Technical leadership: Understanding & managing technical teams

“Managing difficult people isn’t just a challenge, it’s a necessary skill if you want your team to succeed”

Let’s face it, technology teams are known for personality diversity and technology professionals, more often than not, have high levels of expertise that can be hard to manage and even harder to replace and the combination of the two can make leading them one of the most difficult jobs in the company.

In today’s fast-paced world, turnover is an expensive headache, the dysfunction of even one key team member can create problems for the entire organization, and mistakes and missed deadlines can be the beginning of the end.

If you are struggling to manage your team, you are not alone.  People who are attracted to the IT field can share certain brain patterns, traits and have often had certain kinds of experiences that can make managing them difficult.  But information is power and I can help you understand why it can be your biggest challenge and what you can do to overcome it.

Understanding your technical team

Technical people excel at logical thinking, which is essential for solving technical problems, but often not helpful when solving “people problems”. This is something we’ve discovered during our coaching of IT Professionals. Neuroscientists and behavioral scientists have understood for years what most of us have to learn the hard way, people do not behave according to logic.

The area of the brain used for social thinking needed to solve “people problems” is distinctly different than the area of the brain used to solve technical problems and that’s because our brains are a series of networks, much like those of a computer, different networks do different things. But not all networks are created or develop equally.

All of our lives, even before we are born, here are billions of neurotransmitters wiring and firing in our brains.  Hebb’s Law tells us “what fires together, wires together” so the more you are using the area of your brain involved in logical thinking, the stronger it will get.  Incidentally, the opposite is true.  The parts of your brain related to areas you don’t use like “people skills” will not develop as well and may even diminish over time from lack of use.  Think, “use it or lose it”.  In brain-science, we referred to this as neuroplasticity.  The result, technical people often have a much more highly developed logical-thinking brain and can struggle with “people problems”.

How to manage a technical team?

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to manage your emotions and the emotions of others to work for you rather than against you.  People with high EQ regulate their own emotions well and have empathy for others when they are struggling emotionally…whether it be angry outbursts or shutting down and retreating.

There are several additional markers for EQ that are particularly important when managing and working with IT teams.

Self-awareness is fundamental.

Self-awareness is an accurate self-image resulting in the ability to understand how you are being perceived by others, what your strengths and weaknesses are, understanding how you impact the environment you are in.  Think about the person on your team who seems wildly unaware of how his/her behavior disrupts the rest of the team?  Self-aware people are both realistic and optimistic about who they are, what their role is, and what they can achieve.

Resiliency is key.

IT is all about innovating and in order to innovate, you have to be able to take risks.  Someone with a low marker for resiliency really struggles when they fail and tends to generalize their failure to see themselves as a failure, resulting in undermining the sense of self and creating an aversion to risk, both are really detrimental in the fast-paced culture of IT. Do you have someone who is so afraid of failure, they have a hard time getting started or get demoralized when they fail?

Effective communication is essential.

I like to say, you can have the cure for cancer, but unless you can do it alone, cancer will go uncured.   You need to be able to effectively communicate so that you can create buy-in for your ideas. Many IT professionals struggle to articulate their ideas and communicate in a way that invites others to their way of thinking.  I recently worked with an IT professional who believe just because he said it, people should understand it.  When others did not understand him, he would become frustrated and rude so others avoided him.

Confidence is crucial.

It is a staple in the people we most often admire and respect. Confident people always seem to “have their act together” even when life is challenging. Confidence is having the basic belief that you can make stuff happen even when there are challenges and barriers.  People who lack confidence are not likely to persevere or may not even try because they feel they lack the ability and don’t understand how to get it.  Confidence is NOT the same as arrogance.  Arrogance is actually a coping mechanism for not having confidence, but. More on that later.

Empathy is helpful.

Being empathetic means, you can understand when others are struggling and have compassion.  Essentially, it’s putting yourself in someone’s shoes and feeling what they must be feeling.  When we can empathize with someone, they feel seen and heard and this helps build connection.  Do you have someo