Divide and cooperate

How do you get a gaggle of computer geeks to work together as a team? Try managing like a coach.

The best manager I ever had used a team-building technique I call "divide and cooperate." He'd written a charter that divided the department into small teams that depended on each other to meet the department mission. Working for him helped make me a proud career subordinate. Here's the scoop.

Make the charter perfectly clear
I like working for managers who refer to themselves and their reports as part of a team, in an environment where the expectations are absolutely clear. Hey, like most IT people, I'm basically GIGO if not properly managed. I thrive on documentation.

One of my favorite IT managers would address team meetings like he was a coach giving a halftime speech. He'd cover specific projects and priorities and then close the meeting by reading something from the team charter. That was his way of burning it into our caffeine-riddled brains, I suppose, and it worked.

Our IT team was really a bunch of smaller teams functioning as a whole: the network engineers, the developers, and the help desk people. We were divided inasmuch as we didn't always agree on the best way to do things. But we had to cooperate with each other because the charter provided rules of engagement for interacting with team members and members of other IT teams.

The documents we used were short and sweet. They contained five questions and answers:
  1. What's the purpose of our team? The answers were slightly different for each of the teams within the IT department. In this section, the manager defined the role of the team within the department.
  2. What do other teams in the company expect from our team? In this section, the manager described what the other departments in the company expected from the team and from the IT department as a whole. One rule was that the developers weren't allowed to fight with the sales department.
  3. How much quiet time do you need? This manager was such a big advocate of declaring quiet time that you got in trouble if you didn't occasionally post a "do not disturb" or "quiet time" sign on your office door. If you've ever tried it (and stuck to it), you know that having no interruptions, even for a couple of hours, is a great way to get some work done.
  4. What's the best way for team members to communicate with each other? The team members discussed boundaries and voted on guidelines governing when a team member should send e-mail, pick up the phone, and knock on a door. It might sound a little goofy at first—or maybe like overkill. But if someone showed up at your door, you knew it was important.
  5. How should you respond in an emergency? In this section, the manager listed phone numbers and brief descriptions of situations we should treat as emergencies. (That was the only excuse for interrupting quiet time.)
That's my "favorite manager" story. I'd like to hear from IT people who are working or have worked for an efficient, motivational manager. Which management style made the experience great for you? Please start a discussion below or drop me a note.

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