Whose team are you on, part two: the IC edition

Allow me to quote myself:

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 you, as an IC? With your lead being on a totally different team, what should you do?

  • You cannot expect your lead to know what your day to day feels like; you have to communicate it quite clearly. This applies to your relationships with colleagues – the good, the bullies and the ones in-between – your experience of your tooling and work environment, and the atmosphere in spaces your manager isn’t in (including Slack channels).
  • Related to that, engineering chaos and the drag it inflicts on your tasks may not be obvious. You don’t need to whine about it, but you and your lead both need to be clear about what is outside your control vs what you might be able to improve.
  • Your lead’s understanding of the technical know-how you need before you can write about a topic is probably high-level. It’s okay to spend more time learning things than your lead thought you’d need.
  • Your lead may not communicate things you want to know about, and may bore you with details you don’t care about. It’s okay to (politely) clarify what does or doesn’t matter to you.
  • Your lead is quite possibly not as powerful as you think. It’s easy to overestimate how much leads can do, or how quickly. It’s also easy to underestimate the importance (and sheer quantity) of other people’s problems; there may be excellent reasons your problem isn’t your leads’s top priority.

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