Leading Techie Teams
But how does an organization meet these challenges? How do you lead and manage “Techie Teams” in the face of these challenges? Do managers and leaders need to learn a different skill set to get the best out of techies?
Here are some suggestions from Gofee and Jones. In the excerpts below, the techie folks are referred to as “clevers”.
The growing importance of clevers in the knowledge economy poses a huge challenge for organizations. Our research suggests that leading clever people requires a very different style of leadership from that traditionally seen in many organizations. In our experience, getting the best from clevers requires many of the traditional leadership virtues, such as excellent communications skills and authenticity. But it also requires leaders to demonstrate some additional qualities.
Communicating with clevers is always a challenge because they are totally absorbed by their own agendas. Engaging with them in a way that means they see the leader as being on their side is vital.
Help them understand their interdependence with others and the big picture
The close association between what they do and who they are also means that clever people often see themselves as not being dependent on others. The leader must, therefore, start by acknowledging their independence and difference. If leaders do not do this, they fail at first base. But, and it is an important caveat, the leader’s job is to make them understand their interdependence. Recognizing the symbiotic nature of the relationship is critical to both the individual and the organization.
It can be a hard sell. Interdependence only goes so far. Clever people are so focused on their professional passion that the bigger picture can be immaterial to them. Clever people tend to be extraordinarily interested in whatever they are clever in. This can mean that if you try to explain where their part fits into the overall picture—of how the users are going to use it—they say, that’s interesting, but why are you bothering me with it? The leader can end up constantly checking that people aren’t creating incredibly elegant … [ solutions] … that are of little or no use to the … [ customer ]. With clevers, their own sense of beauty can become a money-consuming beast. They start off designing a cup, and you end up with a tea set. “Creeping elegance!” snorted one CEO we talked with.
Set Limits, have an iron will to act – for the good of the organization
“Clevers need to know where the limits are,” one leader told us. “Otherwise, there will be anarchy—and that is not good for anyone.” Leaders were also clear that once the line was crossed, they had to take swift and uncompromising action. Not for them the knee-jerk reaction to having their authority challenged. Rather, the iron will to act in the best interests of the organization.
Provide structure, discipline, timescale, and sense of process
A recurring theme among other interviewees was that the leader sets the tone and adds some sort of discipline, structure, or sense of process to the organization. “The value that I add is twofold,” says Kamlesh Pande. “One is creating an atmosphere for these people to sustain their cleverness and to ensure that they don’t fall sideways into mediocrity. The second thing is aligning what the organization wants and what they want to do. If I align at least 50 percent of these two things, I think my job is done. But then the rest of my job is about convincing them and following them and going after them. My job is to create a strategy or an atmosphere where I align what these clever people want to do and what the organization wants.
“What I bring is discipline, process, a sense of timescale, what I want by when, but then enthusiasm and vision about where we have to take our business and the part that they play in the picture and why that’s important,” explains a senior woman in a large, global pharmaceutical consulting firm. “I think they’re really clever, a damn sight cleverer than I am, but they’ll never get there if you just let them figure it out for themselves. They would go off and go down different routes that interested them.”
Give Recognition and amplify achievements
What clever people do is central to their identity—so recognizing their achievements is vital. This is why movie credits seem to become ever longer. They recognize the contribution of each and every person, from the star to the best boy. Seeing your name— however small the font and empty the movie house—is important.
Yet many clever people are starved of recognition within their own organizations. Although they may want it personally, they are rarely sufficiently concerned with the need to deliver it to their immediate colleagues.
Alison Fields comments, “One person was practically in tears when I wrote his performance appraisal, because no one had ever appreciated what he had done before. Another person gave a briefing, and as we were walking out, I said that was a really good briefing. I wasn’t even thinking about it other than he had done a really good briefing. He was a very senior person, and he said that in the last ten years none of his bosses had ever complimented him on anything.”
For recognition to be effective, much turns on the type of recognition that is delivered, from whom, and how often. Regular praise from a manager (a suit) who is widely regarded as a jerk is unlikely to be motivating. An industry award every few years or a single paper highly cited by valued peers may be far more rewarding. Clever people tend to value recognition from prestigious peers and clients outside their organizations the most.