Ask LH: How Can I Manage An IT Team?

Hello LH, I'm a young accountant working at a small-medium enterprise (SME). I manage a bunch of finance, admin and sales staff along with my finance duties. My manager is leaving for greener pastures and the flow-on restructure will result in me becoming the IT co-ordinator and officer managing the department.

I'm a novice tinkerer at best when it comes to IT. I try most of the hacks you post at Lifehacker and Gizmodo, but I have no serious IT technical skills so I'm a little worried about managing the IT department. How can I effectively manage this technical area and the staff without looking like a newbie? I'm very passionate and keen to take on the role and learn more about the area but there's only so much I can effectively do as a finance guy. Thanks, IT n00b

Team management picture from Shutterstock

Dear IT n00b,

Congratulations on the impending promotion. While it can be daunting to take on managing a team who have expertise in an unfamiliar area, the key is to remember this: your job is to manage the process, not the technology. Your role isn't to be the subject matter expert: by the sounds of your description, there are already people in place who can do that. Your role is to make sure that the IT team delivers what the business needs, and that it gets the resources it requires to make that happen effectively.

The key to doing all that isn't technology expertise, but communication. There are a few basic things you can do to make the process go more smoothly. Talk with whoever your previous manager reported to and establish clearly what they want from the role you'll be stepping into. Ultimately, they'll be the ones who judge whether you're performing effectively, so expectations in this area are crucial.

Then, talk with the current IT staff and find out how they think that the current IT function is working, and where the problem areas are. Be cautious in doing this, and definitely don't promise changes you can't deliver. Look at it as a chance to understand where potential problems might arise and where improvements can be seen in the future. As you're already managing teams in other parts of the business, you should have some ideas already about where technology is being used effectively and where changes could be made.

Passion unquestionably helps here; it means that you recognise that what the IT staff are doing is both valuable and interesting. That isn't always the case. Combine enthusiasm with a willingness to communicate and you'll quickly master the basics -- then you can decide if the role requires you to perhaps get a little more technical education on the side. But don't sell yourself short. Your employer is confident you can perform this task; remind yourself of that if you're feeling tentative.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    Seems like a strange question with no real static answers.. You gave some good general advice I guess, if not a bit obvious and applicable to most roles.

    I think you make a lot of assumptions too, such as that their job isn't to manage the technology but the process. True in some cases, but you have no idea what his employer wants. Better that he figures that out from them, then goes in with false ideals from you.

      PS: Your site is STILL too wide on mobile devices. Want to do something directly useful to every user, get it fixed..

      It'd probably be sufficient to do something as retardedly simple as adding a width: 99%; container on the article body..

        So I'm not the only one with this problem. Not being tech savvy, I thought the problem lay with my not-so-smart phone rather than the website.

    Speaking as an IT Server Specialist that has had both technical and non technical managers, I can give a little advice.

    1) Try and keep the non Technical stuff away from your Engineers. A happy engineer is one that is get to play with all the hardware toys. If you can reduce the number of meetings they have to attend you will get a big thumbs up. I have found that informal catch up at desks much better than dragging someone into an office.
    2) Keep team meetings to fornightly, and keep the quick. Update on business, and a quick run around the room as to what people are after. If it goes over an hour it's not being run properly.
    3) Try to organise some team events. I'm tired of hearing that the marketing team, or HR team have gone on another team outing to the pub/bowling/paint ball etc... IT teams seem to get left out on these types of events.
    4) Stand up for your team! I've had so many managers that are "yes, sir" to their superiors or other managers. Talk to your team before taking on extra work, find out what went wrong before taking another managers word on another 'failed system', and listen to grievances of your team regarding other teams.
    5) Keep project managers away from Engineers! This might be different depending on your organisation, but at my current work place, projects are run that need to utilise the IT team. At the beginning of a project the specifications and scope are set, and the work planned out and hours are estimated.... Then comes the project creep! Specifications change, expectations rise, scope changes... it's natural. Make the PM's come through you! I am tired of PM's coming to my desk and telling me things have changed, scope has gotten bigger and I am supposed to deliver twice as much work in the same time frame. Changes should be official, documentation updated and signed off, and expectations and timelines changed.
    6) Don't try to be technical if your not. If it's over your head, trust your team they are doing the right thing. I once spent 2 hours of my time trying to explain to one manager the ins and outs of Certificates.... And at the end, he still didn't quite understand and it was a waste of both our time.

    Hope some of that help. Others might disagree, but this is just my feedback as an engineer :)

    Get another job. No matter what you do, you will never gain the respect or trust of the IT team. Accountants and IT are like oil and water,

    Best thing to do: Micromanage your team! Knowing what they are doing at every point in time is the best way to have total control!

    And remember this old chestnut: If you're not at your desk, you're probably not working!

    What? An accountant who doesn't think he is the obvious and best qualified person to manage IT? There are very few like you, my friend. Every large company I've worked at had a CFO who tried to take over running the IT department. Sometimes when it happened it worked OK, other times not.

    The worst IT manager I ever had was a former HR manager. I wanted to kill her after a week. I ended up being fired by her a short time before she herself was fired.

    "How can I effectively manage this technical area and the staff without looking like a newbie?"

    You ARE a newbie. Don't try to pretend otherwise. Take advice, but ask lots of questions. Don't let them blind you with technospeak.

    Bowlzee's advice is good but very biased towards the techies. He's an adult, he should be able to deal with project managers on his own. As a developer I detest bosses who demand every communication with users has to go through them, especially when they get it wrong.

    Don't let people walk all over your staff, but don't let them walk all over you either. Ideally you make both your staff and your bosses happy, but ultimately the bosses keep you employed and pay your bills.

    Some solid advice from what I read, though a lot of it reads like day one stuff. Beyond that, I'll also add a few thoughts.

    - You need to scrap the idea of 'not looking like a newbie'. You're highly unlikely to be able to fool your team into thinking you know as much about their work as they do, and they'll respect you less for trying.
    - Don't argue with your team about their area of expertise, unless you're extremely sure that you're right. If you're extremely sure you're right, politely query the issue, because you're probably not.
    - Be honest when you don't know what people are talking about, but make it clear that you want to learn (and mean it - you won't get away with pleading ignorance forever).
    - Know when to give up on understanding the details - sometimes the cost:benefit is just not there, as long as you know enough to be able to report convincingly to stakeholders/your own management that everything is on track.
    - If in doubt when making decisions, ask your team for input and opinions. Some people may dismiss this as being indecisive and weak management, but you'll find that your team will generally respect you more for valuing their input. That being said, you need to know when to draw the line.
    - Get the balance right between protecting your team from the wider company and clients, and also letting them interact outside 'techie corner'. The balance here will usually vary for each team member, so it's about making the best use of everyone you've got, and providing the opportunity to develop soft skills for those who are interested.
    - Regularly invite your team to provide feedback on your performance as a manager. This can be as formal or informal as you like - the main thing is to be sincere about asking for it and sincere about following up on it. This one is a little confronting at first, but absolutely worth it if you're interested in doing a good job.
    - Don't let your own insecurities about your skills influence the way you treat your staff. Your role is about helping them to deliver work to the best possible standards, not about ensuring that they stay under you on the corporate food chain.

    A lot of this is crucial, but at the same time can be applied to just about any job - managing or not.

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