Nurturing a quality IT team

With the IT job market undergoing a period of exceptional buoyancy, Craig Coverman suggests ways of preventing your IT team leaving the fold.

If you are a law firm IT director or manager, you face challenging times hanging on to your staff. Keeping quality staff starts with the salary and fringe benefits provided. Salaries have to be competitive to keep the person in the job. Staff have a habit of finding out if they are being underpaid. Benefits packages are also important.

Of equal importance is experience. The 'holy grail' for most IT staff is to have a job where they can continue to build up their technical expertise. This is achieved either through training or providing a greater breadth of work.

Consider 'empowering' your team with management responsibilities or getting them involved in project and strategy work. This additional responsibility (and the kudos) is more likely to keep a person in their role than a few thousand pounds extra on their salary.

Lyn Gemmell, networks manager at Lawrence Graham, suggests that when staff leave it can be an excellent opportunity to reassess those that remain and see if any of them want to swap jobs or take on some of the responsibilities of the individuals who have left.

Solid leadership is also needed. Without it in the current buoyant market, there is a risk an IT team will drift away to other jobs. Witness a recent appointment by one firm: the candidate had just received more than £5,000-worth of training from his previous firm but due to what he perceived as an unacceptable working environment caused by weak management, he moved on.

Managers therefore need to master the following skills:

Communication providing direction for the IT strategy and communicating the 'vision' to the team.

Listening allowing a team to air their views, letting them feel they are listened to. Do not be deaf to criticism.

Providing feedback monitoring staff and valuing their worth, both monetarily and with praise.

Loyalty being supportive generally and constructive when dealing with weaknesses.

Setting expectations do not make false promises. The legal IT market is becoming more interesting technologically but do not promise that people will gain experience in areas where they will not.

In the current market it is imperative to avoid the slippery slope of a 'mass exodus'. One legal IT director said his firm's management was upset by a recent spate of departures but conveniently forgot that for the past five years the team had been extremely stable.

Perhaps because the IT job sector was so quiet during the early-to-mid 1990s, firms have grown complacent and risk overlooking the fact people do move on. Now the market has picked up firms must anticipate the possibility of departures and keep their teams happy.