IT Managers Know When To Use A Team – And When Not To

by drjim on January 20, 2011

Some Problems Call For A Team, Some Don't

Some Problems Call For A Team, Some Don’t

If ever there was a trendy word in the world of IT management, it would have to be the word “team”. If you read enough books or listen to enough gurus, you’d have to be forgiven for coming away with the impression that the solution to just about every IT problem is to throw a team at it. Sure teams can be useful, but IT managers need to know when they work – and when they don’t.

When Is A Team The Right Idea For An IT Manager?

Despite what you may have read, teams are not always the correct solution for every IT problem. In fact, you might not be the right kind of IT manager to be on a team.

How come teams don’t always work? A lot of this has to do with the way that a team is built. If an IT manager doesn’t (or isn’t allowed to) correctly fund, staff, and run a team, then there is very little chance that it’s going to be able to successfully accomplish its objective.

IT managers need to be careful about allowing themselves to become part of a team. How a team operates is much different from how an IT department operates. Whereas an IT manager is clearly in charge when it comes to determining what his staff does, the same can not be said about a team. In fact, an IT manager might not even be in charge of the team.

The level of collaboration that it takes to make a team work is significantly different from how day-to-day IT management is performed. IT managers need to be aware of these types of differences.

When Is A Team The Right Idea For The People On It?

Maybe before we spend any time trying to determine when a team is the right way to go about solving a problem, we should first agree on just exactly what a team is. This should be easy, right?

It turns out that everyone THINKS that they know what a team is, but we all seem to have slightly different definitions. Let’s agree that for our purposes a team is more than just a bunch of people who work together. Instead, let’s define a team as being a collection of people who bring complementary skills together to work towards achieving a common goal.

So there we go, we’ve got a good feel for what a team is. Now all we need to do is to make sure that we understand when using a team is the right decision for solving an IT problem. It turns out that there are four main categories of challenges that are well suited for being solved by teams:

  1. Different Skills Needed: problems that can only be solved by having a collection of IT workers who have a specific set of talents and skills that no one person has.
  2. Hand-Offs: problems that require IT workers to work together with a great deal of back-and-forth exchanges in order to solve the problem.
  3. Defined Deliverable: the problem must have a very clear deliverable that needs to be produced or delivered.
  4. End Date: teams shouldn’t last forever. The problem must have a “due by” date that lets everyone know exactly when the team’s task will be completed.

What Does All Of This Mean For You?

The idea of using teams to solve every IT problem that an IT manager faces can be dangerously seductive. It’s true that a lot of problems can be solved by teams, but we’ve got to realize that not every problem calls for a team.

IT managers need to take the time to first determine if creating a team that they are on is a good idea. How they manage and how they motivate the other members of the team may be very different from how they work as an IT manager. To correctly determine when a team should be used, IT managers need to be very aware of the four different types of problems that are best solved by teams.

As with any management tool, teams can be a powerful way to solve problems. However, IT managers need to first take the time to evaluate a problem and determine if it calls for a team based solution. Pick the right types of problems to apply a team to and you’ll always come out a winner!

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

Question For You: How big do you think an IT team can get before it becomes unmanagable?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When you become an IT manager, you probably decided right there and then that you wanted to become a success. Just because you are a manager, does not guarantee that you’ll be a success – it seems to take something else, something extra. It turns out that social signals are what determines how successful an IT manager will be. Do you know what signals you are sending out?

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