Should you open your IT meetings to the whole company?

As a one-man Information Technology department for about two dozen professional engineers and designers, finding ways to answer any number of questions presents quite the challenge. Heck, even knowing the right question is not always obvious. Moreover, these are some very smart and creative people, ones who are very technologically savvy, and ones whose technology needs and demands are quite high. But they can also be an invaluable source of information themselves, a resource that I definitely don't overlook.

I was once one of those end users myself (and still am, to a large degree) which provides a unique perspective in supporting their needs. But being the one to take the early initiative and interest in trying to better understand our ever-growing technology needs, planning for future growth, and designing our technology infrastructure around our needs quickly became a second job -- indeed, a second career. Over those past 17 years, my individual experiences have run the gamut: building desktop computers myself, or buying them off the shelf; being the one-and-only in-house technology consultant, or seeking the advice of outside professionals; experiencing years of nearly 100 percent network up-time, or having been humbled when it all came crashing down. (Does anyone remember those Lantastic DOS days?)

The key, I believe, in solving technology issues is not necessarily knowing all the answers to all the problems yourself, but knowing how to find them. The three little words that do pop up on occasion are I don't know. But taking great efforts to find the answers to those nagging problems, some of which are more elusive than I sometimes care to admit, is what keeps things both interesting and challenging.

We have monthly IT meetings, and depending on the subject, I might facilitate the meeting myself or yield the floor to someone else better suited discuss a particular topic. The subject can run anywhere from discussing company standards, conducting training, how-to sessions, I wish we could discussions, sharing tips and tricks, and so on. They can get somewhat impassioned at times, especially when a couple of strong wills disagree on a particular issue. But on balance, they can be extremely informative and productive.

I really believe in empowering our users, letting them know they're being listened to. Their opinions do matter, and their ideas will not only be considered, but implemented if it can be shown that the whole organization can benefit. It's almost cliché to say, but making people part of the solution really is something that works. In these meetings, if someone puts forth a question or a problem for which I don't have an immediate answer, I'll throw it out to everyone. More times than not, something good will come back, often in the form of a real answer. The company springs for lunch, and very few people miss any of them. I've often wondered how many other offices (or departments) do this sort of thing. Does yours? If not, presented correctly, this idea could be sold to just about any company.