Oct 11 2006

How To Best Support Your IT Team

In a time of real war abroad, the last thing that IT leaders in education want is to feel like they’re going into battle with a vendor or team member to get a project completed. But sometimes—even though both parties approach a project with the best intentions—problems arise.

Tackling problems takes patience and teamwork. No one wants things to fall through the cracks, veer off schedule, violate organizational policies or miss agreed-upon project specifications. Apply your patience to working toward a positive change rather than waiting for a fix to appear on its own. Miracles often happen between teachers and students but rarely in IT.

If it’s your job to manage personnel or a project, it’s also your job to help come up with a solution that enables your staffers or consultants to be successful. Make shared success your mission, and also let them know your concerns about the challenges that may prevent the project from getting done on time, to specification or in a professional manner.

See if your staffers or consultants share your opinion about how the project is going by asking probing questions. Do they have enough resources? Have unpredicted obstacles hindered them from moving forward? Are there alternative tools or strategies to accomplishing the goal? Do they understand the goal? Ask what they think it will take to achieve the agreed-upon goal.

This is the time to turn the microphone over. Any time your stakeholders speak, you have an opportunity to get buy-in; any time you’re speaking, that’s less likely to happen. My goal is to get the other party to articulate a solution.

In our cover story, Securing Schools in the Homeland (p. 18), John Porter, CIO of Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland wouldn’t have galvanized support for a countywide security initiative without getting buy-in that exploitable security gaps existed. An early security audit helped to establish the scope problem; a follow-up audit helped establish that the security holes got fixed.

Getting buy-in that a problem exists is 60 percent of the challenge. Encouraging your stakeholder to brainstorm and find a solution is the other 40 percent. It’s never easy to tell people what they need to do. If they can come up with a reasonable fix, they’ll feel engaged. If you come up with the answer, they may do what you ask, but nine times out of 10, they’ll do it grudgingly.

Of course, this strategy won’t always work. Sometimes it will take many of these conversations to see results. Other times, you might not see any progress. If the latter happens, agree to a time frame when you must intervene.

As much as possible, amplify the positive. The upshot is that your staffers and consultants will get conditioned to approach discussion with a problem-solving frame of mind.