The influence of psychology in IT

The influence of psychology in IT

One of the things I’ve been interested in for a while is psychology, and, in particular, the various theories of personality.

This may not seem to be have an obvious application for an IT Director, but there are a couple of scenarios, outlined below, where an appreciation of personality can help with role.

Firstly, psychology can assist with understanding different people’s attitude to change; after all, IT projects are usually associated with business change, and people are generally affected at some level.

Project managers that I have spoken to have often said that it’s the people aspects of the project which are the most difficult to handle, and when projects overrun, it’s not usually the technology that’s the problem. (Incidentally, I’ve heard of one Service Desk which uses a ticket category called pilbcak – problem is located between chair and keyboard!)

Leading people through change is a key element of project success, in my opinion, but I’m not sure many organisations factor this in when defining their projects, and it’s left to the IT Team or the project manager to deal with the consequences.

A second area where some insight into personality differences is useful is the relationship between the IT department and the rest of the business. I may be guilty of a gross exaggeration here, but it’s my strong suspicion that many IT professionals are fairly introverted people – articulate when they need to be, but perhaps hard to get to know on a personal level.

In organisations which have a more “extraverted” culture, IT teams may well be seen as distant or disengaged. Often this isn’t the case, but it’s easy to see how this general perception could come about. Conversely, IT staff may have their own opinions about some of the people in the business!

In order to prevent a schism developing, I think it’s extremely helpful to clarify and make explicit the differences in style and culture; this could be achieved by organising a session to look in detail at how people like to be communicated to, and it might be worth bringing in a business psychologist to bring in some specialist expertise. The immediate benefit will be improved communication and this will lead to better relationships.

Of course, both introversion and extraversion have their advantages and disadvantages – neither is inherently better than the other.

It’s also worth pointing out that introversion and extraversion is only one dimension of personality – there are many more (depending on which theory you apply) and each makes it possible to gain a broader understanding of why people behave in the way they do.

Next time you hear someone speak negatively about an IT-led change, or even moan about the IT Department generally, consider the extent to which this might be due to personality and cultural differences, as opposed to an actual failing.