Human Nature and Managing Technology Teams

September 09, 2011 at 01:45 PM

Managing technology groups can be especially challenging. I attribute this to the way that technology attracts personality types that aren't as common in traditional business roles. Specifically I am talking about the type of people that founded and continue to support the stereotypes of the technologist - the introverted, over-calm, over-ego'ed nerds and geeks.

Darwin's Theory of Human Behavior suggests that we are all motivated by four drives: to acquire, to defend what we have acquired, to understand/comprehend the world around us, and to bond socially.

Technologists are a little bit of a different breed. Part of what motivates technology people is making it better: the interface, their programming code, the world. They want to know they are making a difference, even if it's at a personal and not global level. I don't think this specific motivation can be attributed to just one of the Darwin drives - but works across all of them. Making it better is a quest to acquire new knowledge or capabilities, better-preserve existing knowledge/capabilities, yield new or clearer understanding, and gain socially through being recognized for the accomplishment.

Harvard researchers performed a survey among the workforce to test Darwin's Theory. Their results were published in Harvard Business review and this month in Harvard Magazine. The study showed that the four drives explain about 60% of motivation for employees, but more importantly that if just one drive wasn't satisfied in the person's job, it pulled down their job satisfaction in all other categories. The best results correlated with all four drives being fulfilled simultaneously.

Computer systems are logical things and that is a natural attraction for people who fall into the NT range of the Myers-Briggs personality type. Logic and strategy are strengths of NTs, and they value truth, knowledge, competence and autonomy.

Typical technology people highly respect authority figures that they see as deserving of their positions. However, Myers-Brings and Carl Jung point out that NT thinkers disdain poor and unmerited leadership. This is mainly due to the fact that NTs have a natural leadership ability and tendency, but they are introverted and reserved. They prefer to work behind the scenes but can emerge as effective leaders when they feel that the business objective would be failed otherwise.

A big key to motivating technology teams that many managers miss is filling them in on the big picture. This goes a long way with the team because it allows them to plan for the intermedite and long-term. Without understanding the strategy of the company they work for, technologists will see their leadership as erratic and ineffective.

Recognition is another area that is often overlooked. This isn't just an "atta boy".

Your technology team should be looked at and even touted as an asset where appropriate. Buy them lunches, give them perks, and let them take time off outside of the company policy if they work overtime.

Like many things, communication and understanding are keys to success in managing technology teams. I create highly effective teams by hiring competent people and laying out the strategy as well as the technology philosophy. This gives employees a compass on which to base their decisions and solutions, ensuring their efforts and contributions are in-line with the needs of the organization.

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