On Your Business: Avoid Friction with Effective Management
What’s the best approach for leading technical teams?
The Pro AV industry, like many others in the technology space, tends to focus heavily on the technical expertise of its members. While it goes without saying that organizations in a technological industry need to evaluate talent based on their specialized skills and expertise, there is also an equal need for business-minded individuals who can help their technical counterparts leverage their skills to grow and help their organizations succeed.
By nature, most highly technical individuals focus on the quality of their work, their desire to satisfy clients, and the respect that they get for the complexity of the work they do. In contrast, many who focus on the business side need to concentrate their efforts on efficiency, productivity, and accountability of their team in contributing to the profitability of their organization. This commonly leads to friction resulting from a misalignment of perspectives, interests, and goals—and allows for the potential of adversarial relationships between those who are in the associated technical and managerial roles. The ability to minimize this conflict stems from effective management.
A Choice of Style
Managing a team of technical experts can be a particularly challenging role. Effective technical managers possess a special blend of skills enabling them to be business leaders while also being able to relate to the technical acuity of their team. Often, the personalities of those in specialty roles present a unique challenge to managers.
While technical experts have been known to embrace those who have been in their shoes and can understand their challenges and the efforts required for them to be successful, they can be resistant to those who are less familiar. Those managers who are on the outside are forced to work harder to gain the trust and respect of their team, resulting in a longer runway for the adoption of their leadership.
While managers should have a degree of baseline technical knowledge to effectively understand those whom they are managing and the situations they are facing, it is not their primary asset.
In general, there are several approaches to management, each with its pros and cons. One management style is highly focused on projects and processes. Managers that practice this as a primary strategy tend to be very goal-oriented and committed to getting tasks done on time and under budget, and they can be very valuable in achieving successful outcomes for an organization. The weakness of these managers tends to be the people and technical elements of the role.
Another management style is highly focused on the technical abilities of their team and the quality of the products they produce. These managers tend to be technical experts promoted to leadership due to their superior level of knowledge and experience. As a result, they put a great deal of emphasis on developing the expertise of their team, defining the approach to their products and offerings, and holding their team accountable to high-quality standards. The blind spot of these managers can be their difficulty in balancing productivity, profitability, and priorities of the business while maintaining their commitment to a superior level of technical requirements.
Yet a third type of manager is one who is more people-oriented. These managers look to understand, inspire, and motivate each individual they manage. People managers look to get the most out of the team by interpreting their strengths and weaknesses and applying specific techniques to help them overcome obstacles, improve performance, and maximize effectiveness. People managers may not be the most technical or most efficient, but they will use their abilities to connect with those whom they manage to build trust and gain their commitment to maximize effort and follow their lead.
Avoiding the ‘Old School’
In all approaches, effective management is a result of building confidence and gaining the commitment of the team through successful leadership and personal connections. While some may feel that a manager is a boss and those reporting to them must simply follow directions, this is an “old school” mindset that is likely to lead to disappointment and frustration. More commonly, successful managers understand the need to earn the respect and buy-in of those whom they manage.
Managers can span the gamut of involvement, intensity, supervision, individuality, and latitude. Some managers are only comfortable with their team working a specific way, while others are less particular as long as the work gets done and goals are met. Management styles may also be impacted by the degree of success achieved.
A team is perceived to be operating well when they are achieving successful outcomes. In this case, the adage of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” applies, and the degree of management involvement will likely not change or become more relaxed. When this is not the case, more pressure is applied to perform, causing management to be more hands-on and have tighter restrictions.
In most cases, a manager is responsible for not only the success of the team but for the advancement of its members. Thus, management must be a blend of individual and team approaches. Managers must communicate with their team regularly to understand them both on a professional and personal level. Effective managers look to make all those around them better and in doing so support, educate, develop, and empower their team to improve, grow, and succeed.
When a team member follows a manager’s lead, they are demonstrating their belief that the manager is looking out for their well-being and will guide them to success. There are certainly times when a direction or decision of a manager may be questioned, contested, or seem misguided; however, it is those times when the confident connection built between a manager and their team becomes most critical.
In the Pro AV industry, technical knowledge and experience are often looked at as being the prominent factor in dictating the success of individuals and organizations. While managers should have a degree of baseline technical knowledge to effectively understand those whom they are managing and the situations they are facing, it is not their primary asset. More importantly, they need a host of additional skills that go beyond the technical arena.
Professional skills like time management, organization, prioritization, interpersonal skills, oral and written communication, conflict management, and business acumen are just a few of the critical skills that managers rely upon daily. It is often up to managers to not only acquire and refine these skills but to also pass them along to those whom they manage.
While the products or projects produced in the audiovisual industry are a direct result of the work of the technical contributors within an organization, without the guidance of management, their potential would be hampered and the ability for organizations to succeed would be reduced. Effective managers bring out the best in their team, organization, and those who depend on them. An organization without effective management is like an orchestra without a conductor or a sports team without coaches. While it is musicians and players that make the music and compete in the game, neither can be collectively effective without the leadership of their conductor or coach.