Have You Tried the Buddy System?

Buddy system

Written by Dan Callahan

I am a Senior Technical Advisor to CGNET. Formerly, I managed our Cybersecurity and Cloud Services businesses, and provided consulting to many clients over the years. I wear a lot of hats. Professionally, I'm a builder of businesses. Outside of work, I'm a hobby farmer, chef, skier, dog walker, jokester, woodworker, structuralist, husband and father.

February 17, 2022

No doubt you have heard of the buddy system. You probably have experience with it. When I learned scuba diving the instructor stressed how important it was to dive with your buddy. Why? Because your buddy was there if you got into some trouble, such as getting kelp wound around your air tank. (The instructor also offered this gem: When asked about carrying a knife, he said that the purpose of the knife was to stab your buddy when the monster shark came around, so the shark would be occupied, and you could swim to safety.)

I recently heard some examples of how the buddy system could help with IT issues.

Assign an Application Buddy to a New Employee

An IT support firm (not CGNET) was meeting with a new customer. The customer listed all the issues that were outstanding from the last support partner (also not us!). One person on the customer side asked if IT would be showing people how to use their line of business applications. The IT provider answered, “No, we want you to use the buddy system. Assign a user in the same department to be the new hire’s ‘buddy’. It will be their job to show the new hire how to use the application.”

The buddy system. This was one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” moments. I have seen organizations that put the responsibility of application training on IT. That might be fine for a core set of applications. But there is a “long tail” at work here. IT gets called in to train someone on an application that only a few people in the organization use. (Likely, it is an application downloaded by a user, for which there is a sanctioned alternative available.)

With a seemingly endless supply of possible applications to train on, and an IT organization that has many competing priorities, putting all the training responsibility on IT has a low probability of success.

Some Benefits of a Buddy System for Training

Using the buddy system to conduct training has some benefits.

  • Local expertise. If users can tap into a fellow worker’s expertise, the users will get more relevant training. They will also get trained sooner than if they wait for IT to do the training.
  • Peer example. The more experienced user creates a “bar” for others to strive for. No one wants to perceive a large gap between their mastery of a departmental application and the mastery of the most advanced person.
  • Ownership. “Train me!” is a little like “feed me!” When users take ownership of their technology, they see better results. The buddy system encourages this ownership.

Assign an Organizational Culture Buddy to a New Employee

I recently heard someone describe how they assign a buddy to every new hire as part of their onboarding process. This buddy is intentionally not in the same department as the new hire. The buddy system here works to allow the new hire to learn “how we do things around here.” I imagine that setting up a cross-department buddy system allows the new hire to ask for and receive information about how the new hire’s manager operates. We know what was said during the interview process. There may be some nuance that describes how the manager operates in practice.

Another benefit of the buddy system is especially relevant in a work-from-home setting. There is a lot about the organization’s culture that is not captured in an employee manual, welcome email, initial HR meeting and the like. What is the dress code? Does everyone take lunch at the same time? How much do staff talk about their lives away from work? The new hire can watch and observe in the office. In a remote work setting there are far fewer casual opportunities to learn about what is encouraged or discouraged.

Use the Buddy System to Skill Up the Group

There is so much a new hire can learn in the buddy system. Sure, how to work the application. But also, what constitutes doing “a good job” in an assignment. I think I did what I was asked to do. But, seeing what my buddy did in a similar assignment, I see what more I could have done. And I can observe how our manager reacts to their work vs. mine. Having a buddy system can help “skill up” staff. Kobe Bryant was notorious for demanding the most from his basketball teammates. The coach did not have to take on that role. And no one wanted to let Kobe down.

Give the buddy system a try. I think you will like the results.

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