One of the big challenges facing many leaders within IT (and I’m sure other industries too) is adjusting their management styles to suit when you’re not ‘seeing’ your staff/colleagues on a day-to-day basis. Its very easy to assume they’re not working as hard just because you can’t see what they’re doing. So how do you avoid falling into this trap?
If you’re anything like me, you like to know exactly what everyone in your team is doing. Not because I don’t trust them, I’m very fortunate to work with a fantastic team, but because I am interested in what they’re able to do next.
I look after a small experienced team of infrastructure and systems techies who are almost completely self-sufficient. They don’t like me breathing down their necks or hovering over their shoulders whilst their trying to concentrate, just like I don’t either. When we all worked in the office it was easy for them to say “Hey Sam, check this out I just did” or “Have you got 5 mins to test this for me?” and honestly, its something I love being involved in because I love to see progression, not just for the business, but for the individual that did the work.
One thing about being confined to our homes, is that it takes away that simple human interaction that works ever so well in an office, especially between a closely knit team. Because of that, people can obsess over knowing what each and every team member is doing, and the dreaded micro-management begins… Before you know it, you’re checking logs, running reports on productivity and generally being a bad leader.
I won’t lie, I found myself obsessing over it early in lockdown, calling or messaging people on Microsoft Teams what seemed like multiple times a day just to see what they were doing. Crazy huh? I guess I felt like I had lost that team interaction we had.
Before I go any further – I’d like to say, this post is not some rant about how great of a manager I am, its just me putting across some useful tips that work with the team I work with. So how did I stop being a crazy man and let the guys continue to deliver?
Yeah, sounds simple huh? But every morning, without fail at 9am we all join a quick call, which most of the time lasts 20 mins or so. We discuss what went on the day before, what was going on now (any P1’s or issues) and what we all are going to focus on that day. We also have a laugh, discuss what people are doing at home, whether that be laying some new decking outside, going for a bike ride, or in my case trying to avoid getting baby sick on me!
Most of the time its a pretty light-hearted chat, but it allows people to talk to people outside their ‘bubble’ and bring a little bit of that office familiarity back.
In addition to that, all department heads meet up daily to discuss any issues that could affect the business, get an update on service, infosec, and a business update from our senior leadership team. Again, its a short, lighthearted meeting but critical in ensuring communication channels are open.
I almost always have my webcam on when I’m on the calls, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it makes me keep my office ‘reasonably’ tidy so that nobody knows I live like a complete slob. Secondly, emotion is important – you can’t see a smile on a phone call – and I think that is important. Work shouldn’t be a slog, it should test you yes, it should make you think hard, it should challenge you, but it should be fun!
We have plenty of chats, channels, and teams set up, people are sending GIFs round like they are going out of fashion, but one thing it does do is give people plenty of ways to communicate in whichever way they are most comfortable. Looking at my Teams chats today, I’ve participated in 10 channels, and 10+ chats, not to mention 5 meetings – its busy, just like a virtual office should be. And because their busy, I can read what the guys are doing and not micromanage.
Once a week I meet with my team leads to go through any long-standing issues, and any project work we’re working on. Gives us the chance to step back, and see the progression we’re making. Every week we’re able to cross items off, add more and keep interesting work flowing down to their teams. Also gives them to chance to raise any issues with me to resolve.
I discussed this topic with a few of my colleagues (and former colleagues too), and had a few funny responses such as “I’m too much of a control freak” or “If I didn’t, my lot would all be playing on their Playstation”, but on the whole the general consensus was to let people work at their own pace, in the manner that suits them. If people need you, they’ll get in contact – especially if they know how excited you get when they do ‘cool stuff’, but honestly if you take anything away from this post is trusting your team. Maybe I’m just lucky to have such a good team who work independently and get on well – but hopefully a few of those things above helps one or two people!