Creative thinking makes top team

The IT manager at Mastercare Service says a passion for IT is worth more than qualifications in a creative department

The IT manager at Mastercare Service says a passion for IT is worth more than qualifications in a creative department

For Neil Manchester, IT manager at Mastercare Service, the aftercare division of Dixons, the secret of being a best place to work is a quality not always associated with the methodical, analytical world of IT - creativity.

"We are quite unusual because we encourage and develop creativity in our IT team," said Manchester.

"In IT, creativity is often crushed in the name of productivity, but I think they go together. I have always pushed for it, but creativity can be easy to lose when an organisation is growing quickly, as ours has for the past five years."

Instead of confining his staff to "the same old processes and procedures, I want to see them drive new innovations," said Manchester. All systems development adopts a prototype approach to design that allows collaboration between IT and users. IT is keen to anticipate the firm's needs.

"We do have a think-tank," said Manchester, "It is a room with an interactive whiteboard where we can make changes to prototypes. We use it as a specification, rather than producing a detailed text-based spec."

Manchester encourages his team's creativity in a variety of ways. "I look for people who are passionate about technology, rather than people with a clutch of certificates," he said. "I look out for blocks to creativity - for example, staff may not have been given the right level of challenge, not enough stretch, or too much. It has to be right for each person."

That focus on the individual reaches right across the department. "For example, we do not take a 'sheep-dip' approach to training," he said. It is important to understand where each individual is, where they need to get to and what their individual training programme should be," he added.

Manchester also assesses every member of his staff according to their Myers-Briggs rating, which categorises people's qualities as to the extent they are judgmental, perceiving or intuitive, and so on.

"It identifies their areas of strength, and we use it to identify the mix of skills we need for a team," said Manchester. "So if we had a team of people who were highly focused on details, I would put in someone who was more 'blue-sky' in their vision."

Getting the mix of people right allows the greatest creativity to emerge across the whole team. "Our strength is collaboration," he said.

Manchester also encourages that creativity to surface in non-work areas. "We took over our current building l8 months ago and refurbished it. I gave staff the freedom to design the space the way they wanted and posted it all on the intranet. They have included rest areas with soft seating, games consoles, bar football and air hockey. It has all helped to create a sense of ownership and has more than proved itself," he said.

All this creativity exists not simply to keep IT staff encouraged and motivated, but for the good of their users. "People get a real buzz out of producing a good system that is not just functional, but that is also good looking and attractive to use.

"A system may just be a business tool, but our users have to work with them eight hours a day, so making it easy for them to use is important," said Manchester.

Mastercare Service won the Computer Weekly Best Places to Work in IT 2003 award in the IT software, hardware and services category

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