Is Your IT Team in a Downward Spiral?

Written by Stefan Thorpe
Is Your IT Team In A #DownwardSpiral?

What Is a ‘Downward Spiral’?

A downward spiral is an ongoing deteriorating state of work which results in poor software and service quality, unfavorable customer results, and other consequent deplorable outcomes that lead to poor overall IT performance. The cause of this phenomenon is a “constant core conflict” of competing goals between IT operations and development. In this context, the development department of the organization is working on goals and incentives that are contradictory to those of IT operations. This lack of alignment and synergy only compounds to wedge a gap between the two teams and the subsequent downward spiral can seem unrelenting.

Why Should Your IT Team Be Worried?

Today, every business relies on software and IT to move forward, whether this is in the form of growing a profitable business or reaching consumers in new ways. IT is the modern day business enabler. It is entrusted with a significant responsibility to deliver processes and procedures that can help an organization to achieve its goals.

Within a downward spiral, not only is productivity affected, but the work environment and culture can become very negative too. Team members may feel like they are constantly battling a system that only seems to dictate failure and they have no power to effect changes. This powerlessness triggers demotivation, despair, fatigue, and cynicism. This ongoing state is detrimental to daily work in that it engenders a culture of fear of being punished and loss of livelihood.

If your team is in conflict and battling a downward spiral, there is a much greater impact on the overall business too. Your organization is effectively shackled by this restraint from achieving its business goals in a timely and cost-effective manner. This can jeopardize organizational promises like feature availability to customers, customers’ data security, and reliable financial reporting, as well as affect many other components of day-to-day software integral to the business.

Is Your IT Team in a Downward Spiral?

Here are the indicators that your team and you are in a downward spiral.

  • Your team is unable to make remarkable progress. This occurs when your team’s focus is on individual perspectives and goals which are misaligned with organizational operations. The team is out of sync with top management’s goals specifications and regional expectations. Your team is also out of sync with each other in terms of project and team goals too.
  • There are persistent disagreements between IT and the business in terms of deadlines and budgets. Your organization’s finance executive delays team and equipment budget in favor of unachievable IT projects or new initiatives. Such projects create high value for customers but incur vast amounts of pressure on the IT team to deliver. Consistently deferred infrastructure and equipment upgrades can also be demoralizing for teams to deal with.
  • When finance executives resist spending on those projects that they perceive not to connect to their immediate business needs such actions can result in system infrastructure falling out of date, common databases becoming almost obsolete, and the system getting complex. Other impacts include longer delivery time on projects, increasingly higher costs, and more significant risks involved. On top of all this, trust between IT and the business becomes challenged.
  • Sudden and unplanned business requisitions for services, equipment or software. This habit is caused by the rising of ‘urgent new market needs.’ Failure to integrate IT operations and development goals with the organization can cause misalignment with changing market needs. The organization learns about the change in the market when it’s too late and quickly exerts pressure on IT section to effect change.
  • The rise of the blame game among the staff. Organizations may assign blame to the IT team for poor performance as they are seen to be the ones failing to provide IT services. In the face of this opposition, the IT people tend to look at the other members of their team and organization as their ‘enemies’ who are not appreciating or supporting them.
  • Small budgets allocation to IT sector. Technology has been reported to account for two-thirds of productivity growth in an organization. Nevertheless, an organization may see IT sector lightly and allocate a small budget. Failure to offer adequate financial support to IT sector not only causes further poor business performance but also demoralizes the IT staff.
  • It takes a lot of time to complete operations. IT employees are feeling long hours during workdays and also on weekends too. This situation leads to reduced quality of life that extends even to employees families. Mostly when this occurs, you find that an organization begins to lose its best employees and overall staff turnover is uncommonly high.

Get Out of Your Downward Spiral

Here are 7 positive and actionable ways that will help your IT team get out of its downward spiral.

1. Admit Awareness:
When an aspect of downward spiral shows out, it’s good to accept that you are in one. Acknowledgment is the first step to overcoming the problem.

2. Set clear and realistic team goals that align with top management strategies:
An organization can only be successful when all key ingredients work in cohesion. Knowing the organization’s overall direction and goals is crucial for your IT team to achieve business synchronicity. Formulate project and departmental that fit into the organization’s mission and regional goals.

3. Establish a well-defined and well-communicated organization structure:
A clear organizational structure is the backbone for development in any business. It outlines reporting lines within an organization. If communication is kept a top priority,, the IT team will learn of an organization’s development goals quickly and effectively. The team will be able to formulate policies and processes geared towards overall business productivity. Achieving such productivity will also positively boost the IT team’s attitude.

4. Deploy ‘fast feedback loops’ at every process stage:
These feedbacks can are possible through building quick automated tests for every change that is committed. These tests are then run to verify that the changes and the environment work as designed and are in a secure and usable state.

5. Implement DevOps and the Theory of Constraints:
DevOps is a cultural and technical methodology that aims to unify software development and operations. Adopting DevOps will enable you to achieve better performance within various functional technological roles and simultaneously improve overall performance. In addition to DevOps, you can seek to identify any constraints that are causing bottlenecks in your process and preventing you from achieving business goals. (Check out our article on Addressing the Theory of Constraints here.)

6. Employ a new Transformational leadership style:
This leadership style comprises inspirational communication and vision, personal recognition, and supportive leadership. This leadership style inspires your team to work with a DevOps mindset.
Encourage IT team members to become co-owners of the process, it’s a fruitful method of succeeding in business. You allow co-ownership by ‘asking how to’ rather than ‘showing how to.’ Support your team to help them share their insights, skills, and expertise, this can be very rewarding to the organization as a whole. (Check out our article on 5 Steps to Transformational Leadership here.)

7. Take a step back to gain a new perspective:
Take a step back and review the situation from the outside. Attempt to view your processes in an unbiased manner and see where the problems lie. This perspective will enable you to obtain an objectivity about your position that you are struggling to achieve and it can also help you begin to control any negative emotions that are no doubt surrounding the problem you are all involved in.

In conclusion, battle your downward spiral to overcome the harmful impact of affected organization performance and deterioration. The above measures can help recover your team and get your IT department back on the path to ensuring high business performance and team spirit.


Caylent offers DevOps-as-a-Service to high growth companies looking for help with microservices, containers, cloud infrastructure, and CI/CD deployments. Our managed and consulting services are a more cost-effective option than hiring in-house and we scale as your team and company grow. Check out some of the use cases and learn how we work with clients by visiting our DevOps-as-a-Service offering.

Reference material:
Kim, G., Debois, P., Willis, J., & Humble, J. (2016). The DevOps handbook: how to create world-class agility, reliability, and security in technology organizations. Portland, OR: IT Revolution Press, LLC.

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