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5 Tips on how to not set your teams up for failure in IT

Updated: Jun 16, 2022

black woman manager teaching male team member

As information technology leaders our jobs can be daunting. We're expected to not only perform at a high level, but have our teams perform at a similar level as well while managing their multiple personalities & problems that come up in all of our lives. At times you want to leave the entire planet, especially when things go wrong. With my decades of experience in IT managing infrastructure & teams for all sorts of businesses from large enterprises with 90k+ employees to modest small businesses with 30 or less employees I've come up with a few tips that we all can benefit from.

1. Pick a ticket system & USE IT

As companies grow a proper ticket system becomes necessary in-order to maintain your team's sanity. Without it your teams because the poster child of an extremely inefficient & backlogged team. Once you decide on a system it is on IT to make sure it is being used in-order for it to actually work. Managers need to funnel users into the system. I've consulted companies with poorly maintained, bad or outdated ticket systems that have had over 900 open tickets in the queue with a good chunk over 300 days old. This is because management never put their foot down with the users. They hadn't instructed their teams that the only response to walk-ups, phone calls, emails, etc. should be "Do you have a ticket? If not, you need to create one." Once that response is given then the users must understand that if they try to circumvent the system (a very expensive system) that is in place, they will be ignored if not reported to management if they get out of hand.

Once teams have all of the users funneled into the ticket system, they can then work on becoming a well-oiled machine. Your engineers will be able to finally manage their schedules around what kinds of tickets are in their queue. Once everybody knows their schedules then working on projects becomes a breeze as you know who will be available. Not only that, but the crucial analytics that can be a deciding factor as to who gets raises, promotions, bonuses as well as what aspects your team can improve on become clear as day. You gain so much from just one major change in your business process. It is truly a thing of beauty to see a highly efficient, happy team in action.

2. Make sure you understand your team's responsibilities fully

One thing I have to tell managers, especially hiring managers is to learn what their team's individual jobs actually entail. How is a leader supposed to be able to gauge their team members' success or set goals for them if they don't even know what it is that their team members do? Time & time again I see hiring managers putting nonsense on job requirements like requiring bachelor's degrees plus 4 years of high-level experience in aspects of IT that have nothing to do with the job... for an entry level IT job that can be done by someone fresh out of high school. Is it any wonder IT is one of the most lied about resumes in the world? When managers don't know what a job requires why wouldn't a potential hire just put down what the job requires on their resume? It's not like the manager is even going to notice they don't have that skillset (this will be an article for another day.)

Knowing things like this enables leaders to put their team in a position to succeed by assigning them tasks that make use of their skillset as well as strengths. It helps eliminate overworking team members by not assigning them things they either don't know how to do or aren't required to do, cutting down on time spent on tasks & improving overall efficiency. Not to mention it doesn't bog down the hiring process by requiring things that the job doesn't even need. Does the position really a uniquely trained engineer that might be hard to find or is a college freshman with a good head on their shoulders more than enough for the job?

3. Don't combine multiple 40 hour positions into one and expect things to go well

Nizel Adams IT overtime poll

This one I definitely don't have love for as it is probably the biggest reason why whenever I do polls more than 58% of people in the IT industry say the average skill-based IT position requires more than 40 hours & at least 87% of people work some form of overtime. Not to mention the poor pay across the industry. IT employees are not even getting what they're worth for one job, but bad leaders have them working two to four separate jobs nowadays. For example, a lot of high-end companies are moving away from the standard desktop support "IT guy." Instead, they are now requiring this position to know how to be a system administrator (scripting, server work) & also be able to configure routers, switches as well as other networking equipment which is a network engineer's responsibilities. Already that is THREE 40 HOUR JOBS outlined that are rolled into one. We're not even going to get into what used to be a separate VOIP engineer that is now rolled into the networking role so it's actually four jobs. This of course means overworked, constantly busy, irritable, tired employees due to this madness.

Years ago, I remember being roped into potentially interviewing for a permanent six-figure desktop engineer position where I initially thought I would be mostly managing SCCM. I remember telling the recruiter to have the hiring manager send me over the full job description because I could tell the sent over a shortened version (it also had a few lines that were immediate red flags that I hoped would be expounded upon.) The recruiter called me back several times over the next three to four weeks saying they couldn't get in touch with the manager, but they were told initially the position would be working all levels which included level 1 (help desk/call center), level 2 (advanced escalation technician/desktop support,) and level 3 (systems administrator.) I immediately told them I would be passing on the job to which the recruiter begged me to just hold on & see if they could get the hiring manager so that the hiring manager could just talk to me in hopes of working things out. A few days later the recruiter called me back, stating that they spoke to the hiring manager for a few minutes. The hiring manager had stated that they were completely swamped because they were currently working the position that they were intending to hire me for so they didn't know when they would have time to do anything.

I simply told the recruiter "Of course they are. I'm passing on the job & am definitely not open to reconsidering." The recruiter finally understood what I was talking about & we said our goodbyes.

4. Get rid of open door policies

There's a reason almost no company does it. Open door policies completely destroy schedules & efficiency. Taking away physical interaction doesn't degrade the quality of the service. It also will improve the mental health & morale of your team by letting them interact with people how they want, when they want. Check out a previous article where I discuss open door policies in-depth here. This isn't an option; this is a REQUIREMENT in-order for IT to perform at its best. I've only seen two large organization with an open door policy for IT throughout my entire career...that's how scarce it is in that realm. Those policies are typically used by small businesses & bad management that have no idea how much chaos came be thrust upon their IT personnel once you have over 200 employees clamoring for support with their issues.

If you're a manager at a medium to large business with an open door policy, you've got to come to your senses and change that policy immediately since I can almost guarantee you have high turnover and/or your team is swamped. One of the most hilarious moments of my career is watching a not so bright IT director that refused to listen to my advice after I did a full analysis of his company which included telling them they needed to change their open door policy. For two years afterwards he couldn't find anybody willing to work for his company (a multi-billion dollar corporation with a minimum 2500 employees at his site.) The ones he did find were not so great at their job & ended up quitting shortly after being hired due to IT's bad policies. Almost no project went well, in-fact his team had to go back to the stone age in terms of the IT tools they were using because nobody had the time to work on the application servers that had broken. His team had essentially become incompetent due to those same bad policies IT leadership vehemently defended.

The cherry on top is his entire team quitting on him, leaving a multi-billion dollar corporation's site of 2500+ users without any IT support. Months before the last two of his IT direct reports quit, he had already resigned in shame & transferred to a much smaller sister company that consisted of about six employees. There he manages no one & is your stereotypical "IT guy" supporting the company...a far cry from being the IT director of a multi-billion dollar enterprise where he managed over fifty direct reports. All of this happened literally within TWO YEARS of me giving him consults that he refused to take in properly. What I hear from his former co-workers is that up until the day he quit whenever someone mentioned me, he would get a look of fear in his eyes then scurry off 😂

5. Have a backbone

There's nothing more devastating to a team than a weak leader. Morale drastically decreases once a team becomes aware that their leader will throw them under the bus, cave to the demands of other leaders/departments, not be willing to defend them or recognize their talents in-order to not "rock the boat," etc. Leaders like this rarely get any respect if at all. The respect they do have is of course feigned because of workplace professionalism. How is the IT department supposed to enforce policy or ensure change adoption if the leaders don't want to rub someone the wrong way? The answer is they can't. A weak leader will have users, other department leaders, pretty much everyone bullying IT personnel. As someone whose consulted hundreds of clients I've seen this all too much. People are amazed when I arrive on-site & actually take command. I try to show clients, especially their lower-level IT personnel, how having a backbone can benefit them whenever I can.

I specifically recall working with a client on a migration & mid-job the HR department got into a huge fight with IT because IT was trying to catch up with the times as well as improve their extremely poor performance (a callback to my previous point about open door policies,) so they switched to a closed door policy. HR lost their minds & literally tried breaking down the doors to the IT room which also doubled as the datacenter. They demanded the keycode to the datacenter. When that didn't work, they started giving a litany of completely nonsense reasons to gain access so that they could bother IT whenever they wanted which included safety violations ("What if one of the IT personnel collapsed in that room? What if they don't hear the fire alarm? The room is cluttered which is another violation.") Eventually the IT leaders caved & gave HR access to the datacenter for emergencies only. They also had to complete a sign-in sheet before they enter the room. Of course, HR immediately starts back running into the datacenter for any little reason.

This is exactly the type of situation you don't want to put your personnel, especially lower-level technicians that don't have the power to do anything. The overstepping of boundaries & toxic abuse perpetrated by HR was some of the worst I've seen in the workplace. It is egregious that any leader would allow something like that to be allowed, but weak leaders open the door for this to happen. These types of decisions not only destroy morale, but create extremely toxic workplaces & when these leaders are unable to find proper talent... they have no one to blame, but themselves.

Has your team ever experienced major setbacks?

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