The first rule of management: Resist the urge to manage

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Ben Collins-Sussman and Brian Fitzpatrick on leadership, teams, and culture.

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In this week’s Radar Podcast, I sit down with Google engineering site lead Ben Collins-Sussman and Tock founder and CTO Brian Fitzpatrick.

The two have just released a new book, Debugging Teams, a follow-up to their earlier book, Team Geek. We talk about the new edition, how managing is a lot like being a psychotherapist, and how all their great advice plays out in their own lives. Enjoy the show.

Here are a few snippets from our conversation:

Collins-Sussman: The first rule of management is resist the urge to manage. … a manager’s main job is not to bark commands, but to actually aid the team and provide cover, do whatever it takes to remove roadblocks and make them more efficient. Really, being a manager is about getting out of the way and trying to figure out what they need.

Fitzpatrick: Another thing is, when you become a leader, people will come to you and ask questions. They’ll come to you and ask you for advice, and the best thing you can do is ask them questions right back. It’s not being dishonest, or disingenuous, or evasive … If you ask them questions like, ‘What do you mean by this?’, or ‘What are you thinking of?’, or ‘What do you like to do?’ or, ‘How do you feel about this?’, you can gently guide them a little bit by the questions you ask, but really make them think. After a few minutes of questioning, they’ll come up with their own answer.

Fitzpatrick: As a manager or leader, it’s incredibly important to understand what your style is that you prefer to work in, understand the value that the other different working styles bring in your teams, and really encourage the growth of people in those working styles, and not try and squash them because you can really screw up somebody who’s really good.

Collins-Sussman: We traced everything back to three root causes, or fundamental ideas, underneath soft skills: humility, respect, and trust. What we say is, if you look at any interaction between two people, or even the way a team interacts, every problem that you ever have, every social problem, can be traced back to a lack of humility, or a lack of respect, or a lack of trust, or some combination of the three.

Fitzpatrick: As somebody who’s building a company, it’s been a lot of learning about startups and small companies, and how things grow and a lot of thought about what kind of company do I want to grow, not just from the culture of my team, but how big are we going to be? How are we going to do this? Is it better to do this in an established way, or do we use one of our innovation chits? Because you only get so many innovation chits.

Collins-Sussman: In the world of tech, what’s really got me passionate right now is just dealing with the problems of diversity in the tech industry. It’s a big hot topic now. Everyone’s talking about it. Everyone knows how awful the diversity numbers are in the tech industry. … It’s a really hard problem. Google has a lot of efforts to try to change the pipeline and then try to change the culture within to make it more inclusive. That’s something we talk about — the really high-functioning teams that we’ve seen are ones that have the greatest diversity — racial, or gender, or income diversity — those teams are the most innovative, and the most resilient, and create the best products.

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Image by Jarkko Laine on Wikimedia Commons.

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