If you’re in tune with the various tech communities, you’ve probably noticed a big push for professional development in the technical ranks. I love the recognition that IT pros need more than just technical skills to succeed, but most of the outreach has been about improving one’s own stature in the tech hierarchy. There’s surprisingly little focus on those who are happy in their place in the world and just want to make the world a little better. What the heck am I talking about? It’s not just us as individuals who need to grow and improve; our IT organizations need to evolve as well. Perhaps we need an example scenario to help make my point…
“Once upon a time, I was part of an amazing team made up of talented people, with a fantastic manager. Our camaraderie was through the roof. We had all the right people on the bus. Ideas were plentiful. We also couldn’t get anything of consequence done in the organization...
“It didn’t make sense to me at the time, as this group of rock stars should have been able to get anything done. In the end, there were a host of contributing issues, but one of the biggest was our own making. The long and short of it is, we didn’t play nice with others. We were the stereotypical IT geeks, and our standoffish behavior isolated us within the org. It’s not a fun place to be, tends to be self-replicating, didn’t help move the org forward, and ultimately was detrimental to us as individuals.”
Even in 2019, it doesn’t seem to be an unfamiliar story for IT practitioners. Today I’d like to take a few minutes exploring some thoughts on how we can fight the norms and evolve as an IT department to become an even more integral part of the business.
How to Improve IT Departments – Get Out of IT
Quick! Tell me, how does your organization make money? Seriously, ask yourself this question. Unless you work for a non-profit, this is the ultimate goal for your business: to make money. If the question stumped you at all, I’d like to ask you one more. If you don’t know the ultimate goal for your business, how can you truly understand your place within the business and how best to work towards its success? You can’t. No matter the size of the machine, you have to understand what the pieces within it do and how they engage with each other to move the machine forward. IT is just one piece within your business, and you need to go learn about the other pieces, their needs, and friction points.
The only real answer is to broaden your horizons and get out of IT.
When I say, “Get out of IT,” I’m being literal. Leave. Get out. Go talk to people. Depending on where you are, the mechanics of getting out of IT is going to take different forms. In smaller organizations, the HR department may be your best resource to figure out the key players to talk to, whereas larger organizations may have formal shadowing, apprenticeships, or even job rotation programs. If that’s all too involved for you, spending a little more time on the intranet reading up on other teams will still pay dividends in developing a better understanding of your stakeholders.
While You’re Out and About – How IT Pros Can Learn From Other Departments
Listen. Show empathy. Is it that simple? Yeah, it really is. The act of getting out of IT is not just about learning and gaining information, it’s also about building relationships. The most important takeaway from this exercise is building inter-department relationships.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to build relationships is to listen to the other party. I’m not talking about just waiting for a point to interject or to solve the problems in your head while they’re talking. Don’t practice selective or distracted listening, but be present, focus on the person, and try to hear what they’re saying. It’s not easy to do. After all, we live in a distracted society and many of us make our livelihoods by trying to solve problems as efficiently as possible. For me, I find active listening can help significantly with overcoming my inattentiveness.
Before moving on, I want to point out one specific word: empathy. I chose it specifically, in part, because of how Stephen Covey defines empathetic listening, “…it’s that you fully, deeply, understand that person, emotionally as well as intellectually.” This is not white belt level attentiveness we’re talking about; this is Buddha-like listening, and with practice and intentionality, you may find you’re able to reach this level of enlightenment. By doing so, you’ll inevitably forge bonds, and the relationship you build will be based on mutual understanding. With these bonds in place, you and your new cohorts will be more in sync and better able to row in the same direction.
The Importance of Asking “Why?”
Why are we here? Not quite as existential as that, but fundamental nonetheless, you should consider adding the word “Why?” to your workplace repertoire. “Why?” Well, let me tell you why. This simple three-letter word will help you peel back the layers of the onion. Asked in the right way, it can be a powerful means to demonstrate your empathy and leverage the newly strengthened relationships you’ve built. It’s a means to get deeper insight to the problem/pain/situation at hand. With deeper insights, you can create more effective solutions.
Now a word of caution for you, burgeoning Buddha. “Why?” can also backfire on you. It can be a challenging word. By using the word “Why” in the wrong context, setting, or situation, you can present a challenge to the questioned. If you’re talking to someone who can get defensive and put their shields up, it’s possible to lose traction. Tread carefully with this powerful little word. Ensure your newly improved relationships have a good bond and can be trusted if this word is interpreted in the wrong way. Long story short, make sure you’re being intentional with your communications, and asking “Why?” can take you a long way towards becoming more effective in your organization.
Why Can’t We Be Friends? (With IT)
The idea for this post has been kicking around for a while, but the title only came to me recently when the Rage Against the Machine song “Know Your Enemies” unexpectedly started playing in my car. If you’re able to strip out the controversial elements, the song is about a call to action, fighting against complacency, and bucking the norms. At the end of this post, that’s my hope for you: by being cognizant of our place in the organization and actively working to build better relationships, you’ll walk away not raging against the machine, but rather humming “why can’t we be friends, why can’t we be friends…”