Managing a team of technical professionals requires a combination of both soft and hard skills. A development team may be different from, for example, a marketing team or a design team. Each team member needs a different approach and method of management, as well as a method of motivation. We surveyed experts involved in team management and asked them the following questions:

What are the differences in managing a technical team from a marketing team, for example?

Joshua Tiner, VP of Design & Engineering at REDCOM Design & Construction, notes: “Technical teams require a leader who understands the technical discipline that they work within. This maintains credibility and an awareness of the challenges that the team may experience, an important understanding for the leader to have when establishing and enforcing team schedules and deadlines. A technical team – in this case land development civil engineers – may also experience subjective comments and reviews by the outside governmental authorities having jurisdiction over the development project. These critiques can create a daunting work environment for engineers with less experience. Having a leader with the presence to remain confident, regardless of the challenge, helps maintain positive morale. A leader who is willing to roll up his/her sleeves and do whatever it takes alongside the team to meet the challenge is also very valuable.”

Nuala Turner, Spokesperson and Editor of The Digital Project Manager, shares the following tips and recommends asking questions of your team more often:

“You have to be clear on skill sets: On marketing teams, people often serve more as jacks-of-all-trades. This is not the case on technical teams—front-end and back-end developers are not interchangeable, and your software engineer doesn’t design wireframes. Understand the team’s skill sets so you can assign them to tasks where they’ll be successful.

Let your team be the experts: As the project manager or product owner on a technical team, your job is not to know everything—it’s to know how and where to find everything. Let your team tell you what they need. On more generalist teams, like marketing, project managers are more likely to have the answers themselves.

Ask questions: Get used to asking a lot of questions. It helps to structure this process—sit down once a week with one of your technical specialists to pick their brains. The more you know about what they do, the easier it will be to stay abreast of what’s happening on the project and what the team needs. This isn’t always necessary on marketing teams, where project managers, without a background in the subject matter, can get up to speed quicker.”

What methods of motivation in the team do you use?

Samuel Kaluvuri, CEO and CTO at ApyHub, shares an interesting point of view:

“Having spent many years working with some very smart, even brilliant engineering folks, I have come to realize that the best — and in a way simplest — way to motivate smart engineers is by showing them a clear path and getting out of their way. Giving the freedom and responsibility to chart their course and empowering them to make decisions within their realm of expertise is a huge motivator.

Another major aspect when it comes to motivating team members, especially within the technical teams, is to talk about impact. Explaining team members on how their work is improving the lives of our users, helping the business grow, or empowering others to do more through using our products — this always helps raise the team spirits and gets them aligned on the bigger mission and rise above the smaller, every day, operational issues they face.
Moreover, what I find to be useful is giving clear and productive feedback. Most engineers want to learn, want to improve their skills and grow to another role or another salary range. Such engineers understand that getting clear, honest feedback is their primary tool for growth. As a leader, I always look for ways to balance this feedback, make it really sharp and to the point and of course, give enough attention to the positive points, providing a kind of north star of their development.”

About another interesting case and experience of motivation, says Bryan Berthot, Project Manager, Scrum Master, and Doctoral Candidate at University of South Florida. This is perhaps one of the unusual ways of motivation that worked in a positive way:

“One obvious motivator is tying financial incentives (e.g., bonuses) to attaining team goals. In developing software, delivering customer value is paramount, so I like to set “ten percent stretch” goals for the team, so that they’re always focused on achieving what lies ahead for them. One thing that’s key is that these team stretch goals need to be achievable most of the time for this to work.

Specific motivators vary for different teams. For example, when managing teams of database administrators (DBAs) on software projects, I’ve discovered that they crave recognition for what they do within the group. The reason is that much of their work is so-called “technical debt” (i.e., transparent to the customer but necessary to get done in order to deliver product features). So, this behind-the-scenes technical work needs to be called out in planning and estimating the project work and the manager needs to publicize this effort, both within the group and to the customer. This motivator works for many teams of subject-matter experts, not just in software development.

Rituals that enhance team building and camaraderie are highly motivating for some teams. I discovered one by accident a few years ago, when I was leading scrum teams at a medical devices company. One of my teams took great pleasure in teasing me because of my archaic flip phone. I told them that they could destroy it if they met their upcoming team goal.
They did, and I was true to my word and handed the old flip phone over to the team. They delighted in stomping my phone to death and, as a group, they paraded the shattered device to the company’s electronics recyclables bin. This proved to be a bonding activity for the team and was recounted by team members for months. I took this tradition to two subsequent employers.”

“Slowly acclimating team members to one’s management style is very valuable because it provides the opportunity to explain the reason behind the expectations and establishes credibility with the team. Positive reinforcement for good work and an acknowledgement when one does the things well go a long way. Making sure that critical feedback is given in a positive light, and acknowledging why a mistake may have been made in order to learn from it, are effective in keeping team members learning and growing and motivated to succeed. Having financial incentives for success also help.”Joshua adds.


What recommendations will you give to team management specialists?

Bryan shares the following tips:

“When assembling a team, I don’t want an entire team whose members have identical skills. I want people who have overlapping or complimentary skills. For example, not all technical experts have the people skills to put them in a room with the customer. I do want problem solvers, but I also want people who can “read the room” and have enough emotional intelligence to figure out what the customer wants – beyond written requirements. That means listening to the customer, and not just telling the customer what the best technical solution may be.

Similarly, there should be people on the team who understand the business environment. That is, sometimes the solution that the customer can afford (in terms of time or money) is not the best solution, but the one that can be done to deliver the most value to the customer in a short period of time.

Something that’s common in the agile software development world is forming a team working agreement. This can be a formal document or it can be on a whiteboard, but conceptually it’s the rules of engagement for how the team behaves. Now, it’s the team that decides what acceptable behaviors are, but the manager can go a long way in leading the team to what behaviors are on that list. For example, it may include things such as showing up on time for meetings and defining how conflicts on the team will be resolved. I’ve had a lot of success using such working agreements when I take over a team.

On the subject of conflict, managers need to understand that some conflict within the team is good. If a team has so much conflict that they can’t get any work done (as occurs during the “storming” phase of team development), then that’s counterproductive. But you want to channel any conflict between members into productive (even heated) discussions about the work, which often leads to a better solution. For the manager, the goal is always to focus the team on the work.”

“Identify together with the team members their individual plans on how they can contribute effectively (at the current moment), where they should improve and how they can grow within the team. This goes a long way to make them equal stakeholders in their own journey, and at the same time also contribute positively to the team.

Be honest but be kind while providing feedback, lay out your expectations and explain how they can realize their own potential. A lot of times, team members need that extra bit of faith from their leaders to unlock their potential.”Samuel recommends.

Not to forget about psychological support is advised by Nuala:

“Establish psychological safety: When your team feels heard, respected, and supported, they will be at their most creative and effective. You can do this by setting clear expectations, resolving conflicts quickly, and setting up regular feedback sessions to hear about how things are going.

Establish team norms: Set some ground rules and standards before kicking off the project. This should include things like how to give and receive feedback, keeping a respectful tone, and staying out of your inbox and Slack outside of office hours. These kinds of things can go a long way toward creating that psychological safety mentioned above.

Be an advocate for your team: You know what your team needs to do their best work. Be an advocate for your team to the higher-ups by communicating their needs, wins, and challenges. Your team will respect you for it, and that goodwill contributes to more successful project outcomes.”


let’s work with us

Tell us more about your request by leaving the application in the contact form below, and our team will contact you.
What do you do? Tell us about your company. Who are your competitors?
What is your task? What do you want to achieve in the near future? What's stopping you?
How do you see the solution to the problem? How do you plan to achieve your goals? What solutions have you tried before?
What are your expectations for the result? In what form do you want to see the solution to your problem? At what time? Why is it important? What should it look like?
How much money are you planning to spend? What is your budget? Why are you willing to spend this amount?