The Changing Paradigm of IT Leadership: Part 2-Building the Team

The Changing Paradigm of IT Leadership: Part 2-Building the Team

By Vincent J. Simonowicz III, CIO, City of Rock Hill, South Carolina

Vincent J. Simonowicz III, CIO, City of Rock Hill, South Carolina

The playing field of Information Technology is constantly evolving and changing as the half-life of innovation gets shorter and shorter. Highly successful teams are those that have an organization that assembles and pools their talents to be an agile responsive business integration force for the enterprise. Gone are the days when IT geeks huddle in the basement cranking out coding for endless projects. A highly successful IT unit needs to be responsive to the ebbs and tides of the day to day business environment, fully engaged in the business. And yet this does not mean you throw the traditional IT baby out with the changing waters of technology; no … IT discipline is even more important today than it ever was in the past. Today the cross integration, disruptive technologies, and constant shifting security threats scream even more for order.

"Individual talent may be inspiring, but a team that pools these talents to conquer any obstacle and accomplish great things is something to admire."

So what’s an IT leader/manager to do to keep his sanity? The preverbal question that always surfaces when talking IT woes is what keeps you up at night? Well both of these questions can be answered with and how you control your IT environment, which means how is your team structured and managed; I always ask, how can I dilute the stress and distribute it to be just a ho-hum all in a day’s breath. Your security and sanity is determined by the team you surround yourself with and how they interrelate with you and each other. There has been thousands of books written on these topics, but to me it all comes down to a few basic principles and philosophies one should follow to get that good night’s sleep:

• Learn and know the business, its needs, and the stakeholders of the business
• Know and structure your team for the environment it operates within
• Know and identify every team members strengths, weakness, likes, dislikes and especially passions, adjust and place whenever possible the team members in a position to exploit their passions and talents – give them a path to their success
• Meet with every team member on a one on one basis regularly and listen
• Be consistent in core values of the team, preach the same message and values in all situations
• Have a strategic plan, communicate the plan constantly, let each team member know their part in the plan
• Structure the sub-teams to complement each other and never put up any barriers between them, the flatter the structure the better
• Create team ownership pride in all functions and champion every success
• Let the teams determine solutions for things they command, you just make sure it is in line with the overall strategy
• Don’t ever take anything from your staff, and demonstrate always you have their backs
• Praise in public, condemn one on one in private
• Plan as a team, review as a team, execute as a team, critique as a team, adjust as a team
• Allow everyone to input into a problem, and when discussion is done, be deliberate and decisive for all discussion is done at that point
• Let everyone know there will always be mistakes, it’s how we respond and control not making them again that counts
• Every team’s first duty is to command their responsibility, but also support the other teams
• Give and trust every team and its members with the authority, tools and responsibility to complete their functions, but don’t abdicate your involvement, ownership or responsibility
• Know that you can be wrong, and be willing to adjust when you are

These things are not complicated or magic solutions on building a highly effective team, but each point is critical and compliments the other, and results in an IT organization that can survive and prosper in this highly challenging and momentary world.

In every organization I have been brought into to run, my first efforts besides finding where the coffee machine is, is to sit down and meet with each and every member of my staff, down to and including the cleaning staff and support staffs outside my department. I have an interview format that asks probing open ended questions to solicit from them everything that makes them tick so as to find out what gets them excited in their job and tell me things I will never see in my position. I want to know if they had the reins of the department, what they would do. Combining this information with the information collected from the enterprise’s main players, department heads, and stakeholders, you can then begin to design an IT structure that fits the needs of the enterprise, and exploits the passions of each team member. Harnessing that passion, feeling of ownership and being valued as an employee, a team member, these are the keys to a high powered productive and agile team.

The second big challenge in building a technology team is to know your technologies that are used and the ones that will be needed inside your enterprise. The agility of the team has to match the agility of the technologies used. Expertise in each technology must be found within the team, or at least someone to own and manage each technology down to its minutest part. I have usually broken my departments into 4 or 5 functional teams based off the technology structure, then augmented them by finding great consulting partners to contract with to fill any holes; noting that any consulting exchange must be also a knowledge transfer experience for my team.

The IT Team is by far the most critical element of any modern day enterprise, for its structure controls and builds the tools necessary to fuel that enterprise’s objectives.

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