Managing an IT team involves various tasks, such as overseeing day-to-day operations, troubleshooting, and ensuring a seamless customer service experience. While this responsibility is rewarding, potential pitfalls can undermine effectiveness and the external perception of the team. Let's examine 5 mistakes IT managers can make and how to avoid them.
5 Mistakes IT Managers Can Make
1. Not Prioritising Training
One of the most common mistakes is the lack of sufficient training. I've seen gifted staff wither on the vine and get jaded through a lack of training.
Not having a clearly articulated training plan for all staff or not setting aside the time and resources for training doom it to failure. So, ask yourself a couple of questions;
Do you have a well-understood training plan for each help desk member? If not, why not?
To be brutally honest, if you don't have a training plan for each member of your team, you are failing them; You aren't identifying their needs and desires for growth and nurturing them, which is just one aspect of being a great manager.
A path of growth should be plotted for the employee to exceed their current role. If you do, you'll get the trust of the individual and a great reputation for growing staff, and when the time comes, helping them move on to bigger and better things.
Does training in any way reflect progression and access role rights in their role? (spoiler alert: it should)
Role rights (such as administrative access to systems, the ability to undertake certain procedures, etc.) should be directly tied to training.
Define the minimum prerequisites for certain levels of access within a role. Without training, those access rights or abilities are not forthcoming. This helps staff feel empowered when they start to pick up a new task, drives quality in the task itself (i.e. it gets done right the first time), and cuts down on potential policy and procedure violations. It's a win/win for everyone, but is a basic necessity for information ecurity as well.
Below is a template to help you outline what skills each member of the team has in a standard and simple format.
Free Template - IT Skills Matrix
How much time and effort is invested into the training of team members? Or is it something that is just supposed to happen by magic?
If you say, "We don't have the time" or "We can't afford it, " you are just making excuses. There are so many options these days for training, and they don't have to cost thousands. There's mentoring, one-to-one training in-house by other team members, online training, YouTube, Udemy and many other methods, so there's really no excuse.
Do you have an onboarding plan?
If you don't clearly have a plan of how you onboard a new starter into your team, you are setting them up to fail. In the organisations, I've worked in, and I hope yours is an exception, training for new starters is generally very patchy, usually pulled together at the last minute rather than through a structured plan.
Induction can take many shapes, for example;
Introduction to the company/products / teams
Training on policies and procedures
Technical infrastructure overview & training.
Below is an example template you can download from my template store.
Free Onboarding Training Plan Template
2. Ignoring Employee Feedback
Your team is your most valuable source of information for improving processes and service quality. Ignoring their feedback can lead to frustration, decreased morale, and high turnover rates. I strongly recommend engaging with your team on any improvement plan or strategy you are developing. They'll know where the value is. Listen to them.
Many years ago, when I was a fledgeling Help Desk Manager, I started an initiative to get ideas from the team. I had them all throw their improvement ideas on the table, even if someone else had already raised them (as this only reinforces its importance). Not contributing wasn't an option, so they all had to bring something. I did give them some general guidance and themes in which they could explore and categorise their ideas. We then collated the ideas, consolidating where there was overlap and devised a solid improvement plan, prioritised and themed. Ultimately, there were 39 improvement ideas, and we called the initiative 'The 39 Steps' after the old movie/book. We put them on the wall, and the layers of management above me started to ask about them and even began to proactively support some of them where additional influence was needed.
3. Failing to Set Clear Expectations
It's a cliche because it's true; unclear expectations can cause confusion and inefficiency. If team members don't understand their responsibilities or the standards they should meet, the quality of customer service will suffer.
As a manager, it's your duty to provide clearly defined roles, set realistic targets, and provide consistent feedback on performance. If people don't understand the path you need them to walk, they will deviate. So, having clearly defined processes, policies, and expectations takes out the guesswork on their part. A team can only rally around a vision and clear communication, they can't rally around vapour.
If a person doesn't know what is expected of them, they will likely deviate from the path you had in mind, and who can blame them? Quite often, managers expect their staff to telepathically pick up on their needs, or if the objective is set at a high level, then the detail isn't. e.g. "I want you to build a new form of transport", is very general compared to "I want you to build a form of transport for traversing large bodies of water. It should be solar powered so its distance can be maximised."
Often, these things are known, but only lip service is paid to them. Like they say, "If it isn't written down, it won't happen." So, I'm a huge believer in OKRs as a tool to capture expectations if you don't have an objective-setting method already. OKRs are Objectives & Key Results. I've written about them a few times, but here's a good example; OKRs and Objective Setting.
4. Lack of Adequate Tools
In the digital age, using outdated or inadequate technological tools can significantly hinder your team's performance. It can lead to slow response times, unresolved issues, and customer dissatisfaction. Managers must ensure their teams have effective tools available.
This includes software that allows for collaboration and task tracking. How any team can survive without an effective task/incident management system that EVERYONE has access to, I don't know, but I see it over and over again. One team is using X while another team does pretty much the same task using Y...
Other tools can include things that take some of the repetitive nature out of tasks (and areas for human mistakes). A small investment in money can make a huge difference to the quality of output and the morale of the team.
Set your team up to focus on adding value, not just repetitive tasks. They'll feel valued and that they are making a difference.
5. Neglecting Employee Well-being
It's easy to get caught up in resolving issues and forget about the human element. IT work can be stressful, leading to burnout if not properly managed. Regularly check in on your team’s well-being, encourage work-life balance, support stress management, and celebrate victories, no matter how small.
Remember, a happy team is a productive team.
I'm a believer in regular one-to-ones. Don't leave anyone out in the cold. Make sure the communication channels are open.
It's tempting, and sadly all too often the reality, that if we don't gel with someone on a personal level we avoid one-to-one situations. However, we really can't allow that to happen. I once had a team member who simply didn't want me (or potentially anyone else) as a line manager. They felt they had been there a long time, knew what they were doing and should be autonomous in their role, but while that may change your style of leadership, it shouldn't stop you from leading. People left out on their own often go rogue, and that's what happened to an extent with my team member. When I tried to start getting involved, they saw it as interference. I made sure we had regular one-to-one meetings on an agreed cadence and had a reasonably light agenda of looking at their objectives and getting their report on progress. Eventually, after the months had moved by they did leave, but on the way out of the door they said they'd learnt a great deal from me, and appreciated the support I'd given them during a personal issue. So, it's not about micromanaging, but about 'being there'. If I hadn't kept the communication lines open, I wouldn't have picked up on his personal circumstances, and I wouldn't have been able to support him. And that led ultimately to a mutual, if not best buddy, respect.
In conclusion, effective management of a team requires continuous learning, open communication, clear expectations, proper tools, and a focus on team wellbeing. Avoiding these common mistakes not only enhances the performance of your help desk team but also leads to higher customer satisfaction rates. With proactive management and a strategic approach, you can turn these potential pitfalls into stepping stones towards success.