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5 Tips for managing tech teams for non-technical leaders

In the changing landscape of business, it’s imperative to have the best tech people on your team, but not every project manager or director has a tech background – so how do you play your part managing your developers and digital whiz kids without tech experience?

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The course of business is changing

In the changing landscape of business, it’s imperative to have the best tech people on your team, but not every project manager or director has a tech background – so how do you play your part managing your developers and digital whiz kids without tech experience? James Fields, owner and president of Concept Technology and IT staffing company Scout Staffing, has some ideas in his own words below.

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Growing your technical team

The Department of Labor projects that by 2020 the number of tech positions will increase by 22 percent. Whether your company is technology-focused or you are adding an internal IT department, now is the time to consider how to effectively lead growing technical teams.

In many cases, a project manager or leader of a tech team may not be technical themselves. Great managers tend to know how to delegate, communicate and motivate—not necessarily code or troubleshoot IT problems.

When developing a team, it’s necessary to play into strengths and find ways for communication to flow seamlessly in both directions. Here are some tips to harmonize relationships and improve productivity as a leader on a technical team:

1. Come to terms with the fact that you will rarely be the smartest person in the room

Directing a room filled with people who are more knowledgeable in an area of expertise than you are can be uncomfortable. Realize that the secret to success in leadership is not knowledge, but access to knowledge.

Even highly trained technical people have limitations, and oftentimes the more talented they are, the quicker they are to admit their boundaries. You should do the same. Your technical team will forgive you for acknowledging if something is outside of your area of expertise. What they won’t forgive is if you pretend to know something you don’t, then use assumptions to make a decision. Admitting your limitations encourages your team members to follow suit, ultimately supporting a culture that is honest in self-assessments and leverages collective knowledge.

2. Find an interpreter

Publically admitting your technical limitations doesn’t remove you from having to function within a technical environment. A working understanding of technical jargon and systems will make your job much easier. You can’t lead well unless you understand what’s going on, at least at a high level. Identify someone on your team who can translate for you. This person should, ideally, be an ally and a leader.

3. Learn something new everyday

You may be able to convince a group of technical people to trust you, despite your lack of technical knowledge, but you won’t be able to retain that trust unless you show a real interest in what they do. Learning a little bit each day about what your team members do and why they do it allows you to demonstrate that their work is important to you, thus important to the company.

4. Be the Phil Jackson to their Michael Jordan

To be successful at managing highly technical, well-educated talent, you must provide them with the best tools to do their job, offer your best guidance when they need it, and then step back and let them take the shot.

In addition to supplying first-rate resources, offer access to ongoing education so that your team continues to grow. Look for opportunities for team members to step up and lead others and find group activities that promote learning and development.

5. Slow your roll.

Highly technical people are generally detail-oriented, and can be more resistant to change. So grab yourself a desktop Zen garden or stress ball and find peace in the extended journey, because changes – like new processes, guidelines or expectations – can take longer to implement than you may anticipate. The benefit of this extra time is that the added attention to detail means things like your new system for reporting software issues will likely be handled right the first time.

James Fields is owner and president of IT service provider Concept Technology and IT staffing company Scout Staffing. Visit Concept Technology at www.concepttechnologyinc.com and Scout at www.scoutstaffing.com.

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Jenna keeps the machine well-oiled as the Operations Coordinator at The American Genius and The Real Daily. She earned her degree in Spanish at the University of North Texas and when she isn't crossing things off her to-do list, she is finding her center in the clean and spacious aisles of Target or rereading Harry Potter for the billionth time.

Opinion Editorials

Dispelling the myth that women don’t get raises because they don’t ask

(EDITORIAL) It has been accepted as fact that women don’t get raises because they don’t ask as often as men, but new studies indicate that’s not true at all.

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Many of the seemingly universal “truths” of business often come down to assumptions made about workers based on their gender.

Among the most oft-repeated of these “truths” is that women and other femme-identifying people are bad at self-advocating, particularly in matters involving compensation.

These include: Women don’t negotiate their salaries. Women don’t get promotions or leadership positions because they don’t “lean in.” Women don’t ask for raises.

This last truth is finally being discussed as the myth it is.

Over at The Cut, Otegha Uwagba discusses her own experience successfully and not-so-successfully negotiating a raise, but more interestingly how increasingly research has shown that there is no “gap” in between the genders when it comes to asking. Rather, the disparity really arises when it comes to which ask is heard.

As Uwagba explains, “While men and women ask for pay raises at broadly similar rates, women are more likely to be refused or suffer blowback for daring to broach the topic.”

This blowback comes from the inability of some people in leadership positions to think critically about the ways in which business still actively dismisses women’s leadership qualities while simultaneously praising less-competent men who demonstrate these very characteristics.

The HBR article acts as good reminder that the cumulative effect of all of these misguided “facts” about women and business often perpetuate the toxic culture that creates and circulates them.

The implication of all of these myths creates a sense that women are the ones responsible for the unequal treatment they often receive. When the message that women receive is that the reason they don’t get a raise is that they didn’t ask—even when they DO—that tells them that their lived experience isn’t as valid as the pervasive “truth.”

This is, simply put, gaslighting.

Even more, telling women that women face challenges because they didn’t do something or know something, rather than the addressing the very real fact that professional women face sexism at almost every step of their career does not help them.

It only helps those already in positions of power blame women for their own archaic beliefs and actions.

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Opinion Editorials

Funny females are less likely to be promoted

(CAREER) Science says that the funnier a female, the less likely she is to be promoted. Uhh…

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Faceless keyboard warriors around the world have been — incorrectly — lamenting that women just aren’t funny for years now (remember the “Ghostbusters” remake backlash?).The good news is they are obviously wrong. The bad news? When women dare to reveal their comedic side in the workplace they are often perceived as “disruptive” while men are rewarded.

That’s right. Women not only have to worry about being constantly interrupted, receiving raises less frequently than men despite asking for them equally as often, and still making nearly $10,000 less than men each year, but now they have to worry about being too funny at the office.

A recent University of Arizona study asked more than 300 people to read the fictional resume of a clothing store manager with the gender-neutral name “Sam” and watch a video presentation featuring Sam. The videos came in four versions: a serious male speaker, a humorous male speaker, a serious female speaker and a humorous female speaker.

According to the researchers, “humorous males are ascribed higher status compared with nonhumorous males, while humorous females are ascribed lower status compared with nonhumorous females.” Translation: Male workers earn respect for being funny while their funny female coworkers are often seen in a more negative light.

There are, of course, several reasons this could be the case. The researchers behind this particular study pointed to the stereotype that women are more dedicated to their families than their work, and being perceived as humorous could convey the sense they don’t take their work as seriously as men.

Psychiatrist Prudy Gourguechon offered another take, putting the blame directly on Sam the clothing store manager, calling out their seemingly narcissistic behavior and how society’s tolerance for such behavior is “distinctly gender-based.” She says these biases go back to the social programming of our childhoods and the roles mothers and fathers tend to play in our upbringing.

So what are women supposed to do with this information?

Gourgechon’s status quo advice includes telling women to not stop being funny, but “to be aware of the the feelings and subjectivities of the people around you.” While recommending an empathetic stance isn’t necessarily bad advice, it still puts the onus on women to change their behavior, worry about what everyone else thinks and attempt to please everyone around them.

We already know that professional women can have an extremely hard time remaining true to themselves in the workplace — especially women in the tech industry — and authenticity is often a privilege saved for those who conform to the accepted culture. We obviously still have a long way to go before women stop being “punished” for being funny at work, but things seem to be progressing, however slowly.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama shared her thoughts last year on the improvements that have been made and the changes that still need to happen, including encouraging men to step up and do their part. In the wake of the #metoo movement, CNBC recommended five things men can do to support women at work. There are amazing women in STEM positions around the world we can all admire and shine a spotlight on.

All of these steps — both big and small — will continue to chip away at the gender inequality that permeates today’s workplaces. And perhaps one day in the near future, female clothing store manager Sam will be allowed to be just as funny as male clothing store manager Sam.

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Opinion Editorials

Two common business myths that could get you sued

(EDITORIAL) Two misconceptions in the business world can either make or break a small business.

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When you’re an entrepreneur with a small staff, you may be in the habit of running your team casually.

While there’s nothing wrong with creating a casual environment for your team (most people function better in a relaxed environment), it’s wise to pay close attention to certain legal details to make sure you’re covered.

It’s easy to misinterpret certain aspects of labor law since there is a lot of misinformation about what you can and cannot do inside of an employee-employer relationship. And since labor laws vary from state to state, it can be even more confusing.

As an entrepreneur, it might be strange to think of yourself as an employer. But when you’re the boss, there’s no way around it.

Here are two employment myths you might face as an entrepreneur along with the information you need to discern what’s actually true. Because these myths carry a lot of risk to your business, it’s important that you contact an attorney for advice.

1. Employees can waive their meal breaks without compensation

It’s a common assumption that any agreement in writing is an enforceable, legally binding contract, no matter what it contains. And for the most part, that’s true.

However, there are certain rights that cannot be signed away so easily.

For example, many states in the US have strict regulations around when and how employees can forfeit their unpaid meal breaks.

While meal breaks aren’t required at the Federal level, they are mandated at the state level and each state has different requirements that must be followed by employers. While some states allow employees to waive their meal breaks, on the other end of that the employer is usually required to compensate the employee.

For example, in California an employee can waive their 30-minute unpaid meal break only if they do so in writing and their scheduled shift is no more than 6 hours. In other words, when a shift is more than 6 hours, the meal break cannot be waived.

Additionally, when an employee waives their unpaid meal break, they must be paid for an on duty meal break and be compensated with an extra hour of pay for the day.

Vermont, on the other hand, provides no specific provisions for meal breaks and according to the Department of Labor, “Employees are to be given ’reasonable opportunities’ during work periods to eat and use toilet facilities in order to protect the health and hygiene of the employee.”

As you can see, some states have specific regulations while others have general rules that can be interpreted differently by each employer. It’s best not to make any assumptions and contact a labor law attorney to help you determine exactly what laws apply to you.

2. You own the copyright to all employee works

So you’ve hired both an employee and an independent contractor to design some graphics for your website. You might assume you automatically own the copyright to those graphics. After all, if you paid money, shouldn’t you own it?

While you may have paid a small fortune for your graphics, you may not be the legal copyright holder.

Employees vs. independent contractors:

When your employee creates a work (like graphic design) as part of their job, it’s automatically considered a “work made for hire,” which means you own the copyright. An independent contractor, however, is different.

While any legitimate work made for hire will give you the copyright, just because you created a work for hire agreement with your independent contractor doesn’t mean the work actually falls under the category of a work made for hire.

According to the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. § 101) a work made for hire is defined as “a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas.”

This means that unless your graphic design work (or other work you paid for) meets these requirements, it’s not a work made for hire.

In order to obtain the copyright, you need to obtain a copyright transfer directly from the creator, even though you’ve already paid for the work.

The boundaries of intellectual property rights can be confusing. You can protect your business by playing it safe and not making any assumptions before consulting an attorney to help you discern the specific laws in your state.

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