9 ways to unify your IT team
By Lou Markstrom
Top CIOs discuss the methods they use to unite people in their IT groups.
Does your IT organisation operate as a team? We’ve been talking about how IT is divided from the rest of the organisation for some time and we’ve also recognised the need for IT to stop trying to align with the business and to operate as part of it.
These similar divides must also be broken down within our IT organisations. To become a high performing organisation, IT must operate a single team.
After all, if you asked anyone external how they view IT, they would say as one area. It is doubtful they would respond by saying “architecture, service desk and networks.”
Peter Grant, former CIO at the Queensland Government, says that IT not working together as a unified team is an extremely timely issue that almost all IT organisations he works with are facing.
Here are 9 ways to unify your team:
1. Focus on service to the customer
Grant said that IT teams must know the customer. They must understand how customers benefit from the services being provided.
Elizabeth Wilson, CIO at Edith Cowan University points out that this focus is what will make the links apparent, causing your IT team to see how one area impacts the other, and provide a common view on how to optimise service rather than separate technology.
Peter Wataman, CIO at Flight Centre Travel Group, adds knowing your customers and understanding that their different organisational functions will require different solutions provides an opportunity for your team to work together to make sure these requirements are properly delivered.
2. Have a clear purpose and mission
According to Grant, the starting point for unifying your team is ensuring that it has a clear reason for existing. Merely having the clear reason is not enough; the members of your team must know what it is and be aware of it on a regular basis. If I asked the members of your organisation to write down your team’s purpose and mission, how many would be able to do it? Could you do it?
3. Eliminate ‘discipline bigotry’
Too often in IT, one area thinks their reason for existing is more important than the reasons for other areas and that the organisation would not survive without them. Grant recognised his colleague Alan Chapman for coining the phrase “discipline bigotry” to describe this.
When Wilson took over as CIO at ECU, one of the tasks she undertook to unify her team was to raise the profile of the client support function. She observed that the area was viewed as the low end and least skilled by other staff and struggled to be heard by staff from other areas when trying to respond to client needs.
Everyone must understand that internal service is just as important as external because if we don’t serve each other well, there is no way we as a team will serve our end client well.
4. Be aware of “discipline lock”
“Discipline lock” occurs when a technology expert gets promoted and still sees themselves as a technology expert and not a leader.
This can be further compounded if discipline bigotry gets promoted into a leadership role and still maintains the belief that their previous area was more important than other areas.
This belief will tend to build further barriers and tensions between areas of IT. This must be avoided so all teams feel valued and appreciated.
5. Ensure your business model supports your objectives
Wataman follows the principle that you must be fluid in your structures to achieve your purpose and mission.
Look at how your teams are structured to gain some clarity around where mismatches are occurring and where individuals are simply working inside the operating mode of what they do. These people are not looking at your broader objectives.
Wataman said these structures must be re-evaluated on a regular basis and adapted over time to keep them on track.
Wilson keeps the focus on an “end to end integration model” while Grant warns to be aware of “local optimisation at the expense of group optimisation” which creates behaviour that is prevents you from achieving your organisational objectives.
6. Build respect for your service culture
Having a good service culture does not mean being all things to all people at all times. You must stand up for the recognition that your team deserves.
Wilson has needed to reinforce the value of the IT function both internally to the IT staff and externally to the client. This reinforced that, although change was necessary, it wasn’t all bad. From this demonstration of loyalty, her team knew that she had their back.
7. Physical space must support collaboration
Does your physical space help or hinder your organisation operating as a single team? Wilson has created a physical environment at ECU that she says “enhances rather than inhibits communication”.
To do this, she has brought previously separate teams into one physical space, replaced high petitions with low ones and ensured everything is well lit. The result is a space where you can’t help but notice the energy and buzz in the air, she says.
8. Provide proper recognition
Too often IT has a history of rewarding and recognising members at a team level rather than an organisation level, Grant says. We must turn this around and build the level of trust so that our teams know they will be rewarded when the results and outcomes are achieved at group rather than just individual levels.
To have her team work together toward this culture change at ECU, Wilson established a “wall of recognition” that is highly visible and apparent for all to see as well as a ‘reward and recognition’ program that recognises efforts that go ‘over and above’ the expected service ethos
9. Don’t underestimate the value of soft skills
The ability to act and interact as a team is reliant on its members’ interpersonal skills and communications and interactions with each other. Grant warns against making the mistake he sees so many senior IT staff make in not valuing and developing the soft skills of their people.
Wataman sums it up succinctly: “To unify your team, embed people within the environment then ensure you give them the capabilities they need to succeed.”
Lou Markstrom is the co-author of Unleashing the Power of IT: Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together, published by Wiley as part of its CIO series.