Cats disagree

When SysAdmins disagree…

Every SysAdmin has their own style of managing an environment. No matter how hard you try, you’re doing to need to work with other IT folks with whom you disagree. This post will help you both make sense of it, and give you strategies on how to work well together with weirdos those who disagree.

Disagreement is a good thing

I wish I could say that everyone agrees with the way I like to administer an IT environment, but they don’t. My style, favoring a strong user experience (including my own), means that I am judicious about handing out resources, but I’m not afraid to dole them out.

For instance, if I have a management server at the data center, I want it to run fast. OSes don’t generally get a ton of resources, but if it’s a heavy hitter, I’ll put it on Solid State. When people need stuff fixed, they typically want it fixed now. Also, my time is best spent not sitting and waiting for processes to complete. This stems from my work methodology which is to basically try to focus on one task and not switch between them (there’s all kinds of research on how humans are terrible multitaskers– we suck).

I have worked with a guy who has the opposite philosophy: be super-stingy and make them prove a need, and even then, you resist and try to give them the absolute bare-minimum.

You can imagine the friction this caused, but it was positive.

Disagreement is normal and healthy

Surprise! Everyone is not like you! And that’s a good thing.

Having differences in IT philosophy are typical. Everyone’s past experiences and results vary, so they won’t always have the same perspective as you. Obviously, there are some hard and fast rules in IT- like the way Active Directory works, the basics of email, etc. However- there are a multitude of ways to implement each one and not necessarily only one right answer.

It protects your  IT infrastructure

It may seem counter-intuitive, but having a mix of ideas actually protects your IT infrastructure and makes it more robust and resilient. Having strong and varying viewpoints prevents what’s known as Groupthink.

Groupthink is where the desire for harmony suppresses dissenting ideas and leads to irrational decision making. Very often, Groupthink causes a group to rush to decisions without critical evaluation- as in- picking them apart.

Groupthink can be devastating to your IT department’s effectiveness. It can cause you to put in bad solutions and overlook single points of failure. Bad times. So disagree.

It forces you to grow

Working with people you disagree with causes tremendous growth in you. We tend to come with our own ideas of how IT things function. When you work with people who challenge your knowledge, you tend to research and test better, resulting in you either properly proving your points and practices, or you learning that you were wrong about something, and learning the correct way. Want to grow as an IT person? Work with people who will challenge your ideas.

How to work with a SysAdmin you disagree with

I know I’m making it seem easy here, but in reality, it’s not. You can, however, use these tips to make working with different people easier.

Embrace the differences

Face it. You’re different from me, and I’m different from you. You can’t change that. You can’t change me, you can’t pull you to your side. (OK, sometimes you can). Not only do we have to learn to live with it, but we must embrace it.

Why? Differences are valuable, and they are the driving force behind Synergy. When someone with a different IT management philosophy starts irritating you, choose to learn from it. You can choose to either

  • learn something new or
  • learn what not to do

But choose to learn, either way. When a decision is reached, you have to be OK with going along with it, even if it’s not your idea. You will learn soon enough if it’s the right call.

Dissect ideas, not motives or character

Remember that when people disagree with, or are critical of your ideas, it’s not necessarily a personal attack. Even if it is, you should still not take it that way.

You can’t really control others, but you can control the way you respond to others. If you feel like a person is being critical of you, and not an idea, don’t take it that way. They probably don’t mean it that way. Just let it go.

If you are the one being critical, make sure it’s directed at the idea. Also, offer alternatives, and don’t make it about the other person’s intelligence, knowledge, or intentions.

Pull in a 3rd party to mediate when necessary

Sometimes you just can’t come to terms on a decision, no matter how hard you try. The last thing you want to do is to make a bad hardware investment, or waste time on an ill-fated project, so involve managers, or even others outside of your leadership structure when you think it’s required.

This is a great tactic. I will force you to really get to know your idea and get some experience presenting to other, potentially non-technical folks. This is a huge win for you either way- as these are critical IT and management skills. Sometimes just preparing a defense can cause you to see if your idea really has merit. I have killed a number of bad ideas this way.

You are going to disagree with other SysAdmins you work with- but if you realize that it’s healthy and that you CAN work through it (and grow in the process), it will make your efforts many times more effective.

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