Top IT managers connect and communicate with staff

IT managers who connect with team members on both a professional and a personal level are on the road to success. Take the first step by following these real-world examples from TechRepublic members and other experts in the field.

If you want to be an effective IT manager, developing relationships through communication is the key to success. Just ask Dawn Barnard, a systems support manager in New York state.

Barnard adopted a hands-on approach when she wanted to better understand how her team built servers. The team gave her a dismantled server and let her rebuild it.

“I had a basic ‘walk-through’ of the overall (process) and proceeded to build my server. The feeling was great when the next day they came to work to find a new server on the network,” Barnard said.

Barnard’s exercise offered a dual benefit: The strategy showed her team that she is a team player who is concerned with the challenges the team faces every day. The demonstration also helped Barnard establish a trusting relationship with her team. Here are other strategies you can use to do the same.

Reach out to stay in touch
An effective manager not only needs good communication skills but also needs to be a “people person,” said Ray Jackson, the associate dean of the leadership school of Unisys University, the training branch for Unisys employees.

Managers who stay in touch with staffers are more likely to be more in tune with what’s happening in the IT department and be able to quickly address small problems before they become big ones.

And while some managers may wait for a problem to surface before taking action, good managers should “…just pick up the phone and call or walk across the hall. More often than not, an issue is going to come up that you want to know about…that you wouldn’t have known about until it got worse,” Jackson said.

But effective communication involves more than just knowing what your team does at work, said TechRepublic member Robert Johnson, a production and computer services manager. Johnson said managers should also know something about an employee’s life outside of work.

“These things can affect an employee’s performance and attitude at work,” Johnson said.

“What are their hobbies, likes, and dislikes? Who are they friends with on the job? Are they married? Do they have children? How are things going at home?” Johnson said.

“A good manager is one who can one day crack the whip and chew out staff members when they need to be motivated or disciplined," said TechRepublic member Bill Nash, who added that that same manager should also be “…caring and observant of staff members’ needs and requirements.”

Develop a communication plan
If you are not a people person, asking questions about employee hobbies and family may be difficult. But there are other ways to improve communication with employees.

Jackson suggested that managers eat with their staff once a week and make random office stops as often as possible.

But how you reach your employees is really up to you. It’s about what feels comfortable to you. Some factors that determine how you communicate with employees include:
  • The size of the team
  • The size of the organization
  • Where a team is located (remote offices, different floors in one building)
  • How the team interacts

Managers in smaller organizations have an easier job because they can usually talk with each team member daily or hold frequent informal team meetings.

Communicating with team members in large organizations presents more of a challenge. Some managers keep an index card or electronic file for each member containing personal information such as the employee’s birthday, hire date, and the names of a spouse or children.

Studying this personal information and using it effectively will go a long way in showing employees that you are interested in more than the workday world. You should make it a point to remember an employee’s birthday, congratulate them on the anniversary of their hire, and ask about their spouse and children.

There are other methods you can use to communicate with your team including:
  • A department newsletter.
  • Calling employees.
  • An intranet or e-mail message.
  • Occasional informal meetings.

If your team is divided by distance, newsletters and intranet or e-mail messages may be helpful. Make a point to provide employees with a monthly lighthearted note or progress report.

Learn to let go
Communicating with staff also happens without newsletters, e-mails, meetings, or even words. Let your staff work through a problem with little intervention from you. The unspoken message here is that you trust them to identify the problem and solve it on their own.

“My guys and I get along great because I make them feel more like miniature managers themselves rather than just IT staffers,” said IT manager Nick Clark with Kerber, Eck & Braeckel LLP in Springfield, IL.

But it’s not easy to let go of a project, especially when the finished product has your name on it.

“You have to fight that need to always be in charge of people because no matter what, you’re never going to be able to do everything yourself and you have to trust in your employees,” said Matt Schwartz. Schwartz is a consultant for the American Management Association, a nonprofit management training organization.

TechRepublic member Paul Conklin said great managers learn to let go. “Exceptional managers in the IT world value the development of their subordinate's reputation over the development of their own reputation,” he said.

What’s your strategy?
Do you use a nonconventional way to reach your staff? If so, tell us about it. Start a discussion below or drop us a line.


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