IT has always been a learning intensive career. When you move into IT Leadership, that learning changes.

One of the many things you have to learn about is the organization the IT department supports.

The IT department does not exist in a vacuum. Your department, and your job, exists to serve the larger organization. By understanding this larger context, you can make better decisions.

Schedule one-on-one meetings with the leadership team members and other key managers and individuals. These meetings will serve as anchor points for building your understanding.

Portions of this article are excerpted from my book, The I.T. Leader’s First Days, available from bookstores everywhere.

Start simple. Get access to the company organization chart with names, titles, and departments. Build a mental model of the organization so you understand where everyone and everything fits. Get access to a map of the physical building. Document your learning in whatever format makes sense for you. I like paper, so I can scribble notes as I learn more later on. Others prefer electronic note taking.

Being the new kid on the block allows you some latitude that you may not have later on. Use it. “Hi, I’m the new IT leader and I would like to meet with you to learn about your department.”

The bulk of the meeting should consist of you asking questions and then listening. If you are new to the organization, it may be worth spending a couple of minutes giving your background, but no more. Start with high-level topics but follow their lead for a bit if they go into details as it tells you what they think is important. Take notes because there is no way you will remember everything.

This conversation should not be about IT, it should be about learning the organization. Some of them won’t be able to help themselves and will quickly drive to IT topics. Make a note of the topic and gently steer them back to the larger picture. Make it clear to them that it is critical that you understand their area of the organization. Put the IT topics in a parking lot for after your questions. Promise them a follow-up meeting to talk solely about IT if needed.

Study the org chart before the meeting. Memorize key names so you don’t have to look up or ask during the meeting. This also shows that you have prepared for the meeting.

Ask follow-up questions. Ask for more information about a passing reference or something that isn’t clear.
Repeat critical points back to them to verify understanding. People like to be heard and repeating their opinions or concerns back to them shows that you have been listening.

If you are methodical in planning and holding these meetings, you can learn a lot about the organization in a very short time.

Photo by John Bredesen

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