Building Tech Teams for Success: A Beringea Roundtable

The UK is facing a tech talent crisis. In 2017, over 50 per cent of businesses surveyed for the annual Tech Nation report highlighted that they were facing a shortage of highly-skilled employees, while almost a quarter referred to finding the right talent as a ‘major challenge’.

For the leaders of technology teams within scaling businesses, the battle to recruit and retain talent can often feel relentless. Therefore, we gathered Chief Technology Officers from our portfolio at a roundtable discussion hosted in the Sky Garden to consider how to address the fundamental challenge of building tech teams for success.

The event also welcomed James Berry, a highly experienced and technology leader, as guest speaker. James has over two decades’ experience building software teams that drive the growth of entrepreneurial businesses. This included his role as Chief Technology Officer at Advanced Computer Software Group, which grew to over £200m turnover with more than ,000 staff globally before being acquired by Vista Equity Partners in 2015 for £750m.

RECRUITING: BE DELIBERATE IN EVERY ACTION YOU TAKE

To establish the faced on a daily basis by Chief Technology Officers, we surveyed our attendees and asked them to highlight the roles that they have found particularly challenging to fill. The response from one experienced leader was simple: “all tech roles are hard to fill.”

There was almost universal agreement among our attendees that the talent shortage in skilled roles was an existential challenge facing the UK’s technology companies. The right talent is viewed as hard to come by, expensive to recruit, and hard to retain.

And yet, there remains plenty of opportunity for scaling businesses. As James Berry highlighted, it is a case of taking the time to understand the problem and create a clear plan of attack — put simply, you must “be deliberate, regardless of the decision you are taking.”

This includes taking the decision to build teams outside the UK. For many , outsourcing has been viewed as a solution to the ’s talent shortages. However, our attendees were a little more cautious about the advantages of building overseas teams.

Half of those gathered at the event did currently use off-shore developers; nonetheless, there was agreement that the decision to use resources abroad should not be taken lightly. For one attendee, offshoring had resulted in a ‘remote tax’, where the cost of travel, language barriers and the time spent managing international teams had been to the detriment of the success of his team.

Instead, as James had succinctly stated, it must be a deliberate action taken with conviction and a clear path to follow. Likewise, recruitment in the UK is a task that requires considered planning and focused execution.

This includes relationships with recruiters. Our attendees were clear in their view that focusing time and effort on recruiters is essential to building successful teams: “invest in the recruiters and invest in selling your vision to them.” These relationships will be critical to finding the right talent.

Beyond recruiters, many of the attendees also highlighted the value in looking beyond London for skilled employees. One guest commented: “London is incredibly competitive, while the talent tends to be young and flighty. This shaped our decision to recruit our team in the Midlands, where we could more reliably build a stable foundation for our technology operations.”

Last, technology leaders must use their own team to evaluate new hires and recruitment policy. As James Berry commented: “the team are the ultimate arbiter for recruitment.” Embedding talent in the right people and culture is critical to successful recruitment.

RETENTION: CULTURE, CULTURE, CULTURE

Culture as a business can often be hard to define. Nonetheless, good culture is a quality shared by successful technology teams and it is a fundamental factor in retaining talent: “single-handedly, it is the culture that defines success in tech teams.”

Based on the survey carried out ahead of this event, the turnover of staff in tech teams averages at around 20 per cent annually. The guests gathered at the roundtable were quick to highlight the need to interpret this data and question the and opportunities of changing teams.

One attendee noted: “15 per cent churn is where we are aiming to get to — some turnover is healthy, as helps you to change, develop, and grow as an organisation.” Others were quick to highlight that focusing on culture rather data was fundamental to shaping your team — “you may have a senior developer with a lot of expertise who is simply bad for the culture and must be eased out for the success of the business.”

Some of the key cultural aspects highlighted by attendees included openness, communication and a passion for innovation. Monthly hackathons, open feedback sessions, and the occasional beer fridge were noted as easy ways to embrace these qualities.

RESOURCING: TECH HAS NEVER BEEN MORE OF A TEAM GAME

Gone are the days when technology meant one developer building a single network. Software is much bigger, more complex than it has ever been and, as a result, it is a discipline entirely driven by teamwork and cooperation.

Shaping teams must, therefore, take into account the impact that it can have on software. As James Berry noted: “your software architecture will follow your organisational structure.” Building teams in multiple locations or dividing teams to focus on specific projects can subsequently have a substantial impact on the development of your platform.

Put simply, according to James, “good software development is sharing common goals as a team rooted in your understanding of your customer.” Understanding this mantra as a Chief Technology Officer will be fundamental to the growth and success of your teams.

Building Tech Teams for Success: A Beringea Roundtable

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