Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Don't be a robot

Chances are that the people of your team will have a wide variety of ages, skin colour, religion, political belief, personal values.

While these differences theoretically don’t play a part in how people work, like it or not, it sure affects how they’ll work together and with you. You simply don’t manage a guy in his forties who had ten different jobs before (one of them being raising penguins in the Arctic), and a young woman who just graduated. They probably won’t think the way you do, and you have to be able to shift from your perspective to theirs if you want to manage them effectively.

This also means that you have to know what are your own values and what are the limits you don’t want anybody to cross. For example one of mine is sexism. If a guy is sexist, he’d better be careful when working with me because I am not going to forgive any marks of disrespect to the women of the team. On the other hand if a person is way older than me, I’m going to be careful in the way I talk to him, way more than how I talk with my juniors. I understand he could be my father, and might be annoyed being ordered around by me, and it’s not a problem.

If you work with people from another country, the cultural gap may will be one order of magnitude bigger, and very treacherous. When you realize it, it’s usually too late, you’ve made THE mistake you shouldn’t have made. Let me tell you a little story to explain.

A part of my team is in Morocco, and we speak the same language. When talking to the phone, it’s easy to forget they are not actually French. The catch is, you don’t manage French people and Moroccan people the same way at all. The French usually don’t like much authority; they work better if you leave them some room to grow. You’d better not be on their back too much, or they’ll freak out. The Moroccan on the other need to feel there is somebody in charge. And mind you, they work equally well and can take as much responsibility and initiative… But they need to know you are in charge and nobody else or they are disoriented, and they are going to test you to see if you are really the boss.

If cultural differences where not enough, people are probably not at the same stage of development in their work, and you’ll also need to adapt to this. A newbie will need lots of directions and coaching, an old timer will report to you once a week and will feel insulted if you are constantly monitoring his activity.

To add another layer of complexity, the team in itself has its own development curve and you’ll have to know precisely which stage it’s in to be effective.

And finally, guess what? All of this evolves all the time! The stage of development of your team members and of the team in itself will change, and sometimes not in the direction you expected. Let’s say you are finishing a five hundred days project. You barely have to work on it. The team knows exactly what your expectations are, the people are autonomous, they talk to each other without you needing to intervene. They only report to you to tell you that they finished everything, and yeah Marc even coded this feature cause he thought it was neat and he was finished anyway. Cool.

Now the same exact team starts a new project in a completely new environment they are not used to. Don’t expect everything to run as smoothly as before! One guy will not like the technology used for this project. Another one will go on holidays. You are back to day one. Your elite commando of über coders has reverted to a bunch of people who’d rather nap in the sun sipping mojitos than work together.

If you don’t detect this soon enough… You’ll be screwed.

You’ll have to assess what stage of development every member of the team is in, what style of management is the most effective with each individual, how the team is working together and adapt your management style with all the parameters presented above. Constantly. At any given time, you need to have a precise picture in your head of how to manage each of your people.

Sounds complicated. It is ;-).

Don’t be a robot, because the guys working for you are not.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comment

Search Results