It’s not exactly the Hatfields and McCoys, but in many organizations, there seems to be an adversarial relationship between network administrators and support professionals. Our members have told us that communication is almost always at the root of the controversy, and certainly that’s true. But I believe another factor is a heavy contributor to the antagonism: the organizational structure.

Support pros perform some network duties
In a previous TechRepublic article about how to promote communication between support desk and net admin staff, author Mike Walton described the relationship between the groups as symbiotic. In many companies, support personnel perform tasks traditionally associated with network administration. For example, support staff may be asked to reset passwords, configure network share permissions, add new user accounts on all systems, and perform user account security updates. Meanwhile, the network administrators can attend to less ordinary issues, such as network outages and server crashes.

In a follow-up article, Walton provided members’ comments about the sometimes us-against-them relationship. In general, members reported that once the name-calling and finger-pointing subsided, better communication was the solution to nearly every controversy. Support pros tended to view net admins as arrogant and unsupportive of the help desk because they didn’t share information about the status of the network that might cause end-user problems.

One hypothesis
Famed Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach once said that he’d learned a big secret of winning a long time ago: Somebody has to be in charge. Based on the anecdotes supplied by members in our discussions, my guess is that sometimes the opposition between support techs and net admins has its management structure to blame.

If the two groups exist on equal footing with hierarchically comparable managers at their helm, the result will be a battle for power and control. Why? Somebody has to be in charge. If that somebody isn’t officially named, the one with the most information will win. In the battle between support and network administrators, the admins will typically win because of their control over the battleground—the network.

Conversely, if one manager is in charge of both the net admin and support staff, the groups will be more likely to think of themselves as one team. In addition, the manager will be more likely to set forth policies that will ensure top-quality communication between his or her charges.

In some organizations with flat organizational structures, the resulting friction between teams can lead to creative solutions. However, it works only when communication is at its best. Any breakdown in the exchange of vital information will bring the two teams back to an us-vs.-them mentality.

Do you agree?

Does this hypothesis make sense in the context of your organization? Has your company come up with a unique organizational structure or way to communicate that has alleviated strain between the two groups? Send us an e-mail or post your experiences to the discussion below.