Managing is caring ?
As many articles I have read last week pointed out : managing people, leading people relies a lot on caring for them. (check some of those links in Episode 10 of "Through the stack").
I wanted to unpack a bit more this idea and explain how Imfiny does this, as a consulting company.
Embedded in the team
Imfiny generally joins a team with different profiles. As our expertise spans several topics (backend, infrastructure, product, culture) we are especially well suited to work as fractional tech lead or solver.
But those role aren't just purely technical. There is a lot to do around softer skills too and being embedded in the team helps to do that.
When we are an external consultant and working remotely it's very easy to be on the side lines and working without being noticed, without contact with anyone.
Yet that is a very big mistake to do. At one point or another we either depend on information provided by other people in the client's teams or they will need to take ownership of what we do. Insuring that the team is aware of your work, how it happens and how it will come back to them is important.
Step in step
About 6 years ago, with the Imfiny adventure starting, we worked on a little project with a client. After a few weeks of preparatory work we came up with a plan to tackle the issues we were contracted for. We presented the plan to the team leads and went onto doing what we had defined to be our part.
Unfortunately, as we were not clear who was supposed to do the other parts, no one did those, thinking that was the responsibility of someone else.
Trusting blindly that others have understood what they have to do and that they will organize their workload accordingly was a big mistake. And working in isolation does not help to get the pulse of those other tasks.
Meet once, do plenty of work, and synchronize later does not work well. Instead it's better to define shorter steps and check on each other work.
a little bit of agility ?
Regular chats on how things are going are important. And if you define small increments to go from one working step to another you also help to get early opportunities to redirect your efforts if something new arise or if something was missed.
You don't get into a tunnel to do a whole series of tasks and come out way way later only to find out how far you have diverged with the other teams.
a lot of caring
But those chats have another side. They allow you, especially if you are in a senior or staff level role, to see how your teammates are doing. If the team is small (6 people or less) you can easily hear from everyone at every meeting. In time you get to read their habits and their expressions through those meetings.
If you see someone is not behaving as usual you should reach out to that person, ask if they are ok. They might brush you off, but at least you have knocked on the door and asked. You have made yourself available to them and checked on them.
If you are leading the team or if you are senior and mentoring others in the team it's important to understand you have additional responsibilities and opportunities towards those team members. In such a role you should take additional care to have regular (once a month at least) 1:1 meetings.
Those times you take to check on your teammates either unofficially ("just a coffee") or officially (1:1 meetings) is key to build a relationship. This is time you need to use to listen (mostly) so that those people you are spending time with understand you care for them, not just for the success of the current project, but for their success.
it's just a job
What bad managers don't understand and forget is that when we say "it's just a job" we remind ourselves this is just a means to an end. Of course, our work has value, the company is helping their customers, some more than others. Yet, in the end, we need to remember a job, what ever it is, does not define us as being.
As people in senior roles, with the responsibility to lead others in the work, or manage them, we need to remember that and we need to remind others of that.
We can totally care for our work and do it well while caring even more for our teammates and remind them to care for themselves. In the long run it will always pan out.
Ensuring we are working for the good reasons and in a good way will bear fruit every time : we will get better products. Ensuring we are not burning out people in our teams will bear fruit every time : we will keep our people happy and in the company.
Care about the people, about the work
So, I would say it's always possible to care both about the people and the work. The people first and it will guide us, naturally, to do our work with care.
That's why agile and XP were so interesting when they came up : putting back the need of the client (people) up front, not falling into the heaviness and rigidity of a waterfall of blind decisions.
That's why it's so important, as senior talent, consultant or not, to always come back to these : "what's the simplest thing that will work?", "what will bring the most value for the less work right now ?", "what's immediately next ?".
Instead of focusing on a foggy dream and pressuring the team to get there we get to focus on what the team can do right now (with its current context) to move towards what's actually needed by our users (reality).
It's all about caring : about people, about doing something that is actually needed.