Before there was Facebook, there was MySpace. And before there was MySpace, there was Friendster. The story of Friendster’s demise has been rehashed in technology and business circles so many times that its hard to know what actually happened outside of a few key issues. One point that everyone seems to agree on is that management kept the pedal to the metal on driving user adoption, even though the company’s technical infrastructure was ill-equipped to scale with the rapid increase in traffic. The disconnect between technical teams and management is very real and can creep up out of nowhere. Whether it’s a company like Friendster or an initiative like the United States Government’s Healthcare.gov, stifled technical team communication and synergy between engineers and organizational leadership will put your organization or project on a fast track to failure.
If you are CIO, CTO, or executive focused at least in part on the technical infrastructure or technical offerings of your company, then you owe it to your entire organization to learn how to listen to your technical team and facilitate an open conversation long before problems happen. Here are five ways to better understand what your technicians are trying to tell you that you might currently be missing:
- Are you really being open and honest? Most leaders and managers claim to have some type of open door policy with their teams. Some implement comment boxes or have meetings where they “open the floor” for comments and questions. You are being naive if you think these cliched practices are fostering honest and open dialogue between your technicians and you. Try a more engaging form of communication. Rather then ask, “How is everything going?” frame the question in a more direct way like, “The support queue looks to have more open tickets today then yesterday. Is there any specific reason? Is there anything I can do to help you?” Directed and specific questions let them know you have their attention and aren’t simply paying lip service to what they are saying.
- Be the least intelligent person in the room. One of the best ways to create open dialogue with your technical team is to disarm yourself by acting like the least-intelligent person in a meeting. “I don’t understand, can you tell me more about that…” “I’m sorry, can you explain to me how that works…” “This is out of my depth but I’d like to know more. Can you break that down a little further?” Aside from the opportunity to impress management, many technicians will respond to these queries in a way that helps expose potential pitfalls long before they become problems.
- Remove the fear of punishment. The fear of punishment if something goes wrong is still a powerful motivator within technical teams. Engineers and technicians will often exhaust themselves trying to solve a problem rather than call attention to it. Unfortunately, many techs are afraid that speaking up and saying “we have a problem” will result in a poor performance review…or worse. To combat this fear of reprisal, you must make sure your team knows that bad news today is greatly preferred to worse news tomorrow. Convey that sounding the alarm to a potential problem will result not in your dissatisfaction, but in your gratitude as you marshall the necessary resources to help them find a solution.
- Talk about something else. A number of people believe that director or executive level individuals shouldn’t get too cozy with technicians and engineers. However, what purpose does this separation serve except to divide teams? How can you say you lead a team when the team feels insulated from you? Having a casual conversation with a team member (“How was your weekend?” “Did you watch the game last night?” “Have any interesting plans for the summer?”) will let them know that you are all working towards the same goals. Leave the pretense in the parking lot; you are all on the same team.
- Give them the power. Nothing stifles open communication among teams like feedback falling on deaf ears. Creating an open communication environment is only half the equation. The second half is dependent on you making that feedback actionable. If you are made aware of a problem or a resource that is needed, you are obligated to that team member to deliver an answer to their request. Even telling them what they don’t want to hear is better than no answer at all. The only way open communication can continue to exist is if everyone sees the benefit of it.
Open communication doesn’t have to be hard. In many cases, fostering open communication between technical teams and leadership is a cultural initiative more than anything else. The entire team should share in the ramifications and results of work performed. Otherwise, what is the point of having a team in the first place? If a problem arises that is outside of your internal team’s expertise, companies like Mosaic NetworX are available to help fill in the gaps. Click here to contact Mosaic NetworX and learn more about how their services can complement and amplify the work being performed by your technical team.