James Simpson, Chief Technology Officer, SafetyCulture breaks down what it takes to build a great tech team.
Great teams are core to success. Here’s what to look for when building yours.
When unpacking the structure of successful business and innovation, you’ll frequently find that greater heights are reached when working together than working in silos. But while we often look at what makes a great leader, we neglect to think about it from a team’s perspective.
It requires time and significant resources to build or scale a tech team. The more experience I gather over the course of my career, the more I see the same patterns. I think successful tech teams — whether software engineers, product managers or marketers — all vary a lot in their approaches. There are diverse communication and work styles, but you do see patterns emerge.
These are five traits I’ve noted help elevate tech teams from good to great.
They foster individual expertise
Being an expert in something teaches you how to go deep. And what happens when you put these experts all in one team? You become the team that is the unequivocal go-to for a technology, platform or approach. You become the team that innovates, brings fresh ideas to the table and solves the most difficult problems. The value it brings is priceless.
A great way to encourage deep dives and knowledge-share is to create space and time for exploration and research. In doing so, broader ideas, creativity, and innovation will naturally surface. And remember to celebrate and nurture each team members’ strengths and passions. By doing this, not only will teams retain top talent but you’ll find yourself with a diverse skill set that can tackle virtually any problem.
They search for simplicity
In almost every situation, simplicity wins. This can be the simplicity of design, of code structure, of team planning, of issue prevention, bug fixing, goals or development plans. Systems with simpler designs will be easier to diagnose when things go wrong. It’s more reliable, and more maintainable. In an environment that is growing more complex – as ours is – simplicity wins.
I think most people know this. The difference is that only some people stop and ask themselves “how could we make this simpler?”. No one sets out to make things complex. But those who recognise complexity happens when you’re not looking often take the time to deliberately simplify. It becomes an explicit part of their approach. Simplification is a tricky task – so once you identify these people, celebrate it and empower them to do more of this.
They know when process is good – and when it is bad
When companies scale quickly, it is tempting to solve more and more problems with processes. And we will solve problems this way from time to time. But we need to resist developing processes too quickly. It is easy to accumulate too much process – as it can slow things down, stop people from using their better judgement and sometimes squeeze creativity out of the environment.
And this is where great people come in. People who are great at what they do don’t need as much process as others. They focus on getting to the desired outcome and use common sense to get there. They take in all the available information and determine the best next step.
Am I against process? No; quite the opposite. In fact, in our line of work, we’re often building tools for effective processes. The process has its place. But too much will slow us down, frustrate us, reduce innovation and lead to poor decisions. Great tech teams recognise some process is good, and too much is bad – and know how to find this balance.
They are smart with feedback
A lot has been written and said about feedback, so you would think there might be nothing left to say. But, there is just a little more – what we see great tech teams doing with feedback.
Firstly, they don’t wait to receive feedback, they seek it out. They actively look for experts that can communicate well and teach. Like iterating through versions of a solution, they know that the more often they ask the question, the better they will get. The more often they ask this question, and listen to the answer, the more opportunities there are to turn something good into something great.
They also do something with feedback, particularly the stuff that hurts a little. There is a tendency in us all to shy away from painful feedback, and let the memory of it fade. Great tech teams are disciplined about doing something with constructive feedback and get the most from it. Often it helps them on their journey to become an expert in an area.
They are great communicators and collaborators
The best tech teams I have worked with have all been made up of great communicators. In writing, verbal, stand up presentations, podcasts and other forms – they can get their point across fluidly. And it is the flow of ideas and feedback that is important here. Our craft is about evolving and innovating, so the more easily we can make ideas flow – the better we become.
It often starts with 1:1 communication between team members, and then amongst the entire team. No two people become great communicators the same way. We are all different – so create your own style. The thing to remember is that great communication helps ideas and feedback flow, which allows teams to better operate as a unit.
Here at SafetyCulture, we recognise that great tech teams don’t just happen: they’re made. For more tactics to help build impactful tech teams, we are bringing together industry leaders and tech innovators for a free global summit, Made Extraordinary. Join us as we examine how teams can achieve extraordinary outcomes through great teamwork.
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After all, driving towards successful outcomes hinges on your people — ensuring everyone is working together with trust and camaraderie. These things don’t happen overnight, but they are vital. With everything included in your remit, from connecting with customers and developing new software to serving as the company’s tech crew, it’s crucial that tech teams build a foundation of communication and collaboration.