This content is part of the Essential Guide: Guide to building a better IT team structure

Ten ways to optimize IT team structure

The data center teems with unpredictable equipment -- about 42U tall and prone to failure -- but is also loaded with on-board intelligence: its IT team.

It's hard to keep servers, applications and other data center components running smoothly, but it's perhaps more difficult to build a productive, innovative IT team structure.

"The idea is to have a team that's high performing, that doesn't have any turnover but is happy and seeks career growth in your department," said Jennifer Torlone, senior director of technology and information services at Amerijet International, Inc.

Amerijet, a multimodal global transportation company, consolidated various data centers from acquisition and sprawl into two locations -- production in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with replication to Atlanta -- to improve management, licensing and physical reliability. In a complementary move, Torlone overhauled Amerijet's IT team structure and operations.

Optimizing IT teams via the 10 steps below pays off just as improving server utilization does. Turnover costs more than salaries: knowledge is lost, projects delayed and documentation left half-done. New staff training costs time and money.

Even if your data center team meets deadlines and finishes projects, there is room for improvement. The goal is a sustainable work environment, not long hours and heroics.

"If you're doing well but can't improve, you're not doing well," said Michael Abrashoff, former U.S.S. Benfold commander and leadership speaker. That goes for team leaders too: "Micromanaging causes the best to leave and the rest to become brain-dead."

David Delvecchio, IT operations director at Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, in Suffolk, Va., has rallied his IT team around ITIL processes, automation and orchestration. Delvecchio knew these efforts would further the business's strategies for success, which got staff members' buy-in.

These experienced leaders shared their tips on building and maintaining successful IT shops.

Ten steps for data center team leaders

1. Hire IT staffers who work well in a group and learn easily. Give them a clear mission, time, resources and training. The sweet spot is an IT staff that is comfortably challenged and innovative, Torlone said.

2. Have common goals and communicate why you're pursuing them, advises Delvecchio. How does this project relate to our strategic goals?

3. Invest most in training lowest-level employees, such as junior admins. Senior network engineers and other high-level IT staffers are independent, Torlone said, with a depth of knowledge to apply to their environment.

4. Connect the IT organization to the users. If the business doesn't believe in IT, they'll take over purchasing decisions and shadow IT will run rampant. Conversely, they will heed recommendations and rules if communication is easy. To fix a disconnect, put IT staffers close to the end users -- literally.

"Even a network engineer [has] to get ... back in touch with why they have that job," Torlone said.

Once cross-functional teams collaborate and act as an extension of the business, they make a difference in delivering products.

DevOps brings Target's IT team together

Major retailer Target decided to adopt DevOps as a way to mix and revamp its IT team in ways that traditional development and operations couldn't match. The lessons learned apply to any IT shop.

5. You can't stop the world to dedicate time to fix problems. Integrating an acquisition's data and processes? Moving to a new storage array? That doesn't mean a new sales application can launch late. Every preventable delay or mistake is lost money.

6. Look outside the core to build a team. Outsourcing help desk functions, for example, takes you from 9-5 service in one time zone to 24/7 service everywhere. Vendor-provided monitoring means experts who know the whole product are available when you need them, without adding to payroll.

7. Outsource and automate functions wisely, then give the data center team time to innovate. Find one hour of unstructured time for them each day. Encourage employees at all levels to share insights and ideas they develop here.

8. Ask employees what they like and dislike most, and what they would change if they were in charge, Abrashoff said. If it's a good idea, implement it and give them credit to show that you're serious.

9. Take time to celebrate accomplishments. Celebrate small successes at the beginning, even if you're far from the goal, Torlone said, to blend the developing technical skills with respect for fellow employees, and encourage leadership.

10. Finally, turn that attention to yourself. Hold yourself accountable, Abrashoff said. Ask yourself: How am I showing up?

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