There may be trouble ahead if your day starts like this:.

The following blog post was originally posted to LinkedIn on 22 April 2014.

Every now and then you get a day that you know is going to be a little different and more challenging than the typical one. You can tell right away it will be “one of those days” by the first thing someone says to you when you walk into the office. Some time back I was heading up a small IT department and occasionally I would walk in to an “I’m glad you’re here”, “server A is down” or “X has rung for you twice already”. None unusual in themselves, but all harbingers of what was to come. However, the strangest greeting I ever had was as I walked up to my desk one morning and a colleague turned to me and with a wry smile said … “There’s a bird in the server room”.

As you might expect, this wasn’t the sort of thing you specifically train for in an IT role and so my colleagues appeared to be at a bit of an impasse as to what they could do. They had tried leaving the door open, but the bird had remained inside and so they had then referred the issue to the facilities manager who was trying to arrange for someone to come in and catch it. So what was I to do? Sit and wait for someone to come and remove it? Not likely.

I began with a few basic questions. What sort of bird was it? How did it get in and could it get out that way again? How long has it been there? Has it caused any damage? It appeared that it was a small bird (though no one knew what) and that it must have entered through the ceiling cavity via a loose ceiling tile (that had been moved for some cabling/air con work) overnight and no damage had yet been identified. I next went in to the server room to survey for myself - and identified the bird as a starling.

So now with a better understanding I set about organising freeing the avian intruder. First the loose tile was put back in place to give the bird only one exit from the server room (the door) and to stop any additional birds entering. My colleagues and I used some old computer and monitor boxes to block possible flight paths in our server room and usher the bird into our build room. From there it was a bit more complicated, but through putting up various types of barriers and through an incremental process we were able to encourage the bird (through blocking flight paths and perching spots) to leave the build room by the main door. Once out into the corridor the window at either end had been opened creating a strong breeze and the bird quickly took the opportunity to exit the building via an open window. The whole activity took us the best part of half an hour to carry out, but the result in my opinion was worth the effort.

After a quick cup of tea we returned to the server room and surveyed it for any mess or damage the bird had left behind. Fortunately there was no mess or damage - which was rather surprising. We then removed the ceiling tile again and looked for how the bird might have gained entry. Within the suspended ceiling space we could make out a small shaft of daylight from the back of the building. We surveyed the building exterior and noted some of the sealant at the side of one of the air conditioning vents had gone - we suspected that birds had perhaps pecked it away as there was no sign of it having fallen away. Later that day the access point was resealed and we had no further bird problems from that day.

So what did this incident teach me?

First off it was that the usual approach to fixing an IT issue works just fine for the non-IT ones too. First find out what the issue is and when it happened. Next, investigate the issue to clarify it and create a plan of action to address it. Where necessary, narrow things down through a process of elimination so that the inevitable outcome from the plan will be a positive one. Enact the plan adapting it where necessary. Finally, locate the root cause and eradicate it. The fact that this particular issue was animal based rather than hardware or software based actually had a minimal bearing on tackling it.

I also learnt that when people are faced by something strange, new and unexpected that calm and guiding leadership is something that is particularly useful. Whilst I have no doubt that my colleagues could have dealt with the issue in the same way themselves, they needed a bit of a nudge in the right direction and perhaps a bit of permission to just get it done.

This incident remains to this day, the most unusual morning greeting for work that I’ve ever had. I suspect that it will retain this special position for some time to come.

What is the most unusual greeting and start to the working day that you have had and what did that experience teach you?

Author: Stephen Millard
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