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8 Common IT Communication Challenges and What to Do About Them

Ipswitch Blog| December 28 2015

| IT insights

Whereas negative conflict feeds power struggles and individual preference, healthy conflict improves IT communication and builds trust and respect across the department. You can't make all conflict disappear, but you can learn to use disagreements to make the helpdesk better.

1. 'No, This Is Our Top Priority'

Between development, network, systems, security and support, IT's sub-departments always put you in cross-purposes. DevOps wants the flexibility to write and collaborate from anywhere, while security officers want a locked-down dev environment that often restricts this freedom.

What to do: Your priority depends on the situation, and you can't draw permanent lines in the sand. A workplace social network, whether via a company wiki or from an app like Kona, keeps IT communication fluid, enabling real-time communication about priority changes and project status updates. An added benefit of an internal social network is that it allows for streamlined communication for remote members of your IT team as well.

2. 'You're Not the Boss of Me'

As observed by Dr. Jim Anderson, founding blogger of "The Accidental Successful CIO" and VP of product management at GSL Solutions, many IT department conflicts revolve around who gets to tell whom what to do. "The first signs of a problem showed up when I started to be copied on a series of emails exchanged between these two," he says, describing a turf battle between two of his employees. "The fact that I had been CCed should have been my first clue that all was not good."

What to do: Keep an eye out for passive-aggressive messaging, like pointed emails or verbal barbs that indicate employees are getting territorial. Catch conflicts early, sit down with feuding team members and clarify who owns which tasks and processes.

3. 'I Don't Want to Be on the Slow Team'

Teams of sysadmins operate on two speeds, especially when it comes to software development. The "fast" team, made up of rock stars, is in charge of fast product delivery and experimentation, while the "slow" team monitors bandwidth and other daily maintenance goals.

As CEB's U.S. IT managing director Jaime Capella points out, no one wants to be on the slow team. "You create the fast team, give it a cool name [and] put it in new offices," he explained in a masterclass. "They are glamorous [in that] they get a lot of accolades from senior management. And then we hit the valley of despair."

What to do: Instead of two-speed IT, facilitate an adaptive approach by which the whole organization comes together around high-priority tasks like infosec. If you do use two-speed teams, suggest rotating personnel so each employee has a stake in both. Although dualism is convenient and simple to understand (especially for those outside of IT), every IT team will have to adjust pacing accordingly due to changing priorities .

4. 'I Do One Thing, S/he Does Everything'

Some IT staff stick only to the parameters of their jobs. Others help anyone who asks them, working as universal resources for the department at large. But keep in mind the focused worker isn't always selfish or lazy and the do-everything admin isn't necessarily disorganized or off-task.

What to do: If someone is being pulled in a million directions, consider if the rest of the team needs to help more or whether they legitimately need that someone's help. The focused worker can step up and the everywhere worker can step back, but ultimately the CTO might just need to bring in a new body to fill in the gaps.

5. 'That's Not How We Do Things Here'

Mergers that combine two IT teams come with their own IT communication challenges. The two teams clash over their separate sets of norms and people worry their jobs are in danger.

What to do: Bringing in a consultant often eliminates bias during restructuring, and makes for smoother integration so people know where they stand. Whatever you do, help define the culture before you begin integrating systems. In the instance of combining two IT teams, get everyone together for team building activities.  For example, a day out of the office for bowling and drinks can spark friendships and get new teammates building trust with one another.

6. 'Can You Believe That Guy?'

Some people nod agreement in meetings but start complaining to others the moment you walk away. Don't try to prevent these people from voicing their opinions. Instead, incorporate disagreements into your routine.

What to do: A management philosophy called Holacracy, founded by agile development veteran Brian Robertson, advises setting aside meeting time to address disagreements or "tensions." Focus on the operational aspects, not on the interpersonal conflict, and never let unspoken tensions fester behind the scenes.

7. 'I Didn't Do It'

Some sysadmins don't see how they've made mistakes because the (often necessary) literal thinking suggests they did exactly what was asked. Others feel defensive because they believe making mistakes means losing hard-earned status and respect among their IT peers.

What to do: Good IT communication encourages people to make the right mistakes. Creative accidents in pursuit of a larger objective are the building blocks of innovation. What about a hackathon to give people the chance to experiment? Celebrate initiative and independent thinking, and support will only become more intuitive.

8. 'Back in My Day...'

C-suite execs can be reluctant to embrace change. Your job is to tell the difference between old-world stubbornness and skills gaps that do require attention.

What to do: Direct employees toward training opportunities, and budget for ongoing training. It's easier (and cheaper) to improve a current employee's skills than to hire a new one.

IT is a highly technical, left-brained place, but have fun together now and then. Whether it's at a monthly happy hour or a quarterly party, a little revelry breaks down many interpersonal silos. Consider this Florida-based IT department's staff Christmas party:

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Topics: IT insights

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