Modern Middle Manager
Primarily my musings on the practical application of technology and management principles at a financial services company.
I See Tech People...

Monday, December 23, 2002  

Infrastructure is fun. Complicated, but a lot of fun. I think it's because there are so many options available and they can all be molded fairly easily to an IT manager's will. Well, more easily molded than people...

I am the archetypical IT manager. My background is systems administration and programming, with a four-year stint in consulting that resulting in me co-running a small company in Irvine, CA. Without any guidance and with the pressures of consulting, my style became very authoritarian (OK, I was a despot). I brought some of that attitude to my current position once I became head of the department. Recognizing that, my current boss sent me off to Re-education Camp so I would become the Ultimate Team Leader. Sarcasm aside, I have been devouring information on management and leadership because I recognize that I can always improve. So I got a lobotomy, read books like those from John C. Maxwell and Phil Jackson (and his ghostwriter) and Got With the Program.

Perhaps I'm bitter because my skepticism has failed me. My team is working like a team, they are trusting each other and helping each other and rising to the challenge of becoming better professionals. Imagine my chagrin -- I was wrong! Time to grow up, after all.

So what is team-building all about? Partly it's the integrity of the team leader and partly it's the integrity of the team members. From what I've experienced, building a team boils down to:

1. Getting the team members to understand what they are capable of as individuals.
2. Teaching them to respect and trust each other (and by extension, the team leader).
3. Show them that if they make each other better they benefit themselves as well as the organization.

In my quest to Build the Ultimate IT Department, I am working on all three steps at once. I try to challenge my individual staff members to become better, learn more, apply it and prove they can succeed in their efforts. I hold biweekly topic meetings with them to assign them research tasks to stretch them.

Respect and trust are more difficult. Even though we are a small department and I encourage cross-training, there is a certain amount of specialization (i.e., networking, servers, software development and desktop support). That development of "expert power," combined with respect for each other, is a powerful trust-building tool. Committing them to more open and clear communication, especially dealing with perception and personality issues, is a necessary part of this -- too many times "expert power" becomes more of an ego boost than a support mechanism.

Team members need to be able to rely on each other to back them up or offer help with their projects when they aren't able to find the answer. By helping each other out, they realize the payoff is that they can accomplish their own assigned goals on time and they get more interesting projects to boot. The individuals learn more, the team grows together and plays nice, the organization gets more productive man-hours to accomplish strategic projects.

Please take the electrodes off me now.

posted by Henry Jenkins | 12/23/2002 07:10:00 PM

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