Three years ago my department’s Network Manager was killed in a tragic car accident with his child. The event was traumatic for his family, friends, everyone in my department and the larger school community. He had worked at the school for 10 years, and had created a robust network, and daily supported many innovations and changes I was facilitating. He was an integral part of the day and a true leader with the long term IT vision. Life’s bitter realities can be overwhelming and a challenge to synthesis. The coldness of life in many ways. The event marked me as an IT Director and friend profoundly, and to this day still is a reminder of the frailty of life.
From this event, I came to realize how vulnerable my department was (at that time 1 Network Manager, 1 technician, myself and a Database/Web Coordinator for 500+ machines). The structure we had was normal: everyone had specific jobs, responsibilities, tasks and goals closely tied to their role and title. We collaborated as a team, used each other expertise to fill in the gaps, and had point people with our team who managed specific tasks associated with their title. It worked well, and we had a close team spirit and dynamic which complemented each member in a positive way.
Suddenly we had this huge hole in our knowledge and team expertise which vanished over night. We had been working on writing all procedures and systems down, and actually had done a pretty good job of having a paper trail. This to be honest was okay but when suddenly a key player with 10 years of institutional knowledge disappears you suddenly come to realize the huge gaps. The bitter reality is however tragic his death was, combined with the impact and emotion associated with the event to my team, I came to realize (a cold realization and something that took time to digest) that the school, systems, servers and support needed to continue. We as a school had transitioned quite quickly to 24/7 services, and expectations by all. Peoples memories are short.
By coincidence and good fortune, my technician who had worked closely with the Network Manager had gained a fair amount of expertise, and with the manual of procedures and systems, under immense stress, we were able to continue to run things. We got additional support with the help of an outside contractor to get things to a place where we could run, maintain and troubleshoot things. My technician was promoted to being a Network Manager. We then hired two other technicians (we now had almost 650 + machines) and thanking the stars and good karma where able to continue and then engage in new developments and innovations.
A story that ends well….. unfortunately not, today this Network Manager is in the hospital after an appendix operation which developed huge complications and is at this stage indefinitely out. Positive vibrations to him daily.
We as a team again feel stressed and somewhat bewildered at our luck. Again I am faced with a abnormal situation (par for the course maybe in someways being a school administrator and IT Director) and now even more of an expectation of 24/7 services, a one to one laptop program Grade 6-12, a 2-1 one laptop cart program in Grades PreK-5 plus a million, web based services, plus the other things which just eat up all your days in an IT Department.
As a result of my first experience I had started developing a full program with my two technicians, database/web coordinator and Network Manager of shadowing. The goal was and is for the team to have enough expertise with each others roles to be able to stand in for the other in case of an emergency. This process has taken a good solid year. The first step was to clearly define each person’s current role, revisit the job descriptions (how often do we read these ) and then pair the team up to shadow each other. My Network Manager was and will continue to be shadowed by one of our technicians, my Database/Web coordinator is being shadowed by the other technician. We have been tying this new responsibility to each person’s job descriptions, and then having weekly meetings in tandem with each persons smart goals. It has been a slow process with plenty of challenges but has generated new conversations about team collaboration at a level we had not had time to do.
Some of the players
- Control: the challenge has been for the folks with the key knowledge to share, open up and be able to present information in a way the shadow understands it and can actually act upon it.
- Ego: As the gate keeper of all knowledge for your role, how to give this up, and still feel the key player when you are sharing your skills to another. This closely tied to culture, expectations and comfort.
- Time: finding a downtime when two people can actually sit down, isolate themselves and learn together.
- Learning: Understanding and supporting different learning styles.
- Support: Critical to this dynamic is the PD, time, motivation and guidance that is provided.
- Is it working: The evaluation and assessment of the process by all involved
- What is important: Defining the essentials pieces of knowledge, and then ensuring they are worked on in the shadowing relationship.
It is a work in progress, somewhat on hold temporarily, but now more than ever a realization how important it is to have a sustainable shadowing system within your department to ensure continuity of services. One thing that has come to the forefront is that having a clear paper trail in a format and venue which allows someone to step in is not enough . The reality is that today our international schools expect and work with a 24/7 connectivity and if these services are down, then at some levels international schools do not function. A reality of the working world.
to be continued……….