Getting the Most Out of the “Geeks” in Your Office

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Geek Control for Project Managers

Defining “geek” for the purpose of this article: A supremely talented individual who has difficulty ‘fitting’ into the an organizational ecosystem, is consumed with his/her job, and who doesn’t really care whether he/she is following rules, regulations and policies of the organization he/she works for

Geeks are the people who deliver innovation for an organization. They are people who matter and who just don’t care a damn about what you think of them. They are the reason why businesses succeed – the inability of contemporary businesses to hire geeks usually leads to their failure. Geeks by their very nature are notoriously difficult to manage and making sure they fall in line with the organizations primary goals is a challenging and typically a thankless task.

Imagine a scenario wherein you need to get a collection of Sheldon Coopers to work on a particular task to achieve a particular objective. Gives you the shivers, right! This is what project managers have to face day in and day out, if they’ve got geeks on their team. But manage them they must, and it is their responsibility to ensure these individuals are able to channelize their truckload of skills and talent for the greater good.

If you’re a project manager, you have got a not-so-enviable job on your hands. Here are a few things you can do to get your geeks into the “mainstream” of the workplace environment:

1.   Understand Geek Psychology

A geek is intellectually gifted but social awkward. They think with pure reason and the nuances of ideal social behavior are usually lost on them. As a project manager, it’s important that you make allowances for such behavior. As long as you don’t expect an emotional conversation from them, you’ll be on the same page. Do not force them into team building sessions or ask them to join the team for a pub crawl. If they refuse, leave it at that. Doesn’t really make sense asking people to be a part of such exercises if they are genuinely uncomfortable participating in them, does it?

When it comes to the geeks on your team, the usual rules do not apply. If you’re to get your work done, you should know when to give way to their eccentricities and when to rein them in.

2.   Massage Egos

Most geeks love hearing praises of their “extraordinary” skill sets. Well, give them what they want. Adopt the carrot approach, the carrot in this case are the paeans you sing to them about their exceptional talent. And keep giving them carrots to munch on and off. While this might sound like a frivolous exercise and not really very “managerial,” you need to do what it takes to get the job done. Worried what other team members might think about these actions? Well, don’t be. Eventually, team members will understand why you’re doing it.

3.   Use Your Tools

Astute project management is about using the right tools that will ensure the resident geek talent is leveraged to its fullest potential. Project management software such as WorkZone allows you to create distinct, secure workspaces wherein each person can access information according to their role. Compartmentalize the functions and responsibilities of a particular person if you believe there might be collaboration problems between him and other members of the team.

Web based collaboration tools also allow you to manage and control the activities of all team members, irrespective of the fact whether you’ve hived off certain activities for geeks to work independently. This is a critical element in getting work done well and on time.

4.   Be a Firefighter

As a project manager, you need to be keyed up to massage bruised egos all the time, especially a result of the geek on your team “choosing the wrong moment to say the right thing.” The problem is such incidents might crop up often and you need to be ready to use remedial action at the drop of a hat. The right idea will be to preempt such incidents from happening and not giving the “geek” an opportunity to say something that will be construed wrongly by other team members.

5.   Get Rid of Cynicism

You’ve heard all of these before:

  • “Geeks are not good team players.”
  • “Geeks cannot follow rules.”
  • “Geeks love doing things their way.”
  • “Geeks can hurt team spirit.”
  • “Geeks negatively impact project deadlines.”

This is a sampling of the negative rumor mongering that is linked to nerdy team members. It’s best that you stay away from such negative generalizations. Think of these people as extremely talented but difficult individuals to work with and on whom the usual methods of control and management do not apply. You shouldn’t see these individuals as a threat; on the contrary see them as an opportunity to give your business activities a competitive edge.

If you want to ensure geeks become an important part of your project development process, you need to celebrate their talent and individuality. Do not think of their characteristics as a hindrance to your project management efforts. Think out of the box to handle their special talent in the best way possible. More importantly, keep interacting with them to understand them better. This will allow you adopt the correct attitudes and tactics to get the best out of them.

But, everything said and done, here’s a truism for project managers for geek handling: There is no right approach, and you might miss more times than you hit. But hey, you live and learn!

Author bio:

Tracy Vides is associated with The Hartford, an insurance and financial services company, which specializes in Business Insurance Coverage. You can catch her any time on Twitter @TracyVides.