I was involved in a workshop with a group of professionals the
other day when the question came up, “What are the barriers to success for
your group?” Pen in hand, I anxiously awaited their list of IT-related
needs that keep them from achieving work Nirvana.

You know what I found? The majority of the barriers to success
for this group were not things that IT could fix via a new application or piece
of hardware, but instead were related to management and workplace culture. While
this group may or may not be a microcosm for any organization, I felt their thoughts
were worth mentioning. See how many of these describe your work group:

  1. Too many meetings (about nothing): This complaint
    focused on the overabundance of meetings the group members had to attend
    and the fact that many of the meetings were informational in nature and
    required no participation, other than to breathe. Add to this, that many of
    them felt that they were the “wrong” person to attend the
    meeting and it should have been someone with decision-making authority.
  2. Meeting disrespect: Meetings starting late because no
    one can show up on time, people answering cell phones during meetings or–equally
    as bad–checking messages on their Blackberry. Plus, there’s the
    obligatory, painful PowerPoint presentation that could have been
    communicated in a couple of paragraphs but instead has been thrust upon
    the group as an hour-long presentation.
  3. Spam: Not from the outside, but from within their own
    organization. Aside from personal spam such as chain letters, jokes etc., which
    are forbidden, but seem to make the rounds anyway, there are the dozens of
    public service announcements that seem to come from on high regarding
    blood drives, celebrations, press releases, charity campaigns etc.
  4. Instant messaging: Once touted as an efficient way to
    get in touch with someone (since the e-mail you sent is buried in the
    thousands of spam messages, and people, for some reason, have forgotten how
    to use their phone), IM for many has involved into “How next can you
    break my concentration?”
  5.  E-mail: One
    person mentioned said that if he died, he couldn’t catch up with his e-mail
    backlog in the next life! (Lots of
    grinning and agreement followed that comment.) The group felt that much of
    the “legitimate” e-mail they receive is redundant or unnecessary.
  6. Inability of management to make a decision: This was
    a major pet peeve for the group and one that seemed to be a show stopper
    for whatever they were working on.

There were a few more that were listed that were specific to
their businesses, but these were the main barriers to success. And while I said
earlier that these problems could not be fixed with a technology solution, the
majority of them are IT-related. It
just so happens that several of these problems stem from the results of
technology and the problems that can arise from their use/misuse.

What is IT’s role in
shaping workplace culture?

IT often plays a lead role in bringing a new form of
communication technology to the workplace. Whether IT is the early adopter or
just the one who pushes the technology out on a wide scale, it is our function
that puts these tools into play.

Unfortunately we are usually so caught up in making sure the
technology works as advertised and is managed properly, that we forget
something pretty important: How to communicate to the users the effective use
of the new technology and the etiquette involved with its use. We just make an
assumption that if they can use the
tool properly (hallelujah!), be it e-mail, IM, a hand-held device, etc., they
will instinctively use it in the proper manner. But for many of the new users,
the tool is as foreign to them as a device dropped from an alien spaceship.

This is an oversight on the part of IT, and one that we can
play a role in correcting. For those tools that we have in place or are about
to roll out, we should work with the organization to explain proper use of the
tool. Coordinate with HR to help create the training materials necessary to
teach users about the new technology, related company policies regarding its
use, and even points of etiquette. If you don’t have a separate training
department, use the communication vehicles that you do have, such as the
intranet or e-mail, to get the information out and define policies. You can
also add this type of information to the packet of information we give new
users when they get an account. Another good time to train users remind them of
policies is when you gear up for maintenance or roll outs of replacements for

The point is, as providers of communication services, IT has an
obligation to help ensure proper use of the tools it provides. IT already does
this in regard to safety and security practices (don’t open e-mail attachments
from strangers, don’t provide passwords in requests to e-mail, etc.), so policy
and etiquette training should be a natural extension of these duties. Contributing
to a more productive workplace and a more positive culture is definitely an IT
goal worth achieving.