by Julian Goldsmith

Managing small teams

Jul 26, 20123 mins

I’ve met with a number of heads of IT department recently where it has struck me how small their teams are, considering the size of their organisation. I met with Gavin Walker, CIO at NATS, Sean Whetstone, head of IT services at Reed Recruitment and  Phil Barker, CIO at American Golf, who all had comparatively small teams. Barker at American Golf has a team of only seven people, supporting 900 over 90 stores. It’s an illustration of the trend towards downsizing in-house teams. Increasingly CIOs are relying on IT service providers to take up the maintenance overhead, or migrating to virtualised environments to automate infrastructure support. Their people are focused more on areas that can’t be outsourced or automated, such as internal customer liaison or supplier management. It’s the people-centric roles that seem to be retained. There is a difference in culture between large departments and small teams and CIOs who are used to heading up an army of people will need to adjust to a different dynamic. Leading a smaller bunch of people can be rewarding in ways that are not available in a large group. As managers, CIOs of smaller teams will be exposed to events in a more intimate way. Reporting structures will be much more direct and immediate and they will get a clarity in the overview of the whole department’s activities that isn’t possible when heading up big group. It requires a different approach from a manager too. No longer will the manager be able to delegate tasks down a hierarchy in the way they can in large groups. Managers of small groups have to be prepared to get their hands dirty from time to time and dig in with the troops. Whetstone at Reed mentions the need for IT staff to wear many hats and be multi-skilled so that a lattice of expertise is available. This means even if the first line of response is not to hand through holidays or illness, other staff can take up the task. This applies to the CIO too. In many ways it’s easy to see that CIOs from technical backgrounds will thrive better in a smaller team, because they have a practical skill to contribute to the pool of skills, but don’t dismiss the strengths of more business aligned IT leaders as the smaller sleeker IT team refocuses on people management tasks. Managing small teams isn’t for everyone and managers who feel that their strength is in delegation may have a difficult time adjusting. Managers need to be comfortable rubbing along with the rank and file to be effective. Here are some points to remember from, a management blog I came across: 1 Hire well-rounded people with a range of skills in their personal professional toolkit 2 Sound forward planning is essential because you don’t have any resources in reserve if something comes up unexpectedly 3 Prioritise tasks, so that if resources a choice between doing one thing or another, staff choose the right task to perform first 4 As well as the leader, you are also a team member 5 Don’t let things get too friendly. When people get work closely together, there is a temptation for the office to descend into a social meeting at the expense of productivity