Decision Maker

Skilling Up the IT Team

While your IT staff may be technically proficient, that's not the only skills to consider for a winning team.

As you begin the new year it's a good time to make sure your team has the right skills. I'm not referring to technology-related expertise or product-specific skills. While those are essential, it's equally important to have a well-balanced team with some less-commonly considered skills. One person might fill multiple buckets, and that's fine -- so long as you have all of these in your inventory.

These aren't skills for which you can easily train. They're certainly things you can bring up in a job interview or promotion discussion, and they can be a lot more interesting than the hoary old questions like, "what's a 24-bit subnet?"

The Researcher
Every team needs a person who can find out what's out there. If you've got an IT problem, the researchers can find solutions -- probably multiple options. They'll outline what's available, create comparison charts, locate reviews and research, and more. The lack of a researcher is one reason why so many teams, I feel, end up taking the DIY approach to nearly every IT problem: They simply don't have an aptitude for finding and considering ready-made solutions before making the DIY decision.

A good researcher will have mad Google-Fu, a healthy helping of analytical skepticism and the ability to break problems down into their most significant components.

The MacGuyver
This is who you turn to when you're in need of a quick fix -- knowing it won't be permanent -- and that it might not even last the week. They get you back up and running quickly, and then someone else backfills with a more permanent solution. They're all about technical duct tape and software bailing wire.

Plenty of organizations have folks with this aptitude, but they often don't manage them appropriately. Knowing that they're cobbling something together, and that you're immediately going to work on a more permanent solution, is the trick. Don't stop the duct tape from happening just because it's a temporary fix; instead, get the fix in place while the rest of the team works on something more reliable.

The Opener
The restaurant industry is full of managers and workers who are great at opening restaurants. They deal with the constant flurry of problems, snags, and snafus, and get everything working smoothly. Once that happens, though, they get bored. They're not maintainers; they're about creating new things, getting them working and then handing them off to steadier minds.

IT teams can use people like that, too. When there's a new solution to be deployed, or a new tech initiative, or whatever, use your openers. They'll get things running quickly, jump on problems, and sweat through the painful times. But once things steady out, they'll get bored, and start looking for something new to work on. Understand their role in the organization, and be ready to turn the project over to a steadier production team at the right time.

The Doomsayer
This is the person we all have on staff, and often wish we didn't: The one who's constantly identifying the problems in any given situation. The trick with the doomsayer is to use them for what they are, and to manage their impact. Early on in a project, this is the person who will predict everything that might go wrong -- and if you're paying attention, that's the list of risks you need to mitigate. They'll never agree with you that you've mitigated everything, and that's not their job -- just let them keep predicting doom and helping you figure out where mitigation is needed.

The Charmer
The fixer. The face. The friendly one who can calm users, sooth executives and calm managers. Perhaps not the most technically savvy person on the team, but someone who gets along well with others. Often a good project manager and always a good person to have when you're launching something new that's likely to result in a speed bump or two. Deploy them wisely, and let them help reduce the personality-related problems that all too often accompany tech projects.

About the Author

Don Jones is a multiple-year recipient of Microsoft’s MVP Award, and is an Author Evangelist for video training company Pluralsight. He’s the President of PowerShell.org, and specializes in the Microsoft business technology platform. Follow Don on Twitter at @ConcentratedDon.

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