right into the deep end expecting them to perform. You hired them for a reason so they are talented in one of these areas. Think about all the excess that you’ve given them that they were not prepared for. Team dynamics, new technologies, or architectural differences for instance.

In the incubation team, you still have the ability to use them for the role that you hired them for. The difference though is they also get the freedom to work at a different pace getting to learn. They learn the teams, technologies, and help out another team with an easier issue first. They can start to see how people interact, where the underlying technology issues are.

There is no set time frame for how long a member needs to be part of the incubation team. At any time when that person feels comfortable, you can move them to any team that you want. The main key here is the lack of pressure that people would normally face entering into a new organization with no background whatsoever.

The Jr Talent

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If you’re like me you love hiring junior talent. I would define that as those coming in fresh out of school, or those within their first few years in technology. We see the amazing talent coming out of this space. Junior talent is hungry to prove themselves and they are born in a newer technology space. They are missing many of the bad habits we have developed.

The incubation team concept allows this junior talent to be able to develop within your space for whatever period you would like them to. Think of it as the nest where you’re going to help them understand your company your group or the goals of the teams. In some cases, you might want to keep them in that team and grow them through one or two promotions.

In this team, your junior talent gets the hands-on focus they need. Other team members and managers get to see how these ones operate and start to develop a desire to have them on their team. You easily see what their core strengths are. You are able to fit them into a part of the organization that will bring them the most amount of joy as well as gets the best results.

Do Incubation Teams Work?

Yes, I have personally run my team like this for a few years now. Our larger organization can be very confusing with a mix of old and new technology. I would fear throwing anyone right into the middle of it and expect them to perform.

In my team, we have graduated a few people out easily. In most cases, those individuals didn’t leave as just engineers but left to manage teams of their own, and some left with great promotions.

The biggest win was that they were all able to start in a new organization with no issues on day one. They were confident, they had ideas, they enabled change, they were respected by new team members already. They were happy.

Work is a marathon, not a sprint. There is a lot to be said about putting the time into your talent and handling things in a way that makes them happy. You will get better results and keep better talent.


Develop a small team that can help other teams. Use this internal team to nurture your developers, find out what makes them tick, and help them to have the best work-life possible. In doing so you will reap the rewards of having properly placed team members. Team leaders that can are developed, and people that truly understand how the company operates.

This concept allows managers the joy of having happy teams. Teammates that don’t need constant direction and happy employees who feel like they’re not overwhelmed. They know exactly what they should be doing and how to do it.

The Incubation Team, Your Key To Developer Success? was originally published in A Technologists POV on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.