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Improving the Skills and Knowledge of Your Team

Level 10

This topic doesn't fall into the realm of geeky networking but it can be used to simplify your work life and ultimately simplify the management and day to day operations of your team.

I am a firm believer that individuals grow stronger and more knowledgeable as a team than on their own. Sure there is a fair amount that has to be done on your own but having a teammate or group to push you helps a ton.

From a business stand point you wouldn't want critical services and applications to have a single point of failure. So why would you want to have a single source of knowledge on your team? So if most companies out there struggle with just getting a single experienced and knowledgeable person in vacant positions how are they going to have multiple people on a team share that load? To me its all about building up everyone on the team. You don’t have to rely on hiring from outside if you have been ramping up entry-level and Jr admins from within.

For me I try and approach my job and projects with the mindset that I will not be around in three to six months. This mindset forces me to document as much as possible and work with those around me to get up to speed for when they have to take over my responsibilities.

Spending your time with knowledge transfer and helping others grow also has benefits for yourself. If you’re the only one who knows how to do your job then taking vacation is always painful or non-existent. Also if there is no one else around to take over your role how are you going to be able to set it aside and take on that big project that you want. Even better how will you get promoted if you cant be replaced?

So how do you guys approach this and how do you build your teams knowledge?

How do you approach documentation of knowledge? ( ex. Wiki, SharePoint, internal blog)

What is your stance on certifications?

What type of mentorship and training does your team have in place? 

34 Comments
Level 10

Require an hour scheduled each week dedicated to training.  Scheduling that time helps with getting it done.  During each review, make it a goal to complete a certification. 

SharePoint is used for internal training, rating and commenting.  Schedule 4 webinar's a month that are required.  We do these things now, however most company's don't and that what makes my company better than yours. 

Level 10

I completely agree, any company that will build training and education into the weekly/monthly schedule is doing it right. More often than not though "there is not enough time for training" and you have to carve the time off yourself or do it on your own time.

Level 17

Very good read here that1guy15.  I've always believed it's good to spread knowledge having been that single point of failure.  Fortunately there are several aspects we've began utilizing from emails to DLs, now using Office365 One Drive (formerly Sky Drive).  Myself, as with the other members of the team, can document things we have found and share them out creating a make-shift knowledge base that we can reference as well as use when we bring on newer members of the team.  While we don't require training time during the week, we do try, as time permits to allow the team to have "down time" to use to focus on areas they want to improve on, be it Visualization, networking, server, etc.  One they feel comfortable, they can then share their knowledge with the rest of the team allowing the team to benefit from that experience.  While we encourage getting certifications, it's not a requirement, and occasionally there are incentives if there is a certification that the team could benefit from.  Fortunately most of the team I work with sits together, so we have time to campfire a a team and mentor each other on areas we may have more knowledge/experience in than another member of the team. 

Level 10

One of my past jobs used conferences as a way to motivate and spark growth. Each year a handful of teammates were allowed to go to one conference of your choice. Every year it rotated and you attended a conference about every 2-3 years.

To me this was a type of reward for my hard work and also allowed me to get out and see whats going on in the industry.

Anyone out there use this strategy? What is your take on conferences such as Interop, CiscoLive and VMWorld?

Level 15

I love that idea. For us, it's sometimes a hard sell as our calendar stays pretty full and it would be cost prohibitive to send a large amount of our workforce out like that. However, we do have semi-annual meetings for the company where we get some training done in breakout teams.

Certifications are only as good as the person who took the test. I, and anyone else in IT, have known plenty of people who are covered with certifications and lack real-world experience. Similarly, there are plenty of engineers with no certifications that can admin entire networks without issue. I personally enjoy certifications because they are a structured format for me to learn something new. Past that, I admire the effort it takes to obtain them, but don't label anyone an expert who has one.

-ZackM

Loop1 Systems: SolarWinds Training and Professional Services

MVP
MVP

We maintain internal documents (policies and procedures) on sharepoint.

To help everyone maintain familiarity on the different monitors and alerts we rotate one person as the Engineer On Duty (EOD) each day.

They handle all the incoming problems and the daily checks so the load is distributed and allows for the others to concentrate on projects.

This also helps to spin people up to insert into the oncall rotation more quickly. 

I try and send my team to one or two training events each year with numerous webinars and such on the side.

Level 10

Could not agree more. I recognized certs from the get-go as a way to push myself and learn the topics. But just because you have cert XYZ dosent mean you know the subject.

Level 10

We use an internal wiki for documentation, which we can all go over at any time; though we still have a SPoF for many knowledge points. We are not given specific time to go through training but we can read our documentation and ask anyone questions at any time and update the current wiki. As far as certs, our company will pay for passing a cert but again we dont get specific time set aside for training but if the day is slow then we can watch training videos and read training documentation for the desired cert and noone would say anything

Level 10

Interesting on the EOD role. Is your shop a blend of IT or is it focused in on a specific area like networking or server admin?

I could see this being an issue with a mixed team as you really dont want me messing around with Exchange. I would think this could cause inconsistencies. If Im wrong on this how have you worked through those issues?

Level 10

Nice! Yeah internal wikis seem to be a pretty popular option.

MVP
MVP

We are a blend of IT.  We cross train and share oncall across a number of people so that we aren't on call every other week but the EOD allows us to keep current on everything...well most everything.  SME's will be called as needed.. 

Level 12

We use Internal Wikis and if you want any kind of cert just have to get with our payroll people and the company will put up the bill *as long as you pass*.

MVP
MVP

We use an internal doc server for most of that, but its an uphill struggle for the majority of techies - apparently

As for certifications, they are a nice to have, but the availability of so many bootcamp type classes that have an almost guaranteed pass mean that most technical certs are essentially useless. We never rely on certs as a demonstration of ability.

Level 10

Yeah Im not a big fan of bootcamps. The only use I can see them having is the last mile or final prep. If your going to a bootcamp to learn you are doing it wrong.

Level 9

Capability Maturity Model Integration, a great tech writer, and SharePoint, in addition to an environment that promotes cross-training and collaboration within departments and free technical courseware.

Level 8

Re: Conferences

"For us, it's sometimes a hard sell as our calendar stays pretty full and it would be cost prohibitive to send a large amount of our workforce out like that. However, we do have semi-annual meetings for the company where we get some training done in breakout teams."


It's not necessary to "...send a large amount of our workforce...". You send your key players; the ones who will bring the highest value back with them. Most often, "cost-prohibitive" is a means to shut down the conversation. Rarely is benefit discussed.


There is no at par substitute for a conference of your peers away from your work environment. On a cost:benefit basis, conferences are without question, of greater value than instructor-led training, Webinars, online training, and employer-based meetings. Visiting with colleagues and vendors outside your organization, folks who are unencumbered by the constraints you face back home, imbues you with a fresh perspective. The relationships established at a conference add value to your work, and to your employer's top line. These relationships remain long after the benefits of company training have faded. They follow you throughout your career, and through job changes. Recruiters and hiring heads at your company should take note of prospective employees who are regular conference attendees. These prospects bring many more ideas and skills to bear on their work.

The opportunity to brainstorm ad hoc with your counterparts from different companies (or countries) gets you out of the rut of your own methods of expedience, and into the realm of free-thinking. Ideas abound in a conference environment; ideas you might not consider while under the pressure of the day-to-day workload.

Regardless what methods of collaboration you use, they are no substitute for face time.

MVP
MVP

Yes...networking and collaboration not only with peers at other companies but with perspective that you can't get via mediums such as Thwack. 

Then there is the vendor relationship.  You have access to developers and product managers where you can sit down face to face and address concerns or ideas.

Panel type sessions where discussions of this sort can happen open up many ideas and provide basis for networking afterward plus allow group concern to be seen by the vendor over certain problems.....

Level 10

that1guy15  I think that is a great idea!!!  One position that I held while in IT was in San Diego during the booming IT days in the late 1990s / early 2000s... we were able to attend conferences pretty regularly and had a bevy from which to choose... who doesn't like to go to SD in the winter (in particularly) - Currently, I don't reside in an area that gets a lot of those and I miss the opportunity to mingle with others in the industry and see where things are headed from the big picture.  Money was never the object in SD, only time and time off to attend.... I think they lend themselves to promoting such a fresh perspective on things and generate ideas to bring back to the company for those that do attend.

Level 11

We try to build our team's knowledge through cross training.  Several of our network engineers have specialities, so they are generally the point person on that technology.  I have an advantage of coming from a server background, which gives me a slight advantage when dealing with server based problems.  I have quite a bit to learn from the more seasoned network guys, but we have a good diversity that allows us to work together to tackle complex projects and issues.

We also have had two training classes done in the past 12 months.  Most recently, we took classes for citrix certifications CCA-N and CCP-N, which I think will be valuable certifications in the future.  As far as certifications go, I think they can be valuable to get your foot in the door for an interview.  However, we've all seen the paper warriors who have tons of certifications.. but no practical knowledge.  I want to see someone with a drive to learn and a sense of ownership, which is how I focus my interview questions.  If you have the technical aptitude, I can teach you our particular systems.

As far as mentoring, we don't really have an official policy or plan.  We utilize our SMEs to assist our learning, but there is no metrics or tracking involved.  It would be nice to have a mentorship setup, as I'm always wanting to learn new things.

So how do you guys approach this and how do you build your teams knowledge?  We use a combination of Sharepoint (Knowledge Base and Documentation), Lunch and Learns and Peer Training

How do you approach documentation of knowledge? SharePoint

What is your stance on certifications?  They are just pieces of paper.  there are about 1200 people in our IT department.  Many have certs and are idiots( understand concepts, but know nothing of practical application).  Usually the Data Security Guys.  We have people with no certs who are lights out.  Paper is just that...Paper.  With boot camps anybody can get a cert and have no idea what to do beyond a multiple choice test.

What type of mentorship and training does your team have in place? We do internal classes and peer training.

Level 10

It will take hunger and drive any day!

Level 10

Just like most education, certifications give you what you put into them . I agree I have seen people cert'ed up but couldn't do or explain basic concepts. Makes you wonder.

For me certifications are what drive me to grow and learn and I use them as a tool. But I will never use my certs as a way to show my knowledge. Its a general here is what I have accomplished.

Level 10

So what is everyones strategy for motivating and pushing those not willing to grow?

For me I try and keep my teammates involved with as much as possible so they are kinda forced into the knowledge. But for mentoring and personal growth if you wont put in the leg work and push yourself Im not going to waste my energy.

MVP
MVP

It depends on the nature of the business you're working for.

If you're doing internal IT work, certifications don't have as much value to the business, and it's less likely that exam fees and training courses will be covered. Or you'll always be told, "we don't have funding for training this year, but maybe next year." But if you're a consultant, or another billable resource, certifications can have multiple benefits, including higher bill rates to customers, better partner levels with your preferred vendors, and prestige within the technical community.

WRT documentation: it's always hard to divorce opinion from fact when technical people document the systems they manage. Having good templates for documentation is key. Relying on narratives is risky.

MVP
MVP

I assign a task or project to them that "encourages" them to learn something new.  Such that they have to do research and forge new grounds in their landscape of IT knowledge and experience.

MVP
MVP

That's a great approach. I've used the same many times with mostly positive results.

Level 10

Excellent point!

Level 13

We've tried to schedule at least an hour every other week to get everybody in the same room (or webex) to go through a Cisco Live video.  Unfortunately this eventually fell by the wayside as we couldn't get enough people together at the same time to make it worthwhile.

My current employer is in support of everyone getting certifications but they are not required.  They've even paid for everyone without a cert to attend an onsite bootcamp.  Unfortunately this also has not borne much fruit as again people are too busy to have time to study.

I disagree that there is no benefit for certifying in-house personnel: I believe that having in-house personnel with a certification helps to produce a common understanding of concepts and vocabulary.

MVP
MVP

I didn't say there was no benefit to having certified staff personnel. I said that there's less value to the business than a consulting group who can directly translate certification into higher bill rates. You have to make the argument that investing in your personnel will have long-term benefits to the business, including increased earnings, improved job performance, or reduced turnover, or even all three.

Level 13

You are entirely correct - I apologize for my misread.

In my previous lifetimes as a consultant the certs definitely paid off and most of my managers understood the benefits.  Even had some cases where we got the work because we were the only ones in the area that had the right certs (plus referenceable experience) on hand.

Level 10

Mind you - there is always the possibility that you will train your people to be able to get a better job elsewhere.

Level 10

We use SharePoint to document and distribute troubleshooting procedure and resolutions. We also use dedicated SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) who are responsible to keeping up to date in their individual fields and then providing individual/group training to the team. Certifications are certainly encouraged but not required.

Level 8

Right! It's work, not vacation. The most productive employers have a culture quite similar to a conference (as you described it.) The cost to attend enhances the human capital investment the company makes when they hire someone. The ROI can exceed the cost by orders of magnitude.

Level 15

Good information.  Thanks for sharing.  Good discussion.