IT managers are passionate, hardworking professionals equipped with comprehensive knowledge that spans many practices and sectors. Their unique blend of technical skills and leadership acumen allows them to have an outsized impact on IT departments and entire organizations—but without strong communication, their ability to work with stakeholders and boost operational outcomes would be limited.

When planning their career trajectories, some aspiring IT professionals underestimate the impact strong communication can have in IT manager roles and responsibilities. Communication shapes the daily activities of these leaders, who often act as liaisons between executives and IT team members. By developing solid technical communication skills, IT managers are better prepared to recommend enhancements, advocate for best practices, and guide or inspire the employees they oversee.

In this guide, we provide a deep dive into communication as it relates to IT team management. Along the way, we reveal what it takes to boost communication skills and how these can lead to greater productivity and innovation when managing IT projects.

Understanding the Role of Communication in IT Management

Effective communication is critical across all sectors and all levels of employment, but what exactly constitutes “effective” can differ considerably from one role to the next.

In IT management, communication takes many forms, adapted based on the needs and concerns of executives, team members, and stakeholders. It also involves a strong technical element, with the need to convey complex data in a way that resonates. Additionally, common management practices such as constructive feedback and conflict management remain crucial.

Simply put, communication determines how technical concepts and data-driven insights are translated into action, whether through policies developed by upper management or the IT teams that drive tech-based improvements.

No single communication strategy will be equally applicable across all settings or situations, but a few best practices tend to produce favorable results. We highlight these below, along with opportunities for building and implementing these skills in modern work environments.

Strategy 1: Clear and Concise Messaging

It might be tempting to share every detail of every strategy or task with team members, but often the central message is lost amid all this extra information. Concise messaging ensures team members absorb key takeaways, especially when conveying highly technical information.

How each message is structured frequently proves more impactful than what (or how much) it aims to share. Written communication should follow a standard, easy-to-navigate structure, complete with a summary-based introduction, headings that organize main sections, and a conclusion that spurs team members to take action. Verbal communication should also be concise; meandering conversations are best avoided, even when striving to establish rapport.

Strategy 2: Active Listening

Many managers get too caught up worrying about what they have to say instead of making a genuine effort to listen to and acknowledge team members. Active listeners are better able to connect with professionals of all types and, as such, more likely to see a desired response when it's their turn to communicate.

There is more to active listening in leadership than simply hearing what the other person has to say. Rather, active listening focuses on the how of communication, accounting for the speaker's tone of voice, body language, and other cues. Active listening is purposeful by design.

Strategy 3: Open-Door Policy

Team members should always feel confident that their feedback will be heard, respected, and when possible, considered while planning key initiatives. To achieve this end, IT managers should adopt open-door policies, in which all professionals feel welcome to share their true opinions.

When managers make it clear that they welcome insights from team members, these employees feel valued and supported. What's more, an open-door policy can make it easier to reveal issues that would otherwise continually lurk beneath the surface. These policies boost communication across all areas of IT and in adjacent departments while also shifting the focus toward proactive problem-solving initiatives.

The most impactful open-door strategies maintain a few basic boundaries. This often begins with determining when IT managers will be accessible and where the focus of open discourse should remain on practical opportunities or obstacles (rather than workplace gossip).

Strategy 4: Regular Check-Ins and Updates

Micromanaging should not be part of the equation for empowered IT teams, but employees still require some level of guidance and support. This is where regular check-ins can make a world of difference. During these brief but purposeful interactions, IT managers verify whether employees have access to appropriate directions and resources while building trust.

Check-ins bring a systematic, structured approach to sharing mutual feedback without making employees feel stifled. These meetings are especially important for hybrid or remote setups, where there can be a greater risk of team members feeling disconnected or unsupported.

When implementing check-in strategies, be sure to set a timeline and develop an agenda to drive productive conversations. Talking points should be agreed upon in advance, with IT managers looking to previous check-in topics to guide future discussions. Every check-in should include not just constructive feedback to help employees improve their performance but also recognition of noteworthy achievements that help them feel valued.

Strategy 5: Use of Collaboration Tools

At one time, managers were forced to rely exclusively on face-to-face, phone-based, or email-oriented communication. These days, however, a range of tools and technologies encourage both IT managers and other team members to work collaboratively and share their real-time insights in a way that resonates.

A variety of team collaboration software solutions are available, and no one program will be ideal in every scenario. When determining which system works best, consider which solutions are the most user-friendly and which are most likely to support specific team goals. Take into account budgetary and timing concerns, including the cost of software itself along with the training needed to ensure employees are equipped to make the most of these solutions.

In the context of an IT department, the ideal collaboration solution would integrate a number of features to help teams leverage both data-driven insights and human-oriented communication. Essentials include:

  • Instant messaging and video conferencing abilities
  • Task management solutions, ideally including visual representations
  • File sharing and storage
  • Compatibility to drive seamless third-party integrations

Within IT departments, many managers favor Kanban due to its impressive agility and promotion of continuous delivery. Otherwise, solutions such as Smartsheet and Airtable may be helpful when dealing with complex databases.

Strategy 6: Encouraging Feedback and Input

An open-door policy sets the stage for honest communication, yet it may be necessary to take this concept to the next level. No matter how approachable IT managers seem, some team members are reluctant to step up and share what they truly think. In these situations, it might be best to take a more active approach, developing a more structured system for obtaining employee input. Beyond this, empathy and humility can make a significant difference, especially for employees concerned about retaliation.

Strategy 7: Conflict Resolution Skills

While certain strategies mentioned in this guide aim to limit conflict by establishing clear expectations and productive communication, there are still times when team members struggle to see eye-to-eye, and times when their disagreements escalate substantially. The IT manager's role is not to eliminate conflict altogether but rather to help team members navigate these concerns in a respectful, productive manner.

Many leaders look to conflict management frameworks to help them handle disputes not only fairly but also efficiently. The American Management Association (AMA) advocates a systematic approach to conflict resolution for managers, which involves defining the conflict's source as well as looking beyond the immediate conflict to reveal underlying contributors. Soliciting ideas is important, too, particularly as idea-sourcing efforts may eventually uncover solutions that yield common ground between disagreeing parties.

Strategy 8: Emphasizing the “Why”

Team members feel frustrated and disengaged when they struggle to understand why various initiatives are pursued and exactly what these efforts will accomplish. Thankfully, the solution to this problem is simple: Explain why preferred strategies have been selected and why they matter. Team members may not always agree, but they could at least appreciate that they are respected and valued enough to receive such explanations.

Strategy 9: Adaptability in Communication Styles

Different stakeholders have different needs and preferences, especially when interacting with management professionals. As such, IT managers need to continually adjust their communication style to ensure their messaging will resonate with specific people. This can be difficult to navigate, as there must still be consistency in messaging as it relates to the core company culture.

The Colin James Method can be a helpful resource, revealing several common communication styles. Carefully observing core traits in employees or stakeholders can indicate which types of communication are most likely to resonate with particular people.

Strategy 10: Continuous Improvement and Learning

Communication is never truly mastered; these skills call for a lifetime of development and refinement. IT managers must be committed to ongoing reflection and practice, adjusting communication strategies as new technologies or other evolving circumstances come to the forefront.

At minimum, IT managers should be well aware of their communication weaknesses and take active steps to address them. This spirit of continuous improvement should extend beyond the management level and include team members of all types. This can be promoted by offering access to mentors or implementing targeted training initiatives. Respectful feedback can help employees address communication issues while encouraging them to share their most powerful ideas.

Learn More, Today

If you have big plans for working at the intersection between technology and management, you need targeted training that encompasses both areas. The University of Minnesota’s online Bachelor of Science in Information Technology Management emphasizes technical skill development in addition to diverse communication strategies plus many other critical soft skills. Reach out today to learn more about this program.