CXO

Shared management, space thwarts bad blood between support and net admins

The best way to create a team spirit and encourage good communication between help desk pros and network admins is to make them share office space, according to some members. But does that mean they need to share the same manager?


Communication, or the lack thereof, has often been blamed for the antagonism that exists between some support or help desk pros and network administrators. In a recent article, I suggested that, perhaps, another source of the problem might be the management structure.

Most members agreed that having a "flat" organizational structure can add to an us vs. them mentality. Surprisingly, some suggested that it's beneficial to physically place the support and net admin teams together. Others said that no matter the organizational structure, good communication should solve any problems between the two groups.

I've gathered some of the most interesting responses from e-mail and the article discussion. Find out what your peers had to say about curing such a contentious relationship.

One manager is better
In the aforementioned article, I suggested that if support and net admin teams have hierarchically comparable managers, it might cause a battle for power and control between the groups. I proposed that if one manager supervised both groups, it might create a greater sense of teamwork because the manager would presumably set policies that would ensure the communication necessary for a harmonious existence.

Member Jerry, formerly with the U.S. Armed Forces, said he's seen both sides of the battle. As an experienced net admin, he was charged with developing a help desk operation. He became the combined help desk and net admin manager, and he helped provide support across multiple platforms and companies.

"I can vouch for the validity in the single-man-in-charge idea, with common procedures and communications channels being the basic reasons for my success," he said.

Unfortunately, when Jerry retired, his replacement lacked experience and never "established the degree of synergy" Jerry had developed with his staff. This led to the deterioration of the combined operation and, eventually, there were two offices reporting to separate bosses, both of whom were high-level officers.

"Maybe there is something to be said about letting low-level operations be controlled by the lowest grade possible," Jerry said. "Or possibly, it all boils down to the Peter Principle."

Frank Garza, a retired system administrator and programmer for a provider of data integration software in Austin, Texas, said that he experienced the one-manager, one-team mentality in his last job. He said team members had excellent relationships and any rare conflicts were the result of personality clashes—not their areas of responsibility.

Sometimes it's not a manager of people who brings the teams together, but a manager of tasks. Although no one actually reports to him, Jose Antonio Orozco has found himself in charge of the admin and support teams' work lives. After some positions were eliminated within his company, Orozco, whose title is Technology Support Manager, was designated to coordinate the work schedules for both teams. In addition to his other duties, he now must validate and schedule all support and net admin tasks, close the reports and, if necessary, recommend and refine end-user documentation. While he said the situation isn't "heaven," he said it did help eliminate friction between the teams and improve service by reducing the time required to resolve incidents.

Collocation enhances productivity, shared knowledge
TechRepublic member Oldefar said he's experienced both single-manager and dual-manager teams. Regardless of the structure, he said that communication at the worker level was the key to a cooperative vs. competitive environment.

He described one situation where there were individual managers for communications networks, network administration, system administration, development, and the help desk. The key ingredient, he said, was the collocation of the teams.

"We had no physical walls between us, which meant we took breaks together, shared lunches, and were all privy to developing crises in each other's area," he said. "The distance between level one and level four was always less than 50 feet. Our point of common management was three levels up and over 1,000 miles away."

Asheehy agreed that sharing a workspace adds a feeling of teamwork and encourages good communication. She advocates an open office, however, because "cubicle farms are just depressing."

She said the shared environment allows the teams to "see what kinds of pain the help desk folks endure on the front lines" and allows for a natural collecting of information, which makes internal promotions and migration between the teams more efficient.

Another member, NoDressRehearsal, said that when his support and net admin staffs are relegated to different locations due to space limitations, the level and quality of communication suffers.

"The "brain sharing" that goes on when a roomful of techies are just going about their daily business is a gold mine," he said.

Communication good, competition bad
Member Nancy Genasci said that she worked for one organization with great leaders and good communications and, of course, the operation promoted teamwork and ran smoothly. Her next experience was with a very large company where departments appeared to compete.

"Poor management, due to lack of training and communication, were the roots of the problem," she said.

William Eric Horde said that his former employers' "flat" structure was fine with IT managers, as long as "flat" ended below their ranks. The structure caused competition among the groups, which was considered "constructive" by senior executives and was supported by the departmental IT managers because it served to elevate their status in the company.

"The priority was placed on personal pride rather than accomplishments," Horde said. "The end result was that the corporate IT support infrastructure was ineffective and stalled in constant and ongoing petty differences."

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