During spring and summer of ’98 I underwent a six month internship in the information services department of a major company in my country Botswana. The company , Botswana power corporation is the sole producer and distributor of electricity in Botswana. As a company with branches all over the country it is easy to understand why communication would be crucial to the day to day operations of this company as a whole. For the sake of clarity however I’m going to limit the focus of this paper to the Information servives departmentin which I worked. My internship position was at the companies head office in Gaborone .
As intern it did not take me long to realize that almost all the departments needed the services of the IS department in one way or the other. The IS department was essentially responsible for user support,themaintainance ,repair and upgrade of computer systems and training of company personnel. By far the greatest responsibility of the department was user support. Employees from departments all over the complex would call in any problems they had with their computers. These problems would be written down on a work order form and the handled in due course.
Because of this members of the department staff had to have effective listening skills . I realized that when dealing with a user it was important for me to solicit as much feedback as possible from them. I would ask questions and paraphrase what they were saying so as to better understand the nature of the problem. This was important because many a time the problem would be Just a simple matter of rebooting the computer and could easily be resolved over the phone. When trying to get to the root of the problem it was important that I display as much patience as possible with the users often vague responses to my questions.
I made a conscious effort not to interrupt them and to refrain from distractions that would hinder my ability to listen effectively. Effective listening was also important because it allowed take notice of paralanguage signals in a persons voice allowed us to judge the urgency of the situation . We were also conscioutioas of the paralanguage signals that we relayed to users. We use a phone friendly voice ,being careful to maintain an even steady tone of voice. Verbal communication within the department was limited because most of the time members of the department worked outside the office attending to various service requests.
Some semeblece of communication was however maintained through pagers, and email. The members of the group communicated about work orders through workorder forms. By reading these work order forms group members had access to information about orders that were pending,had been completed and those that needed the specialized expertise of one of the staff members. The members also had a notice board in the office were each member indicated their whereabouts. Although communication within the group was limited communication the was free upward and downward flow of information between supervisors and their surbodinates.
The only time when the all the staff members got together was during the weekly meeting in the managers office. The meeting was held with members sitting in around a round table ,so that the group members could freely themselves verbally and non verbally. The atmosphere was usually relaxed(except during emergency meetings)with drinks and snacks being served. It was during these meetings that projectscheduling, recurring problems and internal matters were disciussed. The meeting as was the office ws run democratic manner. All members of the group was encouraged to offer their input.
When there was disagreement over a certain issue it was often put to the vote. As an intern these meetings were the highlight of the week because of the many brilliant ideas that were born from the brainstorming sessions that often went on during them. Group think was to a large part avoided by the fact that we all knew that the manager door was always open. Whenever anyone felt something that they did not feel comfortable saying in front of other people they woulds tell him ,and he would bring up the subject at the next meeting. The manager of the I. S department was what I would call a contingency/systems manager.
He did not have one set method of managing the office . How he managed the office was really dependent on the situation. Most of the time I would say he was a human resources time of manager. He tried to ensure that we were happy at work so that we would be motivated to work hard. He made it a point to once in a while call us individually in his office so that we could give him feedback on how we were doing out in the field. We only consulted him on the major decisions. He offered words of praise were it was due,and when the opposite was due he offered practical non emotional advice instead .
At times he would take his coffee break with us so that he could spot any tensions within the group before they became a hindrance to the efficiency of the group. As something of an incentive to work hard staff members professional schools to complete short courses. Although frank was mostly a human resources manger there were times when he acted more like a traditional or classical style manager. This was usually during times when there were emergienies such when systems were down or major upgrades had to be made and other instances when time was of the essence.
During these times he would delegate duty so that the task could be complted in a timely and efficient manner. He did not however go overboard with his authoritarian role but he did make sure that everyone knew that he was the one making all the decisions. By using this management style Frank was able to achieve miracles with an understaffed department. I would categorize frank as a hidden communicator. As I mentioned before he was constantly seekin feedback from us. He was a well liked guy who always tried to make sure that everyone was happy and comfortable but he he did not disclose much about himself.
In I did not even know that he had children until the last moth of my internship Because he was such a nice person he motivated us to do many thins beyond the call of duty. Often we had to work weekends or after hours on upgrades that could only be done when the users had gone home. We were all willing to do this because we knew we were working for a great person who was always willing to help. He showed concern in not only helping us get better at our jobs but also in our personal welbeing. The negative thing aout this quality is that he found it hard to deal with conflict.
There was a member of our team who was a closed communicator. He was a brilliant but hot tempered guy who preferred to work alone. But as I mentioned we were understaffed ,which meant that we all had to pool our resources in order to do the job. Other members of staff began to complain about this behavior. Being the hidden communicator he quickly carmed everyone down and the problem was forgotten but definetly not gone. It was not long before the problem erupted again and this time the situation was so bad that the closed communicator had to moved to another department.
Perhaps if he had addressed the problem in it’s infancy it would never had become unsolvable. We used nonverbal communication in the form of eye contact to encourage users to tell us more about the problem with the computer or what they were doing before error message that appeared on the monitor. We had to be careful however not to overstep of the cultural restrictions concerning eyecontact. In my culture openly looking at a person who is older than you is a sign of disrespect or contempt. My manager being a white south African had to be quietly advised to start greeting people.
In my culture it is considered rude to commence talk to someone without going through the ritual greeting first. Although we were not required to wear uniforms we were however encouraged to dress smartly. Men were required to not required to wear ties to work but they were required to wear long sleeved shirts. This was done so that we could feel comfortable as we moved about the complex but at the same have a professional efficient look about us. When we had meetings with top officials in the company we wore jackects to inhance their image.