Managing without a Manager

Jun 26, 2018 · 4 min read

From the desk of Laura Czajkowski …

… with an editor’s Note from LH

In our recent conversations, Laura and I have been thinking a lot about persuasion and influence within companies. Following on from speaking at DevXCon in San Francisco at the start of this month, we both came away with greater reinforcement for one of our core theses of successful Developer Relations teams: internal advocacy for your team’s work is just as important as the externally facing work you do.

Laura’s employer has recently brought a new Director of Developer Relations on board, but her team had been working without a manager for some time. In this post, Laura shares some ways to keep yourself and your team moving forward when you don’t have a manager.

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Courtesy of David Spinks

Usually, you have a team lead or manager overseeing things to make sure you’re efficient and not blocked. They follow your daily workload: weekly tasks to core goals and setting objectives, signing off on your leave and expenses, and all that.

What do you do, though, , when you don’t have a manager? What changes and challenges does it bring and how do you still make your voice heard? These are some of the thoughts I’ve gone through over the past few months while my company has been going went through a leadership transition in the Developer Relations department.

At the individual level, you know what you should be doing. You’ll also have a pretty good idea of what your team needs to be doing. If you’re more experienced, you have a decent idea of how your individual work maps to the team’s goals, which in turn map to the overall organization’s goals. You don’t necessarily need a manager to help you here, but having that broader vision articulated for you and your teammates can make your work much easier. No matter what, you need to understand the organisation’s goals at the top level, your product roadmap and how your work will interact or affect other areas of the organization.

The underlying thesis for this post is is that you do know; you’re not inexperienced and you do have some depth of domain knowledge. (If you don’t, then the core of this post may be more helpful to you after a few more years in industry.) If you’ve never had to work on your own initiative, no matter how experienced you are, perhaps you don’t know where to start or feel overwhelmed. If you’ve already been partly in charge you will feel more empowered to take leadership reigns and lead.

So, how do you lead when you’re not sure when you should be the one leading in the first place?

Firstly, you begin by deciding what needs to be done and communicating that to your team and the organization’s management chain. This work can be done in various ways, and there is no “one size fits all” approach. While you’re at it, take time to incorporate any feedback you receive along the way and iterate, iterate, iterate.

Here are some ideas that have worked well for me:

Start with short, stand-ups where team members can go around and say what they are working on; these check-ins should be concise and factual, not a place to dive into deep details — you trust each other to do your best work! When leading, look for any blockers where you can resolve issues for others or step in to help and collaborate with other individuals outside of your team.

Next, track the work being done publicly, and do this as a team for greater transparency in the organization and keeping each other honest. You can do this is in Trello, Jira or some other Kanban-style tool of your choice. By tracking your work in this fashion, you better communication across your team and the organization by:

  • highlighting who is working on what ensuring team members are recognized for their contributions even where there is no manager to distribute kudos
  • clarifying workload amongst all team members, maintaining trust in one another’s contributions when there is no manager to give that assurance that the ship is being steered fairly
  • showing, in a visual layout sense, where people need more help if items are not moving and remaining stagnant, facilitating a non-judgemental dialog about load balancing and individual/team priorities

In my next post, I will talk about how those leading without authority can encounter issues with their ‘unofficial’ position, and some tips in dealing with those troubles in a constructive fashion.

LH If you’re a pro at managing without authority, we’d love to hear from you in the comments. What advice should we share with our readers?

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