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When I first became a manager I didn’t think too much of it, it was the right career progression for me. I’ve had a variety of managers throughout my career and felt ready to give it a try…“bring it on” I thought! I jumped straight into line management duties on top of other team leading work without thinking much about what the actual role should involve. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the emotional impact a management role has!

Some days you never get going, inundated with requests (holidays, sick days, doctors, dentists, sick children, no show nannies, lost dogs, dead cats, plumbers, house moves, broken laptops…etc., etc!), it can be relentless at times. But this is all ‘stuff’ a manager needs to handle in an appropriate way to keep everything moving. It can be emotionally draining and usually impacts the work we need to do!

There’s plenty of books or training courses on management with good practical advice for dealing with almost every scenario but, as much as I think relevant reading is good, it can only get you so far. One thing you cannot buy is experience. Experience comes from surviving through many different situations…and learning from them! Sure, we will all make mistakes, bad decisions, say something inappropriate but I see making mistakes as healthy as long as you learn from them. In fact, if you’re not making mistakes are you really pushing yourself?

This made me think what should a manager’s role be, we all have job descriptions but this is not exactly what I mean, I was thinking more fundamental than a list of responsibilities. As managers, our job is not just to build applications but to build people too, if we overlook the people it could have disastrous effects. A team will only be successful if the members work as a team! So I thought more about the role of a manager and decided on 3 areas that a manager should pay particular attention to: observing, influencing, and growing.

Observing

Observing is about awareness of what is going on in and around your teams, I’m not talking about sitting there scribbling down everyone’s movements like an IT train spotter! It’s about having the perception of the main interactions affecting people. Observe how people act around the office, during conferences calls and meetings, this is on an individual and team level. Manager’s shouldn’t be interfering but be able to identify struggles that could escalate into a problem. This situational awareness also helps identify if a team member is having difficulties (personally or work related) because of they way they’re reacting, which may need your attention. Sometimes (probably most of the time) you don’t need to act, observe how the team member responds, give him/her the chance to make a decision. Obviously if a situation is clearly out of hand then you need to cautiously step in! For the majority, see how the situation resolves, then take it to the one-on-one, ask them how they felt it went, offer feedback of praise or guidance.

Observing might sound simple but it’s a skill that needs work to become a habit. Once this is part of your daily routine you begin to learn a lot about your teams, how they work, how they react without your involvement. This gives you a chance to work at a team or individual level to strengthen particular areas. Are you sitting with your team? If not you could be missing out on valuable information…consider moving! Globally distributed teams are more difficult, an efficient level of communication has to be in place, then through those channels you can observe how the team or particular members are engaging. If you don’t have good communication channels in place then you are basically blind to a lot of activity.

Influencing

We’re influenced in some way by everything around us, even subconsciously, which makes this an essential skill for managers. By influencing I mean steering individuals and teams in some direction (preferably the right one!) This could be from helping individuals make career decisions to guiding teams in adopting a new practice.

As you observe you’ll continue to learn about your teams, from this you can identify areas that may need your influence. A manager’s influence can basically affect everything that happens (or doesn’t happen), which is not always a good thing! Teams should be part of a decision process so it’s not about influencing what decisions are made but how decisions are made. Use your experience to guide discussions, ensuring different options are considered so any decisions or choices made can be reasoned.

A manager doesn’t necessary have to agree with the decisions, but by giving the team or individual that responsibility helps with creatively and empowerment. Managers should never become a dependency that could affect progress so continual influence is vital across the board from team interaction to promoting good habits.

Growing

Maintaining growth is crucial to individual morale and healthy teams. Not growth in team size but growth in knowledge and experience. This growth covers a broad range of areas that could be as specific as learning a new technology to making small continuous improvements over time. There are a variety of ways to achieve growth depending where the need is, hackathons or team building exercises are fun ways for the teams to bond to help an open and trusting culture.

Close relationships with your teams are vital to see first hand where improvements are needed. Listening to their needs is critical, they are not resources, they are people, so understanding what is important to them gives clarity in prioritizing growth areas. From this you can work at a personal level with someone or across all the teams to guide them through any growth.

Managers need to study too! The technology world is constantly changing, we need to stay in touch with the latest news and processes. Ideally individuals should be motivated in their own study but if not it’s important to set a standard that encourages others, then you’re able show the benefits of making the effort. Teams are successful when there is a culture that encourages everyone to share new developments and being open about improvements they believe can make a difference. This shows they are thinking and have the passion to improve!

Built on trust

It’s easy to write down how a role should be done, putting it into practice is often the challenging part! You find people object to the simplest of suggestions and putting forward changes often invoke emotional responses. Dealing with these reactions is all part of the job which is why I believe observing, influencing and growing work very closely together. You won’t always get instant support from those around, but it’s a relationship that needs ongoing work. It’s a relationship that is built on trust and respect for each other!

Trust is crucial within a team, it’s not handed out after you pass your probation period, it needs to be earned! As a manager you’re a mentor and a coach so it’s very difficult to influence and grow others without a foundation of trust. You’re working with each other 8 hours a day, 48 weeks of the year, from graduates to principal developers/architects, you need a broad set of skills to build relationships with different people while maintaining unity and enthusiasm. There will be conflicts, mistakes will be made, so being honest and open is key to keeping any trust that has been established.

Do you dream about having self-organizing teams that embrace accountability? Maybe it’s just me! Either way this takes effort…and a passion for a better work life. I believe this begins with managers and their desire to want the best for their team. It’s so rewarding when helping someone achieve a goal that they were passionate about or watching a team work together and hit a target. This is the buzz I get being a manager. As I’ve said, the role is not easy but if you have belief in yourself and those around you then half the battle is already won!

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