They're not your normal group of employees. Leading an IT group often calls for being able to facilitate work often in a chaotic environment that is "rife with ambiguities," Megan Santosus suggests in "Secrets to Managing Techies," on today.

Though Santosus is specifically addressing the challenges a CIO faces when managing a tech group, her advice is well worth heeding even if you're not a CIO but still have IT employees. That makes a business owner's job even trickier, if he or she is the frontline manager of a tech group. A couple of pieces of advice Santosus offers:

Embrace the traits that make IT people tick, for instance, their enthusiasm for all things technical and their creativity.

Have a bit of knowledge about your IT staff does. IT people can occasionally seem to have little patience for those who are clueless about technology and what they're doing. Establishing some baseline knowledge can boost your credibility with your staff.

Motivate techies by giving them some space. IT employees thrive on being given the room to be creative. As Santous suggests, plant the seed and stand back.

Robert X. Cringely approached the same topic in "Talking to the Tech Department" in the December 2002 issue of Inc. magazine. He suggests the first rule of having a good IT department is being able to communicate effectively with them, and Cringely suggests:

Making sure everyone understands the business and how IT fits in.

If you have foreign-born help, have a liaison in the IT department who is fluent in English and can help bridge any language or cultural gaps.

Think in terms of solving a problem, not putting another product in place. Cringely's example: "What's the difference between an E-mail-upgrade project and a Microsoft Exchange project? The E-mail-upgrade project is about finding a way to give the company what it needs, whereas the Exchange project is about getting another Microsoft program in place and teaching the company to live with it."

In Cringely's opinion, the key to having a great IT department is good communication and clarity of purpose.