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Preventing Excessive Team Specialization Can Help Save Your Business

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Preventing Excessive Team Specialization Can Help Save Your Business

May 01, 2014

  By Miguel Leiva-Gomez,
TMCnet Contributor

In every successful test management team, there's at least one member that knows how to do “that one thing” really well. Whether it's debugging code, configuring a large network infrastructure, or developing a proper database structure, that member is the “specialist” in one or more areas. Usually, you'll find that good teams have more than one specialist. But when that specialist isn't around, everything nearly falls into a state of anarchy. And we're not talking about the peaceful bunny-hugging kind where everything somehow works perfectly despite there being no central leadership.

So, your specialist is missing for the day and you have no idea how to have a productive afternoon. It's a little too late to do anything about it now. The rest of your team can't learn in one day what your specialist learned in a few years. However, you can prevent this from ever occurring again.

First, have all the specialists in your team list the things that they specialize in, then have every member (including the specialists) list the things they want to learn. Host a session every few days where each specialist will tutor another member of the team in the area where they are strongest. This helps homogenize knowledge throughout the group. Your team members may not reach the level of skill your specialist is in, but they'll learn enough to be able to take over the specialist's work on the tough days.

Encourage each member to admit ignorance on particular subjects. It's tempting to try to wing it when asked about something you have little knowledge in. But it's more important to keep things as intellectually honest as possible so that the team as a whole will not suffer. Most of all, you should encourage team members to ask questions regardless of how stupid they may sound.

It would be naïve to think that every team member will now be a specialist as a result of this “therapy,” but you do put forth the groundwork necessary to keep your team functioning when things go south. This is especially important in IT administration because of the enormous amount of diverse specialization requirements that can hit you when you least expect it.

Edited by Alisen Downey
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