organizational shrapnel

This post is dedicated to Joshua R. and Andrew H., thank you for your conversations and mentorings…

…as with any end to a international school year there comes moments of reflection and looking back that generate ideas and new perspectives. This year has been a challenging one on many levels due to a host of odd circumstances and situations in my department and school that effected us all in the IT Department, and required the team to face up to serious challenges. We all pulled together, and hats of to the team for their outstanding capacity to deal with everything that came to us. This has had me thinking about something I like to call “organizational shrapnel” things that fly in your face unannounced from corners you would not expect things to come from. Sometimes I even refer to these as “drive by shootings” were suddenly you are confronted with a situation unexpected and most often you are not prepared to deal with, but react and deal with in the best of your own ability.

Organizational Shrapnel is a state which generates a lot of inefficiencies, frustrations, errors, in-competencies, and slowdowns in accomplishing tasks in an organization. It is the event, moment, action or process where people look around with some confusion and try to point fingers and there is no clear evidence or concrete event that you can associate to the inefficiencies, frustrations, errors, in-competencies, and slowdowns.

Why should this be an issue? I believe that organizational shrapnel and the level of it in an organization can make or break a good team, group or organization. I believe that when groups/organization engage in a task or project, for the objective to be met you need to be able to trust and know that the different players are all going to accomplish their respective tasks, and that the framework of resources supports accomplishing the task, project or action.

This process of teams collaborating and accomplishing a task together in any institution is complicated and quite complex, we all experience this and it is no surprise to most of us. I feel if organizations, and teams can better understand the causes of organizational shrapnel and address the road blocks this tends to set  the stage for a more effective and smooth collaboration of a groups within any organization.

So what are examples of organizational shrapnel? These are broad in scope, and come in all shapes and shades.

  • A team works together and defines group agreements, but a member continually does not abide by these.
  • A decision is made and agreed upon, but there is no clear implementation plan, or process for feedback and evaluation.
  • A process or procedure is implemented within the organization, some stakeholder decide to follow it, others decide to not use it and use an alternative in isolation of the rest of the organization.
  • A collaborative group works together, but all the actions and follow through are continually done by a few, and others play lip service to the work but are not participating actively and tend to block movement in the meeting setting
  • An event, or task is organized and one of the stakeholders makes an error but does not report it, or share this out so others can support in correcting this.
  • Not following through on things
  • Looking at a situation within one perspective, and expecting others to follow through

…and many more, generally the pattern is that organizational shrapnel are small things which fall through, not completed tasks/steps, ignored agreements, tasks done inadequately, or where there is a lack motivation, drive by the players involved in completing the collaboration or task.

The frustration if organizational shrapnel becomes a habit and people accommodate to it, it can quickly become part of the organization’s culture and norms. The reality is all organization have a level of this, and the challenge is what environments and understandings can be shared to decrease it’s presence in any group or organization.

Organization, groups and teams who have a high capacity to understand and concretely deal with their organizational shrapnel create an environment where there is a greater motivation by the stakeholders of the organization which results in a sharp increase in creative flow generating innovation in moving forward.

John@beyonddigital.org

the conversation we are not having maybe…

at the airport in Frankfurt on my way to Rome for a days work with Marymount International School and their faculty on 1 to 1 Laptops. Time to reflect in the waiting lounge about the ECIS IT Conference in Frankfurt last week, a wonderful reminder that it is not about IT but learning. The conference days a good blend of keynotes: Jamie McKenzie, David Warlick and Scott Klosoky, workshops, and informal sidebar conversations. The event and conversations have spiked some good reflections for me. It has been very hectic and intense year, and the last week were at times my tech support team was down to one person from the original 5 due to illness, injury and recuperation from hospital. It is maybe when you are down to one technician that suddenly you are reminded again how critical the systems, and services we set up, monitor, maintain and develop as an IT Department have become to the day functioning of an international school. Information Technology and its associated services that support the day to day functioning of most international schools, have now become mandatory.  Then this sudden shift to an unwritten expectation of 24/7 services and connectivity. Many International Schools have so many of their day to day tasks/work flows tied to IT systems that the non stop functioning becomes a non-negotiable. This topic came back in many of the conversations I had with fellow IT Directors from the ECIS region attending the conference. One thing which is becoming quite clear to me as I have these conversations IT Directors and IT Staff are being stretched more and more as new systems become a non negotiable critical part of the school day. With this a growing cultural expectation of the users and school of  access: anywhere, anytime. There is a developing cost to this for IT Directors and their teams. One is that you start juggling more and more tasks, your team which in many schools tend to be quite small, has to be able to deal with a wider variety of complex issues and integrated systems. A common case especially here in European International Schools, as systems get added, new programs or hardware, no extra people are brought in. So the task lists gets longer, the job description for many of the Technical Support team changes by the minute and somehow extra resources in humans and money tend to be elusive. This too often not by fault but by necessity were International Schools work with small budgets and have often little flexibility to add people. There is a danger that can develop that you start having over stretched IT Departments providing 24/7 services but no organizational structure to support this growth, and then all your eggs are in one basket, hoping the IT Department small as it maybe can sustain and support the pressures and demands long term. Is there a breaking point? Is it sustainable?

I have no clear answer but what I am realizing and in conversations with others, IT Directors are starting to feel the stretch and strain. This comes in a mix of pressures that I personally feel has a cost to the health and well being of the person. As new systems get added, expectations become greater, connectivity and seamless availability of services 24/7 all add up to an intense mix of tasks and workload to sustain. This then becomes the responsibility of the IT Teams and the task of IT Director’s leadership to manage and facilitate these pressures. The IT Director who has to provide guidance, rally the tech. support folks (often under paid and under valued), creatively deliver solutions with tight budgets, and juggle the emotions, personalities and tensions often associated with the change process of integrating or introducing of new systems. procedures or hardware to different stakeholders.

The solution? Each international school has such unique dynamics that I do not think there is one simple solution and answer. The start is maybe having honest and candid conversations with the schools leadership teams and clearly articulating the expectations of services and up keep of systems that support the school day. Thinking strategically what support systems can be developed to ensure if new systems, hardware and 24/7 connectivity and delivery of services are expected how this plays out with your current set up and staffing. Looking for creative solutions to shift services to the cloud, or put more responsibility on the users to independently manage the devices and services they use to support their work day. This of course then becomes an important conversations regarding what professional development support will be provided, expectations of skills and managing a significant cultural expectation of who is responsible for what.

At some point the IT Team and IT Director need to also unplug and regroup, which for many of us is a challenge and near to impossible. Even when we are off campus or away the systems have to be managed, maintained and serviced, and we need to be connected to the various stakeholder groups we support, there is this growing expectation.

…as with any challenge engaging in a conversation, defining the expectations explicitly to all, and being willing to think beyond our own walls and perspectives can be the first step. This then tied to a long term strategic understanding that however essential and critical our schools services are, connected to this is a group of people trying to juggle a more and more complex set of dynamics and expectations.  We need to engage in an awareness that over stretching folks can have a negative impact on sustaining your own systems and anywhere anytime connectivity. I believe there is a potential for a better balance for all.

Let us have this conversation…………..

unlearning learning

Years ago I had the opportunity to work with Jamie McKenzie and we were chatting about change, and how in institutions change agents within the organization often have the most challenging time. He said “There are no prophets in your own backyard.” to this day, as I myself have been involved in facilitating and leading change in schools and organizations, this phrase has stuck to my mind, and often I have found solace with these words. A couple weeks ago our school hosted John Davitt, writer, teacher, software developer and mentor. He spent a few days working with my IT Team, our faculty, students, parents and administrators.  John at many levels surprised our community, even though a software designer, information technology advocate, and gadget user, his focus, interactions, conversations, and emphasis over the three days was always on learning. For many who expected someone so closely involved with information technology and software development to be very IT focused.  His pace, lens, perspectives and conversations he facilitated continually revolved on what environments do organizations need to leverage with adults and students that makes learning both engaging and meaningful. With any change this process is critical, and to focus on the tool or mediums is an error. John provided us with the opportunity to re-frame our own evolving understanding of integrating information technology in schools. We  had been trying as an IT Team to engage our faculty to this understanding but we are not sure folks are always hearing us. It is only about learning! John from the outside of our backyard provided the push and shift for others to understand this.  Engaging with this understanding is what will provide the meaningful change for any organization. The tools and mediums will come and go, but learning is timeless and in whatever context or environment you live in, without this key “verb=learning” nothing changes or evolves.

I think we as schools and organizations are at different levels coming to terms with these dynamics and structures that facilitate engaging and meaningful learning. I am not convinced we have yet come to terms with, as schools and organizations,  the unlearning required  before we can relearn or learn new concepts and essential understandings that our digital world and economy are now requiring us to engage with.

I know for myself I am much better at learning something new, than trying to unlearn something, and then have to from scratch re-learn or learn. Today with the volatility of our world and the realities that surround us all, many of the learning we have adopted and been carefully groomed with will not sustain us long term. For a significant change to occur and allow us to re-frame our understandings of learning, we will be more successful if we equip our schools and organizations with environments which support unlearning in a compassionate and meaningful way.

Okay I am not saying everything I have learned is useless, no!  I believe when trying to re-learn or learn, to often my previous learning pigeon holes me into a mindset that prevents me from engaging with fresh, uncluttered perspectives and an open mind to all learning possibilities.

The days ahead of us, will be different, very different, whatever we may hope and believe. For schools and organizations to ensure that we are equipped to engage with these challenges, we need to develop a clear set of structures and pedagogy that provide us with meaningful and engaging environments to unlearn….. because through this process all of us will be better learners.

John@beyonddigital.org

shadows..

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……….

….can we do all

this is a cross post from the following blog I manage and facilitate  http://ecisitcommittee.edublogs.org/
…in the last week there has been an enormous amount of traffic regarding the effects related to multitasking and student learning. The issue and variables associated with this topic are huge, and pending who you read it seems to go from the world is about to end attitude to hey it is no problem and live with it. I think the reality is that with the new technologies and internet access we all have access to we are somewhere in the middle in our understanding of the impact of multitasking on our own lives. I believe our students are not learning better or worse but differently. This as a result of the 24/7 access each user has at their finger tips and in tandem the incredible power to be content creators. Naturally with so many choices come many decision to be made and this I think is where we as educators can support, facilitate and mentor many of our students in being mindful of the implications, impact and importance of taking a balanced approach to the idea of multitasking and interacting with so many different powerful tools. Here I share three of the articles which come with different perspective on the topic:

In tandem with this topic comes the bigger issue, the fact that there needs to be significant paradigm shift in education. For educators, parents and students to be able to engage with the rapidly changing world some significant changes are due. I think collectively we understand this but how do we move forward is the bigger challenge. No better person to share this topic than Sir Ken Robinson with the follow wonderful animation and potential conversation for us all.

break on through

In my experience there is an odd side to international schools when it comes to the issue of making sure to teach the virtues of freedom of expression, studying great leaders, thinkers, philosophers, mathematical theories and ensure our students get a balance in the way we approach learning.  We believe generally that an open door philosophy towards different opinions, perspective and views is important. I would say we are quite passionate about this, and feel it is a critical element of many of our school’s missions.  The goal to ensure that our students get exposed to as many different perspectives as possible allowing them to construct their own knowledge. That is nice and of course something most parents and educators would find difficult to argue against. Then comes Web 2.0 Social Networking and/or some other technology and the general first reaction and approach is BLOCK IT! Now many will argue that social networking or blocking certain technologies is not the equivalent of teaching the virtues of freedom of expression. I disagree. Okay in my situation at my current school, we block facebook, twitter and others on our wireless network, a decision by the collective leadership team. On the two labs and one library lab we do not block it on the machine connected to our LAN network, the rational is that there generally is always someone there to supervise. This situation is flawed in my mind. In some ways I am to blame as IT Director for not pushing or developing a strong enough argument with my fellow administrators to have the conversation to unpack what we are doing, and exploring the pedagogic value of such blocking. Always easier to reflect in hindsight.

What happens then is when students sneak through our firewall via proxies, or have their own independent connection to the internet through a USB modem from the local cell phone company that they plug into their laptop, the blocking becomes useless. The times a teacher catches someone then the issue is brought up, and we the IT department have to again explain that however much we block the chance is that some student will find a hole. This is the flaw, we are focusing on the blocking and the events where students get around it and not on the more important issue what, how, why and when are they using this. We avoid the  opportunity to leverage this tool to engage both student and teacher into a conversation on the pros and cons of using this, and how and what might be responsible use of such tools in a school setting. This whole dialogue and dynamics is completely swept under the carpet.

Most educators would argue I assume that the issue of Facebook (Social Networks) as a teachable moment has no place in the classroom, and blocking it is good, as this allows us then to focus on the important task of teaching the lesson at hand. I challenge this perception and view. There are about 500 million plus folks on this planet involved on a regular basis in social networks in different shapes and forms. Attached to this is a huge industry developing to take advantage of this new form of communication. With this dynamic there are big economic opportunities for individuals, companies, organizations and institutions to generate incomes. This is something that will continue to develop and the reality is it will become more and more part of our own social communication fabric both on a personal and institutional level. Some would say it has already happened.

So……I think with this shift there is now a critical role for educators to start exploring how to integrate social networks into school curriculum.  We have a responsibility to share, educate and develop an understanding of the intricacies and options of using such communication mediums in our day to day lives. If Grade 2-3 students are setting up Facebook profile you cannot expect them to clearly understand the privacy setting tools on their own, you cannot expect them to read the fine print of an agreement. It has come to the point where instead of blocking this, and letting them work things out on their own undercover, we as educational institutions need to develop a robust set of learner outcomes for our students on the dynamics of social networks. It needs to be not the responsibility of some IT department technician or counselor but part of  the day to day fabric of each teachers tool kit: sharing, exploring, facilitating, and mentoring our students how to be responsible users of social networks. We need to let them explore these mediums with a critical mind unblocked, as we would expect them for the ~French Revolution, Plate-tectonics, a perspective on Macbeth or the Israeli- Palestinian situation.

The world changed yesterday! Today we need to engage ourselves in a clear understanding that social networks, youtube, chat, texting, virtual worlds, and the current digital landscape are now an integral part of our day to day fabric both socially and professionally. With this there are a whole host of issues, learning, understanding and perspectives that we need to equip our students with to be able to survive effectively with balance and as critical learners.  In today’s world, we as educators,  have an important ethical responsibility to take charge of this, and engage throughout our day within our own lessons what this all means, and how to develop a critical understanding of how best to use these: when, where, and appropriately….. if we do not, basically we are ignoring today’s world that we all live in. I would find it hard to believe that any of us would want this as part of our own educator’s philosophy.