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Tecchies vs Business minds - managing people in different departments

by Laura Aitken-Burt January 21, 2016

It is a well-known fact that with the increasing reliance we place on digital platforms for all aspects of business, the IT department has gained a new importance in the boardroom and in the decision making process. Computer failures can cause catastrophe with so much business being conducted online and the look and feel of websites can totally affect the way in which consumers experience a company and its products. Working as an in-house consultant within a corporate industry rather than in a consulting firm may mean that your day to day dealings will be working with technology focused people with a different skill set to yours who are developing the new strategic areas that need to be explored. So how do you manage people where you do not have the practical knowledge of their subject and the job they do? How much do you need to know? What do you need to take into consideration when business meets tech?

  • Understand the topic you are working on-To be a useful, co-operative and approachable team member in a tech focused team, don't isolate yourself from the group by seemingly having no relevant knowledge at all. You don't have to become versed in the 'languages' of code but you do need to understand the technical basics of the problems you are there to help solve using your own skill set. 

  • Appreciate the differences between tech and strategy - What might seem like an easy thing to change from an aesthetic point of view on a website might not be so simple to change from the coding point of view. Keep in mind that we all have our own strengths and weaknesses and do listen to the advice from the developers - after all, they are the ones that will 'translate' your ideas to improve consumer experience into the magical digital space which few of us understand how it works.

  • Don't expect IT to know everything -  Everyone has their own specialities even within the IT department, so don't just presume because someone is 'tecchie' they will be able to fix your problem easily. Computers try to make the processes of our lives quicker and easier but at times, things may need time to get right or repair.

  • Lead but don't dictate - Perhaps as a team member from a consulting background, you will soon be placed in a leadership role. But your team could comprise solely of developers, coders and other tech focused people on a digital project. Be approachable and lead the team with a gentle guiding hand, managing the process of the development with all other members of the board and the clients rather than dictating your expectations in a subject you do not understand. Encourage the technical experts to create the agendas for team meetings, letting them become more of a participant in the process whilst covering the important technical issues to discuss. This means that you will then be able to focus on the essential questions that these points raise.

  • Give autonomy but always collaborate  Steve Jobs - Disruptive technology has evolved the need for specialised technology teams within businesses. They need to take bold risks and their specific talents and knowledge bases must be given autonomy for the ideas to become reality. But finding the ways to integrate new technologies within the base business requires collaboration, compromise and planning. Steve Jobs famously said when launching the iPad 2 in March 2011 that 'It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough' - to make technology truly brilliant it must be intertwined with art. Collaboration is always important in such a symbiotic relationship.

  • Tecchies have a different view, embrace it  53% higher A recent McKinsey report entitled 'Is there a payoff from top-team diversity?' found significant evidence that senior teams benefit from diversity amongst the specialisms of the team. Companies in the top quartile of board diversity had Returns on Equity (ROE) 53% higher. Embrace the different perspectives that can be brought into the boardroom and create strategies based on the input of all team members, taking into account all the different factors raised.

  • Don't get carried away with innovation -  Coming up with new ideas may be your forte, and although tech of course is continually to evolve through constant innovation, often some solutions to problems within a business on the tech side do not have to be innovative at all. More often than not the right solution is a simple one that can then be experimented with and built upon. Crazy ideas for website and social media trends may just give a short jolt in numbers to a stagnant idea – if the platform itself is too complicated or slow or unattractive etc. then the purchase will still not be made.  'Millennials' who have grown up with ever improving technology making all of their decisions and actions easier will only remember what didn't work.

  • Regularly schedule tech meetings - Technically minded people can sometimes overlook the need to simply speak and connect which will be important within a diverse team. Following data and monitoring processes can only do so much – personal 1:1 interaction may be needed for other team members to feel happy about what is happening. Turn such meetings into a regular, repeatable, consistent commitment that will become part of the process of all tech projects.

  • Don't optimise but tackle the problem - Too many companies choose to 'optimise' processes all the time rather than tackling the actual technical issue. Do not be lazy and not spend the time and effort to fix it. Even if it costs more, it will be worth it in the long run.

  • Online awareness from the company itself is pointless - Too many businesses obsess over social media campaigns and bombard potential customers with emails, newsletters and notifications. Focus on building a product customers want, a service they will use and a great online experience when buying and let the happy customers rave about their experiences on their own social media channels. Word will soon get around.

  • Bring in young tech talent - Even today there permeates a technophobic culture within big businesses which hinders their ability to adapt and grow in the modern world. Young tech talent is much more attracted to the world of digital start-ups where innovation is more valued. Make sure the company does not evoke an aura of 'oldness' – update old IT systems and make use of the talent that is emerging out there.

  • Be aware of emoticons in virtual teams - when using instant messaging on project management programmes like Slack, be sure there is clarification on what emoticons mean and are appropriate for work responses to avoid confusion, embarrassment and complication.

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