Gartner's IT team gains business skills with the personal approach

Mentors help Gartner's ITstaff stay on top

As the head of IT at Gartner, a company that advises other organisations on how to optimise their IT, John Dunnet has to run an exemplary ship himself.

That includes ensuring the company provides a productive and happy workplace.

Dunnet believes that one of the ways to achieve this is to focus on personal development, particularly in bringing out business skills.

"We train on interpersonal skills such as meeting facilitation and effective communication," he said. "We also do five-day courses on process re-engineering."

This helps Gartner's IT team understand the benefits of working together with staff in other departments to improve the service it offers.

"We foster a close-knit team at Gartner. No issue is someone else's problem, no one points the finger of blame and every problem is an opportunity to learn. We believe in continuous learning and are committed to creating an environment where this can happen," Dunnet said.

Mentoring is available to everyone in the IT department, to help to develop the business and communication skills needed by a fully-rounded IT professional.

"It is for everyone who needs to be taught something new, especially interpersonal and management skills. There is a weekly tutorial [for every participant] for an hour a week where their manager goes through a list of actions from the previous week, talking through any problems.

"The meetings become less frequent as the participant becomes more confident, and the mentor then becomes a sounding board rather than a source of advice," he said.

"It takes time. I spend six hours a week with my direct reports, which reinforces that having more than five or six direct reports is too many."

IT staff have access to a lifestyle coach. This may sound trivial, but, said Dunnet, it helps employees to develop business skills, such as how to build rapport and ask open-ended questions, and what body language to use.

Members of the IT team are also encouraged to pursue external qualifications. "We have four staff in the middle of completing their MBAs, and a couple of others doing Open University courses in subjects such as project management for IT," he said. "The MBAs in particular are exceptionally useful. They broaden people's understanding of what business is and how it works."

Working with a user base which comprises some of the most fluent and high-calibre IT professionals in the industry means it is essential that the ITteam has the skills and confidence to convince its users that it is delivering a high-quality IT service.

The high-profile annual Gartner Symposium is, for Dunnet, an opportunity for its IT staff to show their skills. "It is a showcase for us. Our team gets to do something visible for Gartner clients. In three days we have to turn an empty shell of a building into a fully functioning environment.

"The challenge of running the symposium gets greater every year: we are tasked to get it up and running faster, at a lower cost, using fewer people and with less work. We set goals such as reducing the amount of cable used - six years ago we used three miles, this year it was half that amount."

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