This is a running joke in IT, but think about it… Do you have only ONE person in your organization that knows your systems, runs your network, manages your database, or programs your applications?

What happens if they quit, get hired away, retire, win the lottery or unexpectedly die?

One thing we hear over and over again is “It feels like technology team members are holding my company hostage”.  IT can hold you hostage via knowledge, relationships, succession or uncontrollable events. Read on to see if any of these apply to your business.  

If your IT person knows significantly more about a system that runs your business than you do, then your company is at risk.


Are they the sole gatekeeper for –
  • Password management 
  • Core business systems
  • Device configurations for your network
  • Security protocols
  • Disaster recovery systems
  • Active directory management

Sometimes the person holding you hostage is toxic to the culture of your company but they are “too important” to remove. Being held hostage can often be very subtle. Here are some ways in which you can identify if it is happening to you. 


  • You never get a straight answer. Information you request is never fully available, requires additional analysis, and can only be untangled by your employee.
  • You are told, “No one else can…” Your employee or coworker is the only person in your work group who has the knowledge, technical capability, experience, or access that is needed to complete the assignment. If they can’t do the work, you are stuck!


  • Your employee has the clout. An employee, not you, has the political pull with department heads, regulators, community/political leaders, and key customers. (This often happens to new managers who take over established departments of veteran employees.)


  • You can be easily undercut. When your employee is perceived as knowing more about process mechanics, coworker issues, and customer concerns, they can marginalize your credibility.


  • You are out of the loop. When your employee gets sensitive and/or important information before you do, they are in a position to take action in a way that enhances their stature and diminishes yours.


  • Employee loyalties shift. When employees have more confidence in the insights, direction, and knowledge of a coworker than you, that employee becomes a default leader, capable of supporting or undermining you.


So what do you do about it?


Ensure that Knowledge is documented and distributed
  • Distribute knowledge for critical systems, configurations, and code
    • Ensure code is in a code repository
    • Document configurations or host in configuration management
    • Move infrastructure scripts to Infrastructure as Code system
  • Document knowledge so that future team members have a map to follow
    • Use a tool like to track knowledge about your systems
    • Perform team knowledge shares with release notes
    • Ensure leaders are building descriptive diagrams
  • Implement paired team members for key personnel so that backups are built in
    • Pair programming
    • Regular knowledge shares
    • Capture retrospectives after major roll outs
  • Limit siloed knowledge workers from contributing, put in a guidance role instead
    • Remove the fire-fighters from doing work
    • Promote to a team lead position
    • Move to a business analyst position


Build Relationships across all departments
  • Ensure more than one person is involved in critical relationships for your company.
    • Move relationship data to a CRM like Hubspot or Salesforce
  • Increase transparency in your company to decrease water cooler talk.
    • Host a monthly company all hands broadcasting the company’s not so secret secrets
    • Install TV monitors with digital dashboards of interesting data
  • Cross train all roles to decrease relationship silos
    • Intentionally rotate people across departments every 9-12 months
    • Have back up team members for all leaders
    • Perform a monthly show and tell to boost conversation and sharing
  • Talk to everyone!
    • If you are a leader you should get to know those around you
    • Maintain an open door policy
    • Invite people at all levels out to coffee
    • Mandate 1x1’s – you will be surprised what you hear!
Mitigate the impact of Uncontrollable Events
  • Build in “teams” for critical processes
    • Make documentation a priority and maintain it
    • Never have just one person own everything
    • Automate critical processes
    • Use tools like Asana to make processes repeatable 
  • Identify “backups” for important tasks
    • Create playbooks to describe how something is done and who can do it
    • Create a RACI matrix to identify who owns what tasks/areas
  • Make documentation a priority and maintain it
    • Utilize a WIKI to capture documentation over time
    • Ensure that part of a product or network change includes the notes of what it was and what it is


“Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same thing.” ..don’t be scared to change!