Experts are people with a special, superior skill or knowledge in a particular field. We need them. In all areas of life, and business, experts have a vital role to play. But when it comes to managing someone in your team who knows more than you do, it can be daunting. Whether he or she is a subject matter expert, or simply has much more relevant experience or know-how, managing ‘an expert’ can feel awkward. This short article explores how to get the best from people with greater knowledge or expertise.
I know a gentleman in his eighties called George. He is an old softy but comes across as rude and aggressive when dealing with suppliers on the telephone. This is because he a) doesn’t like modern telephone systems b) doesn’t feel comfortable speaking with strangers on the telephone and above all, c) feels anxious and intimidated. The person on the other end of the phone just hears a gruff, rude and angry old man.
Think now of when a manager is dealing with an expert in their team. It’s easy to feel the same kind of insecurity as my elderly friend, although of course in a very different context. Feelings of inadequacy manifest themselves in defensive, unhelpful behaviour, leading to fractures in the working relationship.
Nobody likes to appear stupid in front of others, so rather than be frank about what we don’t know, it’s easier to avoid the topic altogether and before long, the expert does his or her thing in isolation from the rest of the team. Implicit bias against your expert colleague will be evident in your behaviour, so thoughts like ‘typical IT man!’ or ‘typical online millennial!’, really don’t help and send out entirely the wrong signals.
Poor communication and awkward stand-offs are commonplace when a manager doesn’t feel comfortable working with an expert and they result in sub-optimal team performance at best and deliberate sabotage at worst.
Appreciating what the expert can do (even if not actually being able to do it or understand it ourselves) is the starting point for building a profitable working relationship. If you understand what outputs can be achieved from harnessing your expert’s skills and knowledge, you can start to think about how they can help you and the rest of your team achieve your goals.
Positive behaviour towards your team expert will foster collaboration and valuable contribution, so respecting their expertise, whilst not being overawed by it, will promote innovation, problem solving and better teamwork.
It’s so easy to be like George when dealing with experts in your team. But a confident manager, who is open about his or her lack of expert knowledge, and who actively embraces the benefits of having an expert in the team, will learn so much more and gain from optimised team performance.
Here are some tips for managing the expert worker:
- Be open about what you don’t know
- Be clear about why you need your expert’s help
- Ask questions and listen carefully to the answers
- Respect your expert and his or her expertise
- Encourage collaboration and contribution
- Thank the expert for their help.
Managing the Expert Worker is a video in our ‘Management Challenges’ series and is available for you to see. Please call 01638 723590 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a free demo.
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