How to Manage Tech Team (Tips for CTO)
The role of a CTO is often defined as a tech guru with a visionary mindset and entrepreneurial spirit. Chief Technology Officer is a figure often shrouded in mystery and secrecy. It’s hard to specify what the duties of a CTO are since this job title comes with numerous responsibilities and overlaps with quite a few other positions. The road to becoming the key tech player in a company is by no means easy. It takes lifelong determination and commitment to technology to move up the corporate career ladder that high.
What makes a good CTO? To be a good CTO in our progressive world means to be able to pass the invaluable knowledge and experience to teams of like-minded engineers. Technical leadership fades away if you don’t know how to establish healthy environment within the team. In this article we will explore team management best practices and worst mistakes. We will also scrutinize the very concept of leadership and investigate how it affects team performance overall.
For more information go ahead to out interview with Eric Typaldos - Co-Founder and CTO at Hive - to discover how to set up processes with a dedicated remote team.
CTO Roles and Responsibilities as a Team Manager
Initially, team lead skills in software development, include sufficient conceptual expertise and broad technical skillset. Conceptual competence is a set of skills that helps managers think creatively when it comes to wrapping your head around complicated or abstract ideas. Top-tear managers’ job is to see the bigger picture, visualize the company’s current direction, and come up with a master plan aimed for the stars. As a CTO, you will have to plan and organize how technology is going to be used in your company and team.
Speaking about technology, the greatest CTOs share two things:
1. Tech background
2. Passion for technology
Chief Technology Officer has to be in the know when it comes to the most recent and efficient tech solutions. That’s the only recipe to make your company stand out from the competitors in the dog-eat-dog market. Strong engineering skills are necessary to solve technical problems in the most insightful and deftly way and find common ground with fellow engineers.
As a team manager and Chief Technical Officer, you will have to be an example to your subordinates. Leadership is both an honor and a daunting job. Not everyone is a born leader, let alone a good one. Regardless of the domain, great leaders share the same interpersonal leadership qualities, such as:
As a person in charge, you should be confident in the decisions you’re making. Only a leader exuding confidence can make teammates respect their vision and endorse their ideas.
When a leader is passionate about the project, the whole team runs like clockwork. Inspired by your commitment, your subordinates will follow your lead and keep up the pace for common cause.
All ideas, no matter how brilliant, come to naught if you can’t communicate your thinking clearly. Make sure all crew members are on the same page to make your team work like a charm.
As a decision-maker of your team, you are responsible for the choices you go for. Admitting mistakes is a trait many supervisors lack, but many subordinates look up to. As a leader, you have to be responsible for what you do and hold your teammates accountable for their actions. Embracing slip-ups and puzzling out answers together is a step forward for your team.
Know what CTO responsibilities to take and what tasks to delegate to colleagues. Provide enough resources, support, and mentorship to your teammates for them to feel empowered. A leader who can find a balance between guidance and freedom will see their coworkers grow as accountable and independent professionals.
Do not confuse managing a technical team with dictatorship. A leader’s goal is to build a team on respect and trust, not fear and avoidance. To understand coworkers best, put yourself in their shoes - we’re all humans, after all.
Managing Tech Team as a Chief Technology Officer: Where to Begin?
Joining a new company or starting your career as a CTO is stressful and demanding, to say the least. A Chief Technology Officer has to be a tech whiz, a strategist, and a people person all in one. No one is born this way, though. You’re going to need years or even decades to get that good in every aspect. But what if tomorrow’s your first day as a team lead of such a major scale? How do you manage a technical team with your palms sweating? And how to be a lead engineer with your knees shaking? Don’t sweat it; listen to your gut feelings and consider incorporating the following practices on your first days as a tech lead.
The first and the most important thing to do in a new team is to get to know everybody. Don’t jump to work immediately; by all means, try to resist the urge to start solving issues - understand your environment first. Get your teammates talking about their best and worst experiences and overall work dynamics on the project. Organize team-building activities to earn your peers’ trust - you’re going to need it when it comes to achieving great things together.
Just like you want to know your new crew and environment, your team members are curious about who you are. Be open and honest from day one; showcase your values and priorities. Don’t say, “I would do x because I want to”. Explain your decisions and goals in a rational and reasonable way to get the most out of the team: “I would do x because it would benefit x and improve x”. Be clear on what is expected from the crew: introduce the workflow you’re going for, define rules, and outline the objectives. Prepare the team to get down to work, but try your best to not sound like a tyrant who came to conquer. Deliver your viewpoint in a relaxed manner; let the team know you’re always open for discussion.
Do you want to hit a home run early on and impress teammates with your problem-solving skills? Then aim for a grievance that has been there forever, but no one has managed to get around. Leave grand affairs for later; start with a hotfix that would be enough to eliminate minor inconveniences. With less to worry about, your team will be able to focus more on the development process. Establish yourself as a down-to-earth doer, and not a space cadet.
|offer solutions to existing grievances||criticize previous practices|
|proceed with minor but meaningful changes||try to boil the ocean on day one|
|be clear about your vision||assume you’re understood|
|get to know your team well||isolate yourself from the team|
|address right question to right people||ramble on about your previous work|
Keep the DOs and DON’Ts up your sleeve at all times: make the first step towards great leadership
Things a Good CTO Team Lead Would Never Do
Act as if you know everything. “Who's the smartest of them all?” If the answer is “me”, you should rethink your attitude. Pushy leaders who force their decisions on the team and never listen to their colleagues discourage engineers to the point where they want to leave the project or the company. You should be proud of your work. Just don't let that pride suffocate everyone else.
Aim for perfectionism. A good CTO knows what part of the project needs extra attention, and what trifles can be sacrificed for the sake of more important things. There’s no need to sweat over every baby step you’re making. What makes a project perfect? Nobody knows. Keep trying out different solutions and exploring new things until you find the best match in the given context. Chasing rainbows will only exhaust your team and dishearten the members of the crew.
Be ungrateful to your team members. Engineers have worked hard enough to get a place in the team. As a part of the crew, they lose sleep over the success of the project they’ve been working on. Give them credit, show gratitude, let them know their effort is appreciated and welcomed, and they’ll stay as motivated as on their first day in the office.
Neglect your colleagues’ mental and physical health. Your duty as a Chief Technical Officer is to be a mentor, not a warden. Take care of the team and make sure your mates are in the right state of mind and a sound body. Create a healthy workplace environment and stand shoulder to shoulder with your crew.
Act as if rules do not apply to you. Would it seem fair to your subordinates if you told them off for being late to the office but came late yourself? Making rules means every member on the team, regardless of where they stand in the hierarchy down from CTO, should follow them. As a leader, you serve as a model: if you expect the engineers on the team to adhere to the coding style guide - show them how.
6+ Tips for CTO to Manage Your Tech Team Better
To ensure you're doing everything you can as a Chief Technology Officer, take on the role of a Product Owner. It doesn't mean you have to be one; just make sure you’re the leader who is able to prioritize the needs of the stakeholders and define the products/company's vision. Make your contribution to the development and review its every stage. Work with the team to refine and improve the development process. Evaluate the progress together to see how the team is doing, and whether they’re doing it right.
Don't overlook the equipment and tools your team is using. As the key tech person of the company, you know how important hardware and software are for work, like on one else. We all can imagine how frustrating it is when your machine is not capable of running code or slows down every task you do. Put your heads together to come up with the list of necessary tools that would suffice for a continuous and seamless workflow.
One of the primary responsibilities of a CTO is to trigger action. Most programmers choose the trade to learn how to build things and introduce them to the world. Engineers love solving dire issues; they put in an unimaginable amount of effort to make a difference. It’s very easy to burn out when no one takes an interest in your work and takes it seriously. Encourage problem-solving and creativity, give your teammates freedom to create, and they’ll come up with the answers you’ve been looking for.
Trust your engineers like you trust yourself. Too many teams fail because their leads don't trust them anything “too important” or “too difficult”. They think they're better off doing it all on their own - and they're gravely mistaken. First of all, to do meaningful and challenging things is their job; they know what they're doing. On top of that, it's impossible to do everything by yourself. You have a whole team of professionals, let them do what they're meant to.
To be sure you and your team understand the client and the users' needs, review customer feedback together. Don't take it as a PASS/FAIL test. Consider it the most useful advice you could ever get. Analyzing feedback and delivering it to the team makes it easier for engineers to come up with needed solutions. As a CTO, you will be able to assess the success of your current strategy, and get a hold of the gaps and trends in the world of tech.
As the person in charge, you want to be sure your company has the best engineers. Being a pro requires a hell of a lot of time and effort. Every expert began as junior nobody reckoned with. A good CTO’s duty is to recognize potential and hone it. Let people grow together with the project/company. A professional who is welcomed and admired by peers and supervisors will return the favor multiplying it by a hundred.
As a bonus, we’ve prepared a concise interview with Taras Dolyniuk, CTO here at Apiko, to find out what team management tenets and best practises he follows in his company. Taras is responsible for both the success of numerous projects and corporate-level tech decisions.
What qualities should a team lead possess to bond with a new team instantly?
Taras: I don’t think there is a specific list of qualities. Just be honest, patient, and admit immediately if you’re wrong/made a mistake.
How, as a Chief Technology Officer, do you explain to your teammate they’re wrong without sounding too authoritative?
Taras: Just don’t tell them they are wrong. Instead, you should try to explain how to do it the right way.
Is the role of a CTO for everyone? What kind of a person is best suited for this role?
Taras: I believe it should be a proactive person with a good technical background. The main set of my responsibilities often overlap with Team Lead and partially with Project Manager or BA, so tech skills are a must.
What are the difficulties of managing a tech team and how to avoid them?
Taras: For me this is probably general team performance. In order to keep it high you need to:
- ensure everyone has enough info about the assigned task to be able to complete it
- help teammates if they’re stuck on a particular problem
Usually, additional pair of eyes speeds up problem resolution, which can take a day or days to solve it alone.
Engineers often expect Chief Technical Officer to be the alpha geek of the company. How do you keep up with the expectations?
Taras: Am I? I don’t think so. My approach is simple: learn things you’re interested in.
As any managerial position, the job of a CTO covers a broad range of duties and responsibilities. Chief Executive Officer has to be a jack of all trades: a tech adept, a mediator, and a tactician. The most difficult part for a tech team leader is to make the team work as one perfectly calibrated mechanism. To achieve that level of teamwork, the processes within the team have to be carefully evaluated and orchestrated. Goals for technical lead are not achieved with the hands of subordinates, but acts as an integral link of the team.
Managing a team is always a challenge, especially if your subordinates are seasoned professionals and bright minds. That being said, CTO’s primary mission is to keep the zeal in the team and lead it in the right direction. Chief Executive Officer is a demanding but rewarding position - you get to work with many brilliant people to achieve meaningful goals. Under the leadership of a CTO the team may either collapse or prosper. Do everything you can to achieve the latter.