ARTICLE 6: “Our Highly Technical People Seem To Get Along Well Amongst Themselves, So There’s No Need To Help Them Connect And Get Along With Others”

Many, if not most, organisations will have a ‘technical’ department or two. They may not be in the business of ‘technology‘ and yet they will almost certainly have an IT department. These departments are populated by highly skilled technicians, experts in their craft.

The business itself could be in the ‘disruptive technologies’ space. Some of my most recent clients have fallen into this category. People whose expertise may be about replacing what people can do with some form of technology. Within that sentence, there lies a clue to the issues in these workplaces.

In the past decade or more, technology has advanced faster than ever before. This brings with it efficiency, cost savings, new ways of working, and so forth. What these changes don’t necessarily do is help us to work more effectively together.

There is also the ‘double whammy’ of those who work in technology businesses. The first ‘whammy’ is that these individuals tend to be less people-oriented than others. I am not saying they don’t like people or have no friends. Far from it.

What I am saying is that, by their very nature, people in technical roles tend to be drawn to them because they are less likely to want to interact with others at work. That is the second ‘whammy.’ It means that if a person is more inclined to have a preference not to work within a team (due to their behavioural preferences), it will be far more difficult for them to integrate into one.

Imagine a team of technically-oriented people. Think engineers, architects, IT, business analysts, and accountants, to name just a few. Theoretically, they are likely to be detail-focused, analytical, logical, methodical, and pragmatic. None of those words necessarily describes an individual who enjoys engaging with others – not at a workplace level anyway. I am generalising of course; however, these people tend to have a preference for working alone.

This makes it even more problematic when it comes to creating a high-performing team. It is not in their nature for these types of people to want to mix and socialise at work. That doesn’t make them anti-social. It makes them people who are more interested in the job they are doing while at work. The last thing they want is the enforced fun or the social chit chat by the water cooler. The last thing they want to hear about is what someone did on the weekend. The lesson is, of course, that we should all have some degree of social interaction – we just need to learn who wants what, how often, and why.

This challenge is not unique to the job roles outlined above. I once asked a sales manager of 10 people (Amanda) what she liked most and liked least about her work. This was her answer.

“I like planning and forecasting sales trends. Creating graphs and charts showing growth and market opportunities. It is great to be alone and have the time to work on Gantt Charts and spreadsheets to get the work planned and completed.” And what did she like the least?

“What I find most difficult is working with people. They are all different. I don’t necessarily want to discuss their grandmother’s hip replacement or the new puppy and so on. I have to make a conscious effort to do these things.”

It was a most enlightening moment for me. Enlightening because it was the first time anyone had articulated a feeling they had about working with others in such an honest manner. That too was a reflection of her preferred method of communication. Amanda had a way of ‘straight talk.’ At first appearance, she almost seemed to be a bit stand-offish, aloof perhaps. To some that made her unapproachable. People almost feared the response they might get. Some had the feeling that they were not ‘intelligent’ enough to have a business conversation with Amanda. Some might use the phrase ‘doesn’t suffer fools gladly.’

Most of these assumptions about Amanda were wrong – providing you understood how she preferred to communicate. Once there was recognition that she was simply more task-oriented than towards people the perceived barriers came down. The issue here is not having the ability to recognise the behaviour for what it is. Natural, normal, and different.

Incidentally, Amanda was one of the most successful managers at that time. Her team liked her because she had the skill of adapting her approach to each individual in the team. If they wanted to talk about the new puppy, she would engage in that conversation. If they wanted to discuss the next quarter sales, she would happily do that too.

The conscious effort that Amanda was alluding to is the ability to know how to adapt to the behaviours of others in order to have a highly productive team. It does require thought, observation, and action to be flexible when dealing with others.

People can have a range of preferences which affect their working relationships. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ There is no difficult – there is different. It is how we deal with those differences that set us apart.