CIT is changing
‘There is no plan at all’
Gym class. It’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase ‘make your own teams’: gym class in school, dodgeball in four groups, make your own teams.
The Centre for Information Technology (CIT) at the RUG is not a school class, and its employees are not gearing up to play dodgeball. But they do have to make their own teams.
The 250 employees at the CIT, the people who work to support your registrations in Progress and Studielink, who facilitate Big Data research and digital testing, who keep Nestor and Eduroam running, have to undergo a ‘transition’. They have to divide themselves into teams, and they fear this will devolve into gym class-like scenes and total chaos. The employee council sent a letter in late March, asking for an explanation.
‘We want our users, i.e. our clients, to be more involved in the service’, Ronald Stolk explains. He is the CIT’s director and instigator of the ‘transition’. The decision was based on an evaluation report from 2016 by a committee of stakeholders at the university. ‘It showed that the CIT is very good at information technology, in providing products and services, but that we’re not really focused on our end users.’
The committee said that the work the CIT does provide is done well, but that the organisation is so fragmented that customers, both employees and students, barely know who provides what. People within one department often do different types of work. And the only department that clients can easily contact is the CIT Servicedesk, an independent department which provides customer service for all the other departments.
Make your own teams, we’ll figure out the rules on the way, together
Stolk figured there had to be a better way to organise this. He took professional practice, such as Spotify, as his example. ‘Spotify is divided into teams that provide services together. Each team provides a single specific service.’
He wants the CIT to start doing this as well. The nine departments will make way for approximately 25 teams. The hardware experts will be put together, the application creators will be put together, the people who take care of student registrations will be put together, etc. Each team should have approximately ten employees, and they should be independent in how they provide their product or service, in consultation with their clients.
‘The people doing the actual work know their services better than I do’, says Stolk. ‘It’s therefore my belief that they know better than anyone how to assign themselves. It’s a bit unusual, but I just told them to make their own teams. We’ll figure out the rules on the way, together.’
Ronald Stolk talks about the transition with unabashed enthusiasm. He is clearly excited. But his employees don’t sound quite so excited.
And that is when they’re willing to talk about the transition at all, because they’re not particularly keen on it. ‘People’s criticism of the plans are not particularly welcome’, says one employee, who for that reason would like to stay anonymous.
Their own thing
But he does have questions. About the most basic things, such as how to actually put together a team. ‘Sure, based on our job descriptions. But people often do all kinds of different things that don’t really fit inside just one team. And people are only allowed in two teams at once, so some people’s job descriptions will probably change.’
Most people I talk to are wondering what it is they have to do exactly, and why?
He thinks his job will probably stay the same, more or less. ‘But I have no idea what it will look like or which team I’ll be in.’ Other employees feel the exact same way, he knows. ‘Most people I talk to are wondering what it is they have to do exactly, and why?’
Eric Tinga and his colleagues are also in the dark. They currently work at a department called Organizational Support and Innovation (OSI), which deals with management. ‘Everyone does their own thing. Some people focus on finances or HR, we mainly deal with education. We basically have nothing in common.’
In that sense, Tinga is not necessarily opposed to a different arrangement. ‘But there’s no plan’, he says. ‘The board may have said “everyone has input”, but there is no leadership and no direction. It was never explained to us how we’re supposed to be more client-oriented.’
He and his immediate colleagues have made a plan for a team. They then put this plan to the transition team. Unfortunately, there were only five of them, when it had been decided that teams had to consist of ten people. ‘We were told to merge with the people from the Education Support and Innovation (ESI) department.
Because they work on education, just like us.’ It may sound good, but in reality it’s nonsense, Tinga thinks. ‘All we do is provide support for student registrations, and what ESI does is something completely different. So that doesn’t make any sense.’
The problems go beyond the ‘who belongs with whom’ confusion. Because what happens after you’ve put together a team? How will the finances be divided? What will the hierarchy look like? Who’s in charge? Who will do the result and development reviews?
Listening is very important, but I won’t listen to commands
There are so many questions and so few answers that in March, the employee council decided they had had enough. Its members were doing a workshop together, says vice president Mente Heemstra, when they decided to write a letter. ‘We had been wanting a proper explanation for some time’, Heemstra says. ‘For too long, we’ve only talked about it in meetings, but we never really reached a conclusion. So we decided on this course of action.’
In the five-page advice, which the UK obtained, the council mainly asks for an explanation concerning finances and human resources. The members would also like the board to come up with an ‘evaluation procedure describing the measurement times during the project, including the criteria to be measured.’ Heemstra: ‘Our language was fairly pointed; we were very strict about the fact that there were certain things we need a guarantee on.’
The pointed language did not escape Stolk’s notice. On his blog on MyUniversity, he rails against the letter. ‘Its length and severe tone surprised me’, he writes. ‘Listening is very important, but I won’t listen to commands. The employee council has been involved in the transition from the start.’
Several days later, he is a little more nuanced in his comments: ‘There is a difference between tone and content. I understand that people are uncertain. The fact that the employee council wants to help think about the plan is a good thing, and this letter is, too.’
Not a reorganisation
There’s one particular fear that he is keen to dispel: the transition is not a reorganisation. ‘No one will be losing their job. Should someone not find a match with any of the new teams, their job description might change, but everyone will be staying. The university’s need for IT applications is ever-increasing.’
As for what the schedule looks like, it’s difficult to say. Stolk wants to have a list of teams by the end of the calendar year. The employee wants the loose ends and questions answered before a single team will start their work. They both realise they will have to find a middle ground.
‘It’s a big change’, Stolk admits. ‘A fun change, to be sure. But still, it’s big.’