Line managing software teams

Some time ago, I wrote about the importance of adapting to the individual working styles of your colleagues. It was in this article that I reflected on my (then) position as digital project manager and how altering the way I approached sharing and delivering information was key to creating lines of communication that made sense to people, rather than trying to force everyone into the same box.

Once I’d cracked how each of my colleagues preferred to receive information, it just so happened that tasks were completed more accurately and quickly. This was naturally well received in the digital agency I worked within as the turnaround of projects and retained work in an agency is incredibly fast and ultimately, it’s the bottom line that matters.

Since writing that article back in 2019, I have moved forward in my career as a project manager, now working in-house and with a brand new team. I still adhere to the core principle of adapting to the individual working styles of the team around me. In my current role, I have also added another string to my managerial bow by becoming a line manager to a talented team of software developers. From the start, it was now more important than ever to understand how this team preferred to be communicated with, as, after all, I am not a software developer.

On line managing, a team whose skill set is vastly different from your own

Becoming a line manager in my current role was not completely new territory to me, however, I’d never had the responsibility of line managing a team whose skill set was so different from my own. How could I best support a team when I didn’t wholly understand their world? Sure, I knew they solved problems and created innovative solutions with code, but that is about as far as it went.

In a previous role, I’d been an influencer marketing service lead and a line manager to a junior influencer marketing executive. We both understood the same pain points, goals and agendas making it much easier for me to mentor and manage my direct report.

Thankfully in my new role, I need not have been so concerned, as, after all, the team of developers I line manage are the experts in cracking code and developing software and systems, however, they still need a regular touchpoint to communicate with, they still need support resolving problems and require a dedicated and committed voice to manage things upwards to senior management.

From experiencing different sides of the coin as both a line manager in a space I understood inside out and now in less familiar territory, I’ve learned a lot.

The role of a line manager

A line manager is a link between the boots on the ground and senior management. My role as a line manager also encompasses recruitment, as well as onboarding and inducting new staff into the department.

Here are 5 things I’m working on at the moment.

1. Improving morale and providing meaningful motivation

One of the things that I am particularly interested in is improving team morale and providing meaningful motivation. As businesses attempt to get back onto stable footing in the new working world following the carnage caused by the coronavirus pandemic, improving morale and motivation isn’t as straightforward as it once was.

Likewise, it is often very difficult to influence these factors in middle or lower management as you aren’t the direct change-maker. The company’s mission, vision and values should be flowing from the very top downwards, however, thankfully, in my interactions as a line manager, I am able to contribute some efforts towards a healthier and happier culture within my team.

I improve morale and motivation by:

  • Creating a community feel — Little details such as starting the day by checking in with everyone and asking them how they are. It sounds SO obvious, but I’ve worked in a company whereby aside from asking me what was needed regarding work, nobody spoke to me for a whole week! Miserable.

  • Being a cheerleader for someone who is struggling, offering them another perspective that might help them to see why something is possible, or simply holding a mirror up to show how far they’ve already come.

  • Rolling out ‘cheers for peers’ in monthly 1–2–1 catch ups — I always give my team the opportunity to celebrate someone else who may have gone the extra mile in a work capacity, or simply given them a good laugh when they needed it most. There is something quite nice about receiving an email with the subject line: ‘You’ve got cheers’.

2. Giving people a voice

Not everyone feels confident enough to approach senior management directly. On multiple occasions in my working life and even in my own experiences, I’ve observed people sitting on things, letting them fester until they start to be consumed by negativity, or leave the business.

I give my direct reports a voice by:

  • Hosting monthly 1–2–1 meetings. These regular touchpoints offer the opportunity to ‘escalate something upwards to senior management’ or ‘leave it in the room’. Sometimes people want to vent, but they don’t want it to go anywhere. Other times they really want to let someone know they need help. It’s all about reading the situation correctly.

  • Inviting feedback through regular surveys seeking anonymous feedback. Not everyone wants to put their name to a thought or idea and people typically feel more open to sharing feedback when they don’t have to be accountable for it.

3. Evaluating and maintaining processes

Higher management isn’t always aware of what exactly is going on in the ecosystem of the ground team, that’s where a line manager comes in. Sometimes, processes can be best defined by observing what is really going on, in the engine room. As a line manager, I am there to help guide and push through executive changes that are recommended to be reviewed by senior stakeholders.

4. Placing value on culture as well as skillset

As a line manager, I place lots of value on effort, determination and perseverance. I don’t just look at what skill led talent somebody brings to the team, I also look at what they bring to the culture, the community and vibe.

I have previously worked with someone who wasn’t the strongest member within the team in terms of skill set, despite them working really hard and accepting extra training and support. Their skill level didn’t progress as quickly as we’d hoped, however, they brought grit and determination as well as character, spirit and charm to the team that many people really missed when the individual left the business to pursue a longstanding passion. After all, we typically spend more time in the day with our work colleagues than our family! You have to build a friendly team!

In summary, I really enjoy being a line manager, despite having lots more growth to do, through my recent experience, I no longer feel intimidated by line managing a team whose skill set is vastly different than my own.