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1. February 2018 — 4 min read

Building an effective tech team: crafting the right culture

How do you get the most out of your technical teams? And what is the best way to get them to work together seamlessly and deliver great quality products and projects? Both are tricky questions, with no right or wrong answer. These questions have given birth to different management styles, development methodologies and spawned numerous online articles.

So, we spoke with Christian Graf, CTO at DCMN – an international growth marketing company for digital businesses – to find out his top tips on getting the best from technical teams. We wanted to know how he structures his department and what advice he had to get teams working together effectively and striving for excellence.

Christian has worked as a senior software architect at SAP, helping build its cloud computation and continuous integration platform, and co-founded two startups. He also ran a small web and SEO business with his brother when he was just 15.

Christian sold his second startup realzeit – a programmatic demand-side platform (DSP) – to DCMN at the beginning of 2017: “We recognised the potential of working with a partner that understood the market and how technology could solve problems.”

Developing a unified team

When DCMN bought realzeit, they brought Christian on board as CTO, knowing his abilities to inspire and motivate. His entrepreneurial background brought a fresh approach to developing a company culture and was the new ingredient that the team needed. “When I joined I was confronted by a team full of talented engineers working in a way that wasn’t allowing them to develop to the best of their abilities,” he recalls. “Responsibilities weren’t always clear and expectations in the business were a little blurry, which caused friction.”

This was not a unique problem for DCMN – this friction is a well-documented hurdle many businesses must clear. What is different in this case however, is that DCMN vaulted the problems effortlessly with a few key changes, instrumented by Christian. “Before any action you must listen,” says Christian. “I asked the team for their pain points and challenges. Then comes the tricky part, deciphering the responses to find the core challenges and not just the symptoms.”

“The biggest change we made was to create interdisciplinary teams aligned to products and common goals, as we move towards giving our staff full autonomy” says Christian. “Each team now has all the resources they need to deliver the project, rather than just components. This removes the interfaces where the ‘blame game’ happens and everyone now feels ownership and a responsibility to get things done.”

“We also made the tough decision to focus on our core capabilities and what delivered the most value to our clients,” continues Christian. “Our clients are digital companies that are very results-driven, so it makes sense for us to focus on improving the things that deliver the biggest rewards.”

Top tips for creating an effective tech team culture

Christian has been with DCMN for a year now, helping them grow and deliver great results for clients through improved technology. Below, he shares his top tips on bringing together a team of technology experts to improve business results, and client services.

1. Focus on quality
“Firstly, focus on quality, testing and robustness. Develop an understanding that a high perceived speed of development (short term gains) might be counter-productive for your actual speed (long term benefits). If you don’t invest now, you will always have to pay the price later - and it will just get more expensive.”

2. Create an open and honest environment
“Celebrate open, constructive peer critique,” Christian continues. “You need to encourage people to actively question and not accept bad decisions. In the same way you would review code, you put more brainpower on the problem. We made all our Slack channels public and brought the conversation out in the open. It creates an atmosphere where people are accountable for their contributions. This has boosted the work ethic a great deal.”

3. Give your work meaning
“From a leadership perspective, always share the why. Create mutual understanding of purpose and perspective. Everyone wants a purpose and everyone wants to do something that they feel is worth their time and effort.”

4. Trust your team to do the job you employed them to do
“Finally, if you give people trust, you get trust back. Some founders wonder why their team isn’t supporting them, while for some it just happens ‘by magic’ – it isn’t magic. Show people you care about them and trust them, and they’ll be there for you.

To read more top tips from industry experts on how to get the most from your teams, click here.

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