What's your problem?

I run an IT helpdesk for a fairly big company. I'm sick of always being taken for granted and moaned at.

by Jeremy Bullmore

No-one ever has a good word for us and blames us for things that aren't our fault, mainly because they don't understand what we do. The company would grind to a halt without us. Morale in my team is running low. What would you do in my situation?

A You've very nearly answered your own question. The problem is a common one: ‘they' don't understand what you do. But before you come to the comfortable conclusion that it's all ‘their' fault, let me ask you this: do you and your team understand what ‘they' do? IT can be seen as a very discrete skill. IT people can go from manufacturing to service companies to retailing to government departments and feel little need to make much adjustment with each move they make. But to state the blindingly obvious, IT is never an end in itself. It is there to help the host company do whatever it's in business to do. So while the mechanics of IT remain more or less constant, the needs and priorities of its users vary hugely. The best IT departments not only provide a technically efficient service; they have also acquired a real feel for the peculiarities of the work that their company is engaged in. You need to understand this - and so does your company. It seems to treat your team as a bunch of aliens, a regrettable necessity whose function is invariably associated with crashed systems, stress, threatening deadlines and extremes of frustration. Mutual incomprehension reigns and blame gets shuffled about like pass-the-parcel. That's why you talk about Them; and I've little doubt that They talk about you as Them as well. What both you and they need to do is to get to know each other better, sort out mutual aims and misconceptions, and start, instinctively, to talk about Us. Initiate meetings. Invite your users, including the moaners, to have a beer or two and tell you what bugs them. In turn, explain what bugs you. See if you can agree simple procedures that make everyone's life easier. And if your company goes in for things like pub quizzes, make sure you field integrated teams: not IT versus The Rest. In a perfect world, your company would have organised all this sort of thing as a matter of course. Since they haven't, you'll need to prime the pump yourself. Tactfully, of course.

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