Managing a Technical Team when not Technical
For a non-technical manager, moving across to manage a team of engineers and technicians can feel quite intimidating. It is important, therefore, to hold on to the fact that it is management skills rather than technical skills and knowledge that is required in the role. Having said that, it is necessary for the manager to be credible in the eyes of their team and therefore it is essential for them to gain some understanding of the day-to-day operations and what each job entails. It is also paramount that the manager learns the technical language that they are going to need to use when communicating both to the team and to other stakeholders. This can be achieved by attending industry events, workshops and reading periodicals.
It is advisable that a non-technical manager does not try to bluff their way on technical matters with a team of engineers and technicians, as their ignorance will soon be exposed. A non-technical manager should be honest about the gaps in their technical knowledge and allow the team to explain things, challenging them to explain technical concepts in layman terms. The manager should learn about the team’s different fields of expertise and then find out more about these, attending introductory courses if felt necessary.
A good idea is for the manager to partner up with one or more team members who understand the technical aspect of a project and who can help them make more educated decisions regarding timescales and the levels of challenge and risk.
Winning over Technical Teams
Trust is key to establishing a good relationship with a technical team, and from trust comes increased motivation and productivity. The team need to believe in the honesty and authenticity of their manager and that their manager will represent their needs strongly at management meetings.
The manager needs to build trust through being able to explain decisions to their team and clearly describe expected outcomes. The team need to feel that they are in the information loop. While not caving in, the manager needs to acknowledge the unknown and the risks involved in the work of the team. All communications need to be clear, deliberate and not open to misconstruction.
It will make a big difference if the manager has a positive attitude and a solutions mindset and can cultivate within the team an appetite for experimentation. Equally, if their manager develops strong networks within the organisation, he or she will be perceived as having potential influence within the organisation, which will also inspire confidence. Such networking can be achieved in a variety of ways from helping people outside the department to attending company social events.