I have been in several such situations in the past. Except for one occasion, where I had to put up a new team, in most cases, I had inherited a team that I had to work with. Assessing the worth of each member, re-skilling the team, re-allocating work, mentoring it, and in some rare cases, axing them were some of the challenges I had to face. The team to be created often depended on the culture of the organization and the plans that I made. I also required help from the HR department and the CEO.
Building a team takes time and we need to exercise patience. We may have to make mid-course corrections when things do not turn out the way we want and make amends when the individuals on whom we place our bets do not deliver. Great individuals form great teams but they need to be cohesive and realize that their victory lies in their collective success. Some element of mentoring and addressing matters of emotional stability becomes important. Let us look at the factors for team building:
The first task, in my opinion, is to bring the entire team to a common platform — a position wherefrom each person looks at the same objectives and goals and starts working in the same direction. People have to be told that the progress can be only with collaborative effort.
The skill-sets of some staff members may not be suitable in their current form for the new tasks that we plan. These team members necessarily have to be re-skilled and made capable. For instance, I had once to contend with a bunch of old staffers who had rudimentary skills in SQL programming and therefore I had to undertake a special in-house training course to make them aware of the relational structure, rules of normalizations, and consequences of wrong select statements. They shaped up better and hence could be utilized in software development projects.
Right people in the wrong roles, and vice-versa, is an old refrain. Restructuring of the team is often a good move by which we identify the skills people possess and assign them the roles that suit their temperament. On two occasions, I picked up staff working on development projects and shifted them to infrastructure monitoring and the results were amazing! These boys grew up in confidence and went on to become managers.
All available knowledge and skills are not always available within the organization and therefore induction of fresh talent becomes necessary. It has to be a careful choice and is important to pick up the right person who would work together with the team to achieve goals. In one case, I remember, the CEO asked me to meet a few of my peers in the organization before giving me the appointment letter. He told me that he wanted both, me and the others to feel comfortable.
This is often ignored or not given enough attention. With the ever-changing world around us, especially the world of technology and applications, it is better that people are suitably updated and upgraded to be able to bring new technologies into practice. Regular training sessions are as important as any other measure.
This is an unpleasant task but necessary at times. Though every effort should be made to reform a person, wrong people always create undesirable influences and are therefore detrimental to team working. It is important in such cases to either relocate them to some other function or ask them to seek opportunity elsewhere.
In summary, it takes considerable effort to build a good team and also takes us that much time to do so. But once the team assumes a proper shape, the work atmosphere turns exhilarating. People enjoy working together and the productivity jumps several folds. It is a utopian situation and is a fun when it works.]]>
In the next organization I was fortunate to have a small but a good team and I added a few more based on our projected plans. As we slowly built up systems, people got involved and worked together to achieve success. Having tasted success, they wanted to do more and joined hands to scale greater heights. I could then sense the synergy in the group and general positivity which was wonderful.
It is said that there is no better way to learn than by experience. Experience showed me the magic of team dynamics and the importance of having the right people together. It is pertinent to quote Jim Collins from his book “Good to Great’. He says: “First get the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figure out where to drive it.” He lays emphasis on the having the right people with you even before you begin your journey. Wrong people in the group may destroy teamwork, damage morale, and spread inefficiency and discontent.
Thumbs up to team work
Now let us look at the advantage that comes with having the right people in your team.
(a) Great teamwork: People feel comfortable working with each other and create a supportive environment. There is synergy in the group and the output often exceeds the targets set. You have self-managed and self-motivated people who need no supervision.
(b) High morale: The positive work environment ups the morale of the team and people feel excited and enthusiasm is palpable. People are self-driven and do not look for incentives.
(c) Quality of work and delivery: People put their hearts into the work and the result is high quality of work and timely execution. Committed individuals and the team practice self-supervision and ensure quality delivery.
(d) Better image of the function: Such enthusiasm is infectious and slowly rubs off on people they come in contact with. People from other functions love to engage with them and the image of the IT department is thus enhanced.
(e) Better connect with the management: When projects are rolled out successfully and the user departments express satisfaction, the message gets carried on to the management. I was in one such situation and the result was that all the further proposals by me got approved quickly and without much questioning (and that made other people envious!?)
(f) Delivery on time: We know most IT projects face hurdles and get delayed. However when right people work in a team, each person pulls his weight and delivers projects on time as the honor of the team is at stake.
(g) Personal bonding: People learn to respect one another and matters like seniority and hierarchy recede to the background. Informal get-togethers and social bonding are not uncommon.
How to build a team
Building the right team is a challenge and to be honest I have been able to build up such a team in only four of the seven organizations I have worked with. Getting the right people on the bus and offloading the wrong ones is easier said than done. Let me deal with this subject in my next article.]]>
Coming from the era of ‘command and control’, we often commandeer the staff and lead them as we move along. We pass instructions and we expect them to obey. We think it is our role to think and strategize and it is duty of the staff to execute and carry out instructions given to them. This may sound demeaning but we do act that way many a time.
This approach obviously has negatives. We are pressured and where the staff does not perform as desired, we are left to face the user and even though we may make all those excuses and shift blame, the user is unhappy. There are times when staff and managers do not begin work in your absence and wait for you to come and give instructions. Staff does not participate or add value – they merely do what they are told.
Not a very happy situation, or is it? What if in my absence my manager takes an initiative, solves a problem and saves the situation? We come back and discover that someone has filled up for us. Won’t we like to encourage people who are knowledgeable, competent and who take initiative?
To ensure that IT staff stands up to perform on various occasions, I have to ensure that they have the right knowledge and competence to tackle various problems. Developing them can be in various forms. One is to send them for technical training courses or even certification courses. They learn new skills and develop greater insights into the requisite technical area that they are supposed to deal with in office.
Another way could be encouraging them to attend various vendor events / product launches and other seminars. This opens them up to new developments and also gives them a chance to network with people from other organizations.
It is also a great idea to introduce the concept of periodic departmental meetings where the IT head first shares the IT strategy drawn up, plan/ budget for the year and also reviews the progress of various projects. This way the staff can understand the overall direction of the function and can also get to know of going-ons in the department.
One great learning was the concept of creating a ‘teaching and learning community’ as taught to me by an HR colleague many years ago. Here, each person is encouraged to read thoroughly about a subject of his choice and then take a session to tell others what he learnt. This encourages learning and creates a certain enthusiasm in the function.
Technical skills by themselves are not adequate to equip IT staff to deal with any situation. Some soft skills are also critical for their success. There are many skills that can make them grow up in confidence. I have seen people blossom after they had gone for courses like communication skills, leadership programs, negotiation skills, team building exercises, creativity and innovation programs, etc.
Impact of education
It must be said that as people move towards developing their wholesome personalities, they turn out to be real assets for the department. There have been times when I would deliberately move out of a situation so that the next in line learns to handle a difficult situation on his own. There have been times when my managers would ask me to relax when on leave, saying that they would handle things in my absence and wanting me back, fresh after a good vacation.
Many of the managers who had worked with me in the past are now full-fledged CIOs on their own and are making news. Little did I understand that they were professionals of great potential and once encouraged they could go on to achieve great heights.]]>
Extracting time for oneself
Now if a CIO devotes so much of his time in keeping the ‘lights on’, he would be neglecting his need to grow and develop. Rather than portraying himself as a victim, he should extract some time for himself.
There are many ways that he could accomplish that. He can develop a clear plan and schedule all his major activities in conjunction with the organizational priorities and user-requirements. Once the plans are agreed upon with the management, he could concentrate on major projects and refuse to take up ad-hoc work that is often thrust upon him. That could release a lot of time otherwise spent on many of these miscellaneous activities.
The CIO can delegate work by developing his managers and takes care of planning and monitoring. He should, in fact, outsource some of the routine activities and follow-up so that these tasks do not take time of his managers and himself. These and other measures could release time that he can use on himself.
Balance between ‘P’ and ‘PC’
Stephen Covey, in his book ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, speaks of the balance between ‘P’ (production) and ‘PC’ (productive capacity). If an individual keeps delivering or producing, he would get accolades; but there would come a time when he is asked to deliver more, he runs out of ideas. A more accomplished person in this situation would apply innovation or new methods or technology to come out an appropriate solution. Now, where will the conventional manager stand if he falls short of what is expected of him?
Importance of self improvement
It is therefore very important that while we take care of our day-to-day performance, we also take out time to develop and equip ourselves for the future. The question often asked is ‘how much time should I allocate to development’ – the answer would depend on every individual and to each situation. Whether we practice 80:20 or 70:30, it is important that we consciously keep working on our development and make ourselves relevant for the future for otherwise we may lose out in the world of new order.
There are various ways that we can recharge ourselves. What we have studied in our engineering, science or other disciplines in our college gets outdated over a period of time and may be not as relevant in changed times.
We have therefore to learn new technologies, new management methods, new ideas and new solutions. One way is to enroll ourselves in academic courses – I have seen people joining management courses, either by leaving their jobs to do full time courses or obtaining degrees by attending up evening classes or through correspondence courses. The added qualification and confidence help them in going up higher.
I have seen a few others attending events and professional seminars where they keep themselves abreast of the new developments and get in synchronization with contemporary methods. Some enroll in short executive development courses of management institutions and become more knowledgeable. Some others join certification courses and learn to use the technologies better.
Such an individual, therefore, is constantly working upon himself to get better and develops additional capability to take him up to higher levels and the makes him eligible for taking up higher responsibilities. Learning never stops in life and the higher that he goes, the more he will have to learn.