CXO

Leadership 101: 3 tips for successfully managing a tech team

Forming good relationships is an essential leadership skill, according to Sue Freas, director of software engineering at Appriss.

Being a manager is like leading a band: You want every member of the group to have the resources and motivation to be successful, according to Sue Freas, director of software engineering at Appriss.

Plenty of managers are laser-focused on timelines and productivity, Freas said during a session at the 2018 Code PaLOUsa conference in Louisville, KY. But if they don't have people to follow them, they are essentially performing on an empty stage to an empty room.

Here are three things beginning managers need to do to be successful, according to Freas.

SEE: IT leader's guide to achieving digital transformation (Tech Pro Research)

1. Form good relationships

There are several things that can help managers forge strong bonds with their team members individually and as a group, Freas said. These include:

  • 1-to-1 meetings

"It's important to have one-on-one relationships with everybody," Freas said. As a standard, managers should set aside 30 minutes per week for each team member, no matter what, she added.

These meetings don't have to be formal, Freas said. They are meant to be a scheduled time on the calendar when team members know they can come to you.

Freas suggests opening meetings by saying, "What would you like to talk about?" "It's not just about what you want to say to them, but what they want to say to you," she said. "If they want to talk about their dogs the whole time, that's okay—you want to know them as a person."

The one-to-one is also a good time to ask about an employee's professional goals, and how you as a manager can help them achieve those goals.

Freas also uses a system to determine employee morale. During each one-to-one, she asks her team members how they are feeling on a green/yellow/red scale. She has kept the definition of the scale vague, so employees can determine what it means to them. Once they give her an answer, she converts it to a 5-point scale, with green representing a score of 5, and red representing 1. She can then map morale over the course of each week, for the team as a whole and individuals over time.

"Keeping track of this is valuable," Freas said. "You can map it over the week with everyone you've talked to and how they are feeling, and that's your score as a manager for the week."

  • Feedback

Consistent, actionable feedback is key for managers to provide employees, Freas said. "Tell them as soon as you see an issue," she said. "The most important thing is to make feedback actionable, so they know what they can improve."

SEE: Leadership spotlight: How to make meetings worthwhile (Tech Pro Research)

  • Building the team

There are three helpful ways to build a team, Freas said. The first is the team meeting. "Any time your team is together is an opportunity to build your team," she said. She said she starts every meeting with a random aside, to reinforce that the team doesn't need to be very formal. "Others would start too, and it became something everybody looked forward to, and part of our team culture," Freas said. "It helped to spread the way I work as a leader down into my team."

Another way to build your team is through knowledge sharing, Freas said. When new tech is introduced into your code base, for example, you may not have time to teach everyone about it. You can appoint someone as an expert to help others, and have everyone do something to move things forward.

It may seem obvious, but onboarding a new employee is one of the major ways to build a team, as well as one of the trickiest parts of being a manager, Freas said. "They have to feel like they joined you for a good reason, and have the team recognize that they're going to be valuable," she added.

Often, companies have the manager do the onboarding process on their own, or appoint one employee to do it, Freas said. However, this puts the new employee at the mercy of the other person's schedule, the other person gets nothing done that week, and the new employee hasn't meet anyone else on the team.

Instead, "have every person on your team have something they can share," Freas said. "Spread that out across the whole week, and dot in there times to work on a new assignment, so they have real work their first week. Then, they've gotten to meet everybody there, and see the work they'll actively be doing."

2. Make success the default

There are three ways to do this, Freas said:

  • Communicate

Set out clear expectations, and tell people what they need to know, Freas said. This includes whether you expect them to answer emails at night, and show up to every meeting. "There's not good reason for anyone to accidentally get on their boss's bad side," she said.

You should also communicate the potential impacts of the team's work, Freas said. For example, if you get news that sales are down, you can explain what your team can actually impact, versus what is happening around you and who it will affect. This helps allay fears, and gives everyone a better sense of what is going on in the company.

  • Make the easy thing the right thing

Good managers make the default, easy option the best possible option, Freas said. Create a process that supports your goals and metrics. "The best test you have for how good your process is, is can you be gone for a week and everything still gets done?" she said.

  • Make your priorities obvious

Ensure that people understand what work should be prioritized, Freas said. You should also be able to measure your progress and milestones.

3. Take care of yourself

One of the most unappreciated and under-talked about parts of management is the need for self care, Freas said. Managers have a lot of stress placed on their shoulders, and need to do things that protect themselves and make sure they have enough to give their team.

Freas recommends finding two mentors: One in your company (who has the context, so you can cut straight to "What should I do about this?" and determine a plan to go forward), and one outside your company (who is not involved in the politics but allows you to fully explain an issue and give you genuine, direct feedback).

Part of self care for managers also means finding a hobby that allows you to de-stress, whether that's gardening or working on cars or coding personal projects. "Pick something for yourself," Freas said.

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/jacoblund

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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