Why A Quiet IT Team Should Make An IT Leader Nervous

by drjim on August 26, 2010

Just Because You Can't Hear It, Doesn't Mean That They Aren't Talking

Just Because You Can’t Hear It, Doesn’t Mean That They Aren’t Talking

It turns out that an IT Leader really doesn’t do all that much. I mean, they probably don’t do any coding, they don’t debug network problems, and they don’t design next-generation storage solutions. Sorta makes you wonder just exactly they do do? It turns out that most of an IT Leader’s time is spent doing scary stuff, like managing people…

Why Silence Is NOT Golden

So here’s an interesting thought: if one of your primary jobs is to manage your IT team, then how are you going to be able to tell if you are doing a good job? One way that might come to mind right off the bat is if you don’t hear any complaints than certainly you must be doing a good job, right?

It turns out that Dr. James Detert, a researcher at Cornell, and a team have been looking into what workers do and don’t tell their bosses. The results (and the reasons for them) just might surprise you. Here are four common myths that every IT Leader should know are not true.

Myth: Women Are Less Likely To Speak Up

Most managers believe that women and non-professional IT workers are more likely to NOT speak up simply because they think that it will either harm their career or just isn’t worth the effort. I must confess that I believed this myth.

It turns out that this just isn’t so. Based on studies that were done by Dr. Detert and his team, it turns out that women and non-professional IT workers are just as likely as professional men to speak up in the workplace. In fact, the researchers have shown that your gender, level of education, and your level of income have no bearing on the probability that you’ll express your opinions at work.

Myth: Talkers Tell All

IT Leaders who are getting a lot of feedback from their IT team may start to feel confidant that they are in touch with everything that is going on. I mean come on, if your team is talking to you then they’ve got to be telling you everything, right?

Sorry, once again it turns out that this is not the case. In studies that were done by the researchers it turned out that almost half of the workers polled said that they hold back. The reasons varied, but the most common causes of IT employees holding their tongues were when they thought it wouldn’t do any good or when they thought it might harm their career.

Myth: Safety First

IT Leaders who have a problem with their team not talking to them may wonder why. A natural first assumption is that their IT team for some reason doesn’t feel safe doing so. For some reason, the thinking goes, they believe that speaking up about an issue will come back to haunt them.

Well guess what, the reasons that your team might not be talking to you is actually much more boring than that. The number one reason that someone on a team won’t tell their boss what’s really going on is, drum roll please, simply because they are too busy – they don’t want to waste their time. Ouch, that hurts!

Myth: Only The Big Issues Are Scary

Finally, you would assume that it would be the big issues that would cause IT workers to hold back. You know, things that involve actual crimes or unethical things. Oops, once again you’d be wrong.

The researchers found that IT workers will not speak up on even the smallest issues. Unfortunately these are the very issues that an IT leader needs to hear about if he / she wants to improve how IT can help the company operate.

What All Of This Means For You

The technology part of being a IT Leader is probably easier than the people part. However, you are going to have to be good at both if you want to be a successful manager.

One of the most important things that you’ll need to realize is that your best way of identifying issues is to get your team to tell you about them. Not hearing about issues doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. We’ve pointed out four myths that can lead an IT Leader to make the wrong conclusions.

Now that you know that silence doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have any problems, you are ready to take the next step. This means that you’ve got to go out and form real relationships with your team so that you’ll be able to tell when they are holding back – and then you’ll know that it’s time to dig deeper!

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

Question For You: Do you think that having an “open door policy” really means anything for today’s IT Leaders?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

What is it going to take to make your IT Leader career a success? Sure, you can deliver IT value and get your projects done on time, but will that be enough? The answer is no. For you to be seen as a successful IT Leader you are going to have to be seen as a “high potential” IT Leader – one who is going to go places beyond your current assignment. Clearly you need to know what it’s going to take to get others to consider you to be high potential…

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