Whose team are you on?

As an IC, your main structure at work is a team of other ICs. As a manager, you manage a team of ICs, but are yourself working alongside other managers. This means you and your ICs are, in effect, on two different teams.

This blew my mind a little when it first happened to me. I’d never been part of a team of documentation leads; people who spoke my language, shared my worldview, and cared about how many commas I used in this list. In fact, because I’d been “just” the docs lead, I’d never really been part of a lead team of any kind.

But what’s the impact of this duality on the team you manage? It widens the gap between your day to day and your team’s day to day; not only are you spending most of your time doing vague management stuff rather than writing, you’re doing it with people your team barely knows. Your experience of the company is different to theirs not just because of your grade and position, but because you’re embedded in a completely different professional network, having discussions they’re not part of. It’s like you go to work with your management peers and come home in the evening to your team to give them the day’s headlines across the dinner table.

If you want to understand how your team experiences your company, you need to answer some questions:

  • How do people at your company treat ICs? Do they get a lot less respect? Are they being bullied? Are their questions and concerns blithely dismissed?
  • What do the leads know that the ICs don’t? Do the ICs want to know this, or is it noise? How much of what you’re already sharing is noise? How much information are the leads explicitly told not to share with ICs, and why?
  • What sort of support do you get from the leads? Who is your team getting this support from?
  • If you had to be an IC for a week, how much worse would you feel about the problems your team faces? Would you think you can get the job done? Really pay attention to these two questions; ICs do a very different job using very different system and tools, so their days are often dominated by the problems you only hear about in the occasional meeting.
  • Does your team think their problems get discussed and prioritises at a higher level, or do they think you’re a black hole for their requests? Be honest: are you advocating for your team? Do the dynamics at the leads meetings give your team’s issues a fair chance of being addressed? Are there far worse issues that are being justly prioritised ahead of your team’s, but that you’re not telling your team about? Are there no worse issues, but you’re still helpless to fix theirs? Why? Are you telling them? Why not?

This is not an exhaustive list, but it should get you thinking along the right lines: how much better or worse is life on the team you lead, compared to the team you’re on?

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