Tara is the Chief Marketing Officer at Teamwork and loves all things customer experience, growth, and impact. Prior to taking on the CMO title at Teamwork, Tara was the Head of Customer Marketing at Sprout Social, the VP of Marketing at Hotjar, and the VP of Marketing and Creative Services at TSL Marketing.
Listen to this episode (or read the transcript below) to learn how Tara builds award-winning marketing teams by pushing boundaries and embracing collaboration.
1 When was the first time you became a manager?
I’ve had a variety of management experiences throughout my career. My very first management experience was probably in my early days of working in a coffee shop while I was in high school. My first experience in a more corporate management role was when I was in college where I managed a telemarketing center. It was really fun because we were doing a lot and we were able to see a direct impact. I ended up being a general manager when I was just 21 and that really fast-tracked my career into management. I’ve had a lot of different journeys and a lot of different experiences and I’ve enjoyed it every step of the way.
2 Did you feel equipped to become a manager at the time?
Not at all in the beginning. When I first started, I was working with a lot of my friends or people that were more senior than me, so I had a lot of imposter syndrome. I also had to find a balance between treating my peers like friends or colleagues and I also had to learn how to manage it all.
It was really hard in the beginning, but I learned to work with people that had different personalities or different perspectives as I continued to advance in my career. A lot of it was trial and error and learning to read into things and dig as much as I could. Finding mentors that could walk me through these processes was also really helpful.
3 Do you still experience imposter syndrome?
I don’t understand people that say they haven’t experienced imposter syndrome because I think everybody does at some point in their career. I think it’s common for people to misunderstand what it feels like so they may not necessarily know that what they’re feeling is imposter syndrome.
A good friend of mine, Tiffany de Silva, is an amazing speaker and she does a talk specifically on imposter syndrome and it honestly changed my perspective in a lot of ways. I have 20 years of management experience behind me, and I still experience imposter syndrome at different degrees. I would recommend that anyone that’s dealing with imposter syndrome listen to her talk. Besides that, I would just recommend learning a lot and identifying what you don’t know. I think it’s all about asking for advice and being vulnerable and putting yourself out there.
4 How did you go about finding mentors early on in your career?
I think there are two different kinds of mentors that you could be looking for. One is a mentor that’s more specific to your career and the other might be if you’re looking for more of a career coach or trying to figure out where you want to grow. Each one of these kinds of mentors play a really critical role in your career as a whole depending on where you are.
For me, it was often just finding people that I admired and putting myself out there and connecting with them. Some of my early mentors were also people that I made close connections or close friendships with.
Networking is probably one of the most important things you can do, especially as you grow in your career or as a manager. Whether that’s networking through people that you know, or even going to LinkedIn and searching for people that have a job title that you’re looking to grow into. Oftentimes you will find that most people will want to connect and help you on your journey.
5 What lessons did you learn while building out your team at Sprout Social?
I have an incredible team right now and I feel really lucky that I’ve had opportunities throughout my career to coach and mentor great people. One of the most rewarding parts of being a manager isn’t necessarily the work that you do but the work that your team does. It’s really rewarding seeing my team grow in their career or get a promotion because it gives you a lot of pride as a manager.
At Sprout, I had a team of 9 people that I manage directly and about 15 total that I manage in a squad component. It’s not the largest team that I’ve managed but it’s really fun. Most of my teams have generally been made up of frontline leaders and managers so my role entails managing a lot of managers and working with specialists or strategists that are continuously growing in their career.
My management style with all of them is to just bring a human-to-human approach to everything. It’s important to me to really make sure that I spend time getting to know each person individually, so I can match what they need. Some team members need a lot more hands-on direction or guidance, or even just someone to bounce ideas off of whereas some other people want to be truly autonomous.
6 Can you expand on the squad model and the important elements?
Empathy is crucial. We have values that we live by at our company, but we also have norms that we follow as a department. We always want to make sure that we’re assuming positive intent, spending time with each other, and bringing an extra level of empathy into everything that we do.
I’m obsessed with Strengths Finder. The idea behind Strengths Finder is that we’re all made up of different strengths that helps support each other across the board. Instead of focusing on being good at everything, it teaches that you should focus on the strengths that you bring to the table. I walk anyone that starts on my team or in my department through this assessment so I can understand what their top five strengths are and then I will start to partner some of the strengths together.
If someone is really strong with relationship building or empathy, and another person is really strong in execution, they can help support each other get work done in a way that balances across the team. I think a strengths-based focus has been really important to managing relationships for us because it has helped us learn about each other while leaning into our strengths.
7 Can you walk us through the setup or structure of your weekly meetings?
I’m a remote manager so meetings are super important for me because they allow me to get face to face time with my team so we can go over everything that’s happening and work through things together.
I think meeting fatigue is a real issue that we are dealing with now that everything is remote so we were very cautious with making sure we were not overscheduling or over-meeting. We focus a lot on zeroing in on certain tasks and making sure we’re working on the most essential things. We also work in an agile framework of week-to-week or two-week sprints and that’s how we will assign work to people in our squad that are counterparts like our creative or analytics team.
Every two weeks we check in with where we’re at with our goals and plan with our entire team so we can set our intentions and prioritize our tasks. It’s really critical for us because it helps us make sure that we’re not just doing work but we’re working on the most important things. These meetings are our foundational meetings, and they are critical to how the squads work.
We also have a leadership meeting within the customer success team every other week where our leaders come together and have a ruthless meeting about our numbers, our impact, and our worries. We use these business meetings to talk about what our main priorities and focus will be and also to make sure that the most important things get cascaded to the rest of the business because as you grow and get bigger things get a lot harder to communicate.
As a squad, we also come together to do a bi-weekly stand-up meeting for 15 minutes where everyone comes together and talks about what impeding them so we can work on unblocking each other and reprioritize to make sure everyone’s on track.
So, I have a leadership meeting, the biweekly planning meeting, and then the squad stand-ups. From a management perspective, it’s different for each of my team members.
Fellow helps your team build great meeting habits through collaborative agendas, real-time notetaking, and time-saving templates.
8 How do you make being a remote manager work?
Video is really important when you’re not in the office. One of the most frustrating things for me as a remote leader is when other people don’t turn their video on because it’s like they’re only half there. I’ve been remote for the last 10 years and I would say that it’s just as important to lean into the non-verbal stuff. If you can’t pick up on non-verbal cues or feel empathy for how someone’s feeling, it makes it very difficult to feel like you have a pulse on what’s going on on the floor.
Something that I would say is really difficult is dealing with time zones, especially if you’re a leader and you want to be helpful. I have a hard time turning off so I’ve had to set very specific guidelines. It’s important to send signals to other people so they know when you’re not available which helps with setting boundaries. When I walk away from my desk or office, I leave my computer behind and I don’t go back unless I’m working and that’s been a really important step for me in terms of setting boundaries.
I have a hard time just turning off. And so I’ve had to set very, very specific guidelines of I have an office, I get ready for work every day, billable from this hour to this hour, and then finding how to use things like when you saw snooze, slack notifications, or when you set your working hours in your Google Calendar, or little components to just send signals to other people that hey, I’m not available before they reach out so that you can set some of those boundaries and guidelines. And when I walk away from my desk, when I walk away from my office, I leave my computer there, I don’t go there to work unless I’m there working. And that’s been a really important part is just setting boundaries.
To wrap up, as a leader, video is super important and so is inclusion. You have to make sure that you’re spending time including people that are remote, so they feel like they have a voice. It’s also important to be intentional with the time and hours that you spend.
9 How does hiring remotely work?
Not only are you hiring for the role and the experience that you have but you also have to hire for the autonomy of trust and to make sure that who you’re bringing in either has experience or identifies as a self-starter. When hiring any remote team member, you have to start and end with trust. You’re never going to know what they’re doing so if you don’t have trust that from the beginning, it’s not going to be a good fit and it’s really important that you have that mindset.
10 Do you have any tips for managing and leading remote teams?
We use Slack to communicate in real-time, but we also set really specific guidelines for identifying when to use Slack versus email. We also have meeting guidelines so we can make sure that we’re being intentional with our meetings which is really helpful and something that I would definitely recommend.
11 Do you have any books or resources that you would recommend to managers or leaders?
From a management perspective, there have been a couple very critical books in my career that I recommend to everyone. One that we pushed internally at Sprout is The Making of a Manager. A couple of other ones that I have found to be really impactful are The One Minute Manager and Radical Candor.