3 Quick Steps to Successfully Lead an IT Team

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Gene Rogers

"What in the world have I gotten myself into?" That’s usually what I am asking myself the first week after taking over a new IT team. Fortunately, "been there, done that" really does help in this situation.

If you find yourself in charge of an IT team for the first time, follow this three-step program for quick success.
First, meet with all of your direct reports individually for 60 minutes. Yes, this takes some time, but the payoff is big. Follow this agenda:
  1. Let the team member know that this meeting is a "get-to-know-you" session and that nothing is off-limits.
  2. Ask their permission to take notes – and then take notes!
  3. Spend the first 10-15 minutes listening. Prompt for professional background and professional areas of interest and then move to personal hobbies and interests. (Don’t forget to take notes!)
  4. Spend 5 minutes (or less) talking about yourself. Don’t talk about your background and interests unless asked. Instead talk about your need to understand the team and your desire to eliminate barriers to their success.
  5. Ask these questions:"Do you know exactly how your job relates to the success of the team and the company?"

(a) "Do you know what success in your role looks like?"

(b) "Do you have the tools and training to do your job?"

(c) "How do you want your career to progress, technical or management?"

(d) "If you could improve one thing about working on this team, what would it be?"

The answers to these questions might surprise you. My experience is that most team members have trouble answering "a" and "b". For "c" the most frequent answer is "more training". If you receive that answer, push for specifics. If your budget allows, follow up and get the training ASAP.
Most companies do not do a good job on career planning with tech-focused teams. You can be a beacon of light to your team by assisting them in planning their respective careers. Write down the answer to question "d". In time, you will be able to adjust responsibilities on your team to reflect what each individual wants to accomplish.
I consider these questions critical success factors for team member engagement and team performance, so make it a top priority to ensure you and the team can individually answer these questions.
Second, follow up with the team in a group meeting and report back on what you learned from them. Engage them in creating a plan to implement improvements based on what they said needed to be done. Don’t skip this step!! The team needs to know you are listening and that you care enough to take action, even if the action is coming up with a plan to take action.
Third, if you are going to make personnel changes, do it quickly. The longer you wait the harder it will be. Lingering personnel issues will drain the life out of you. Listen to your peers. Listen to your team. Listen to your gut, and then act.
Tech-focused teams are often siloed within institutions and they need a voice and light to help guide them through change. You can be that beacon, but communication, collaboration and transparency are all key factors you’ll need on your journey. My advice moving forwards: don’t get overwhelmed, be open and trust your gut. Last but not least, follow this simple three-step program for quick success; after all… I have got the IT Management T-Shirt.