During the summer of 1997 I worked for a period of four months on a contract for a company called the Environment and Heritage Service (EHS) Northern Ireland. During this time I worked primarily within the Computing Department of the organization and our team was involved with all the Information Technology issues across the various offices.
This paper will look at the two main areas of leadership and team working as I learned a great deal while working there. The main Information Technology department comprised of a Systems Manager with three main Network Managers working for him and staff working under the database managers for various computing related jobs. To give an idea of the responsibilities of the staff within the computing department I will list briefly what each position has entailed.
It is the Systems Manager’s job to control the available resources of the department to reach the necessary goals through the technology in the organization. He makes the main decisions as to what changes are required and what the hardware and software requirements will be for the near future. From this it is the Network Manager’s job to ensure that this is implemented as cost effectively and efficiently as possible. Regular meetings usually take place with the Network Managers and the Systems Manager to review the current situation as regards to possible improvements and current problems.
There are three main Network Managers for the three main buildings within Belfast. It is their job to maintain the network while making improvements through newer systems, as they become available. Their job also includes the maintaining of the software side by writing new database’s for the company, as they become required while continually making changes and improvements to the existing systems.
All the contractors working at the bottom of the hierarchy are involved mainly with desktop support and training to the computer users within the company. Other tasks include installation and setup of newer PC systems, as they become available across the three buildings and all the countryside sites. Daily backups of the system are one of the most important jobs that needs to be maintained properly to ensure minimal data loss in event of a systems crash or hardware failure. With the amount of data processed throughout the company it is vital that the necessary procedures are in place to ensure the continued running of the system at all times so the contractors might also be involved with systems maintenance from time to time.
The Environment and Heritage Service is an executive agency within the Department Of the Environment Northern Ireland (DOE) with the main aim to protect and conserve the natural and built environment and to promote its appreciation for the benefit of present and future generations. The DOE is a government run organization within Northern Ireland and it’s main offices are all within Belfast. When I worked there I rotated between three of the main offices depending on the nature of work required.
The organization is split into three main areas:
- Natural Heritage
- Environment Protection
- Built Heritage
The Natural Heritage section of the organization deals mainly with protecting and giving grants to improve on the countryside and coastal areas of Northern Ireland. This mainly includes such things as peat bogs, ancient woodlands, country houses, and crofter cottages. One of the main aims for the EHS within this area has been to establish a network of protected areas to ensure the survival of the best habitats, wildlife and physical features of the country.
Environmental Protection deals mainly with promoting the conservation of water resources and quality, air quality through anti-pollution programs, control of radioactivity and the important issues concerned with waste management throughout the country.
The third area, Built Heritage, is responsible for protecting historic monuments and buildings from prehistoric times to the industrial age. It has proven to be a precise resource for education, research and tourism. A lot of money has gone into grants to maintain and protect such monuments and castles across Northern Ireland. It is necessary that all the information is recorded and constantly maintained.
As you can imagine the organizations data needs are massive and over the last ten years the computing resources within the company have grown at an increased rate. Therefore it is necessary to have these resources at hand for the people who need them and this highly depends on the Computing department I worked within. All three buildings within Belfast are networked together with many different databases on-line with ready access to the individuals working in various departments.
It is therefore vital that the Computing team functions effectively and efficiently to meet the demands of the various departments within the company. How a team functions usually depends greatly on the leadership quality using the ability to influence the group towards the achievement of goals.
One of the main problems I noticed within our department was that the Systems Manager was not very employee-orientated. Therefore at times it made it more difficult to work in this environmental setting. A lot of the time many suggestions have been made for improvements in certain areas concerned with the department, but even in meetings these were not always taken seriously or so it seemed. The Systems Manager didn’t seem to like to make changes at all but this was not entirely his fault. Because of the overall classical approach to the Northern Ireland Civil Service and changes needed take a lot longer through vast amounts of unnecessary meetings and paperwork. This seemed to be the main weak point for the organization as a whole.
I got the impression however that a lot of things have improved greatly in the last couple of years. For a long time the typing pool within the offices used to do all the correspondence and business letters that needed to be sent out internally or externally, and although there is still a pool of typists most of the work in this nature are carried out by individual employees using their PCs.
With the improvement as far as technology is concerned has raised a lot of problems with a lot of the senior staff within the company who completely refuse to turn a computer on. It has been the job of our department to train and convince these people of the advantages and time saving that can be accomplished. It is vital that everyone is familiar with the technology before they become more confident in using it. The Systems Manager has arranged every year for different employees to be sent out on computer training courses to train them on areas of basic use to the more advanced software packages used in everyday business.
In my opinion this has both advantages and disadvantages. On the up side of things the employees have been trained by professional companies and usually given documentation to take away from the training sessions for future review. The courses are both intense and interesting and a lot of employees within the EHS have benefited greatly from them. However the main problem is that many employees have no interest at all and only go to the training sessions because they are mandatory. The courses are both expensive and time consuming and I feel that it is a major management mistake to spend so much money on something that will not always return the benefits. I believe a better approach to this would have been for the contractors working under the database managers to give informal training sessions before spending massive amounts of money.
This technique has seemed to work at the Commonwealth site in Belfast. Roisin Mullen took it upon herself to spend a lot of time training the computer users with the help of her staff throughout her section that seems to have proven advantageous in the long run. However this was not a management decision by the Systems Manager which I feel should have been uniform across all the offices. When I first started working in the Hill Street offices in Belfast I noticed a great difference in peoples attitude towards Information Technology. A lot of people just didn’t seem to care at all and left their computers switched off all the time while others seemed a little interested. This was obviously the result of neglect within these offices for training needs. It was apparent that they had been sent on some of the expensive training courses the company seemed to like to spend money on but this had just lead to further frustration within the staff who had no motivation to learn. I feel if a lot more time had been spent with these people like Roisin had spent with the other offices, these people may have had a completely different attitude.
In a company like the EHS it is hard to change people who are set in their ways but I strongly believe with a better management system in place many improvements could have been made a lot quicker. I still believe the Systems Manager has been doing a good job throughout but still he needs to adapt more while working within the Information Technology field which is forever changing.
Our team often was fragmented because there was no uniformity through the leadership as described earlier. This often made it difficult and sometimes lead to conflict among the team members. Often when I came in to work I was told to stay on Desktop Support call if anyone needed me when it wasn’t too busy, while I could have been in a different office helping one of the other contractors who was overloaded with work. Sometimes we were sent out to different countryside sites and other team members would not know about it and while I was there two people actually went out to the same site on two different days.
I believe a way to help solve a lot of our problems would have been to implement team meetings of the contractors each week and allocate duties to each person to help create a more efficient and motivated team. Having said that our team usually worked together with little problems on days that the work was allocated properly and we usually got along with each other. Many of the contractors took it upon them selves through empowerment to ensure everything was running smoothly and in the end before I left I began training sessions with the staff at the Hill Street offices.
I believe it was a great experience to work within a company as large as the EHS in a team setting because I was able to notice all the good and bad points about our department. Overall the department has done really well considering the amount of people we have had to cater to in the past and future years ahead. Hopefully through the major changes in Information Technology, we will begin to see a change for the better within the department and organization as a whole.
Hopefully I have been able to outline both the good and bad points I noticed of both leadership and teamwork within the Environment and Heritage Service. A lot of the time in businesses nowadays empowerment is the key work which will help teams work more efficiently and change for the better in moderation, but at the same time and most importantly, in uniform with each other.
- Organizational Behavior, Stephen P Rollins, 8th Edition – 1998
- www.nics.gov.uk – Northern Ireland Civil Service
- Human Resource Management, Wayne Mondy, 7th Edition – 1999
Image Credits: Photo by Isis França on Unsplash.