Do You Have An Open Door Policy & Does Anyone Care?

Is your door really always open?
Is your door really always open?
Image Credit: Henry Burrows

Come on, admit it – you’ve told your IT team that you have an “open door” policy. What you meant by this is that you wanted each and every member of your team to feel comfortable dropping by at any time to discuss any issue with you. It could have something to do with staffing, the team’s strategy, or even how you are managing the team. Great concept – in fact it’s one of the IT manager skills that we are all taught. However, how many times has someone taken you up on this offer?

Why Open Door Policies Don’t Work

Dang it. The concept of an open door policy is great! Look, as I understand it all that an IT manager has to do is to tell his or her team that they have an open door and that everyone should feel free to drop by if they’ve got something to say. Once this is done, all you have to do is to go sit at your desk and wait – the team should start lining up to come see you shortly.

Well, that’s a great concept, but it really never happens that way. So what’s going wrong here? The sad but simple truth is that when you make a statement like this, what you are really doing is putting the burden of responsibility for keeping you up-to-date on what’s going on in the department on your team’s shouldersp>

What’s going to happen is nothing. Nobody is going to come to see you. They’ve got other things to do and nobody really wants to risk interrupting you to have a potentially difficult discussion with you. Look, if they come to see you they are probably going to be bringing you problems to discuss and really, who is going to be happy to see them – not you!

How You Should Really Open Your Door

So if the simple solution of making a statement and then sitting back and letting things happen is not going to do the trick, what is an IT manager to do? The good news is that every single member of your team has ideas. They have ideas about what the team should be doing, how it should be doing it, and what things the team should no longer be doing. You just need to find out about these things.

One way to do this is to send emails to the entire team and ask them very specific questions. Things like what are we doing right, what do you think about my leadership, who should we be doing a better job of working with, etc. The answers that you get back just might surprise you.

The next thing that you need to do is to get up off of your behind and go out of your office and talk with your team. Actually visiting them where they work and having a talk with them can reveal many things that you did not know. At first they may be reluctant to speak up – they may have had a bad experience in the past. However, if you keep at it they will open up to you. When this happens, you’ll suddenly know what is really going on with your team.

What All Of This Means For You

As IT managers we need information in order to be successful. A great deal of this information resides in the heads of the people who make up our team. Often we tell the team that we have an “open door” policy in an attempt to get people to share what is really going on with us. However, that rarely works.

The reason that open door policies don’t work is because as the IT leader we are putting the responsibility of sharing information on the shoulders of our team members. More often than not, it is just easier for them to do nothing. Instead of waiting for your team members to come to you, a much better approach is to go out and have talks with them. Ask them the questions that you want answers to and you just might be surprised at what you learn. Consider this to be a form of IT team building.

IT managers want to know what is going on with their teams. The challenge that we face is that nowhere in our IT manager training are we ever taught how to discover the answers that we need. It turns out that instead of telling our team to come and see us, instead we need to take the initiative and go out and talk with them. Give this a try and you just might be surprised at what you discover!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: What do you think is the best way to measure if you know enough about what is really going on with your team?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental IT Leader Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental IT Leader Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So what is your job as an IT manager? What is it that your company is really paying you to do? There may be many different answers to this question, but at the end of the day it’s your job to use your IT manager skills to convince a group of IT professions to all work on what you tell them they need to do and to do a good job. Although on the surface this may seem easy, as we all know it’s fairly difficult to do well. However, it turns out that all your IT team wants from you is three things…