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How to provide criticism to your team as a senior or lead developer 1

How to provide criticism to your team as a senior or lead developer

It can be challenging to share criticism with your team as it requires you to be mindful of the type of personality you are dealing with. 

Still, sharing criticism is part of managing software development teams. It can be a formidable tool for creating high-performing engineering teams that yield results with the right strategy.

A typical development team will have several developers working together at the helm of a team manager. It consists of back end developers, front end developers, designers, testers, and copywriters. As a lead developer, you are at the task of handling the needs and wants of the clients while monitoring developers for performance and skills. You also have to share honest feedback with team members that may not always be positive.

Unfortunately, while providing criticism is essential, few managers understand how to do it right. In fact, according to a Gallup survey, only 26% of employees agree that the feedback they received made them work better.

We aim to help senior developers become effective managers by sharing tips on how they can help their teams get better at what they do. Let’s begin and know how to be an excellent senior developer/ lead developer.

1. Know your team

Before you provide criticism, you must know each programmer in your team at the individual level. Profile each person to understand their strengths and weaknesses. It will help you anticipate the areas in which each team member is most likely to fall short.

Your goal is not to stop providing criticism but to enable the learning and growth of the team members. As a lead developer, mentorship is one of your core responsibilities. Before you call upon an unacceptable behavior or shortcoming, first ensure that you understand the other person’s concerns. If their opinion is different from yours about the given task, look at things from their perspective.

If you find that the criticism is acceptable to you personally, you can confidently share it with the concerned person.

2. Practice empathy and encouragement in communication

To err is human, so be mindful of this wisdom, and you will never make the feedback a one-way monologue. Show empathy in your communication and ask the recipient about their perspective of things. It should go without saying, as a senior developer, you must make subordinates feel valued.  

Encouragement must accompany criticism, and when you maintain a respectful tone, your message is much more effective. Replace ‘you’ and ‘your’ with ‘we’ and ‘our.’ Remember, you are trying to create a dialogue, not single out the mistakes.

3. Directing people, not code

A development team will have different levels of seniority and experience working on the same product. Not all teammates will have the same coding style, and each person will take a different approach to solve the same problem. As a lead developer, your job is to keep each team member motivated while demanding code quality, stability, and optimization. It is not possible without criticism but be careful.

How you will deliver the criticism can be the difference between leading an average coder on a path to becoming a great programmer or placing him into a vicious cycle of unproductiveness where he will leave the job or get fired.

You have to lead the person, not the code. Avoid punishing a developer for the mistakes he commits when coding. Instead, convey what is expected from him, making him realize that he can improve.

4. Provide clear and actionable feedback

In your career progression, you might have come across managers who told you something like, “You should be more reliable,” or, “Try to be more proactive.” That’s ambiguity at its best. How are you supposed to know what they are referring to? Never initiate talks or provide feedback with such blurry statements.

Instead of saying, “Try to be more proactive,” be more specific. Something like, you told me you would come up with some solution to improve server response time, but still haven’t. Are you facing any issues?

If you are not sharing specific criticism, you are confusing developers in your team. They cannot identify which behaviors are inappropriate for successful performance. Providing constructive and transparent criticism lets them know that they are doing things right, but there is room for improvement.

Furthermore, always keep in mind that you target a specific action or behavior with criticism. Please avoid commenting on the person or their personality at all costs. It includes things that are beyond their control. For instance, if you share feedback on an employee’s speech, talk about the content, body language, presentation, etc., rather than telling them that their voice is too husky.

5. Value their opinions and vision

Incentives and benefits might make employees happy, but their opinions and vision keep them engaged at work. Being dismissive of their views might break their spirit. Unless you appreciate your team members’ ideas, no number of team-building events and company retreats can motivate them to work.


Delivering criticism without hurting anyone is the difference between ineffective and efficient managers. As a lead developer, focus your criticism on helping your team grow rather than forcing them to deliver short-term gains.

Talent500 is the platform where many fast-growing startups and Fortune500 companies hire senior developers. Join our community of elite talent today.

Zaiba Fathima

Zaiba Fathima

Zaiba is Talent500's Product business analyst. Her degree in Computer Science helps her decipher the requirements of the product-engineering team, and understand both sides of the picture. Central to product development and delivery, Zaiba aspires to become a product manager at a young age and a director of the product team at rapid speed.

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