Making teams work

In order for information technology teams to reach their potential, the "business mindset" has to evolve to a new level of trust and a commitment to change.

"Whenever there are more than two people involved in anything, there will be "siding," or a taking of sides, on a given issue. "

Tony Dziedzic

Teamwork is defined as "a cooperative effort by members of a group or team to achieve a common goal." Teamwork can be challenging at times, but there are documented stories of well-honed IT teams that cannot be denied.

What dictates a successful IT team? What makes the good ones tick? What is the "heart" of a team? There are no easy answers but there are some guidelines that, if followed, just might help.

The guiding objective on an IT team is to serve the business process. With that in mind, one must first assemble the full complement of skill sets to identify and address a given need. Through the integration of technology and business, the two worlds are becoming increasingly compatible, and the differences are shrinking daily. The greatest conflict that remains is that, to the IT-oriented, change is normal. In coaching the non-IT team member, the focus is on assimilating change, while the IT professional often must learn to be cognizant and tolerant of another's reaction to change. Balancing the two approaches is critical to the team's success.

IT teams come in all sizes and flavors. Members reflect a multitude of personalities and capabilities, with unlimited motivations, insights, and needs. Project, operation, and development teams typically are most effective when all members' style and strengths define the team's personality. How can you be assured that the team you build has the right chemistry? For a strong start, I suggest looking for the "Five-Es":

For IT teams, the first three E's are minimally required for the operation to achieve its goals. Effort is usually attainable regardless of past performance when the coach or team leader is diligent in getting commitments and confronting members when they are not fulfilled. Expansion and extension, which can be determined only by working with a person, are choices that benefit an individual personally while helping the team. My experience is that if there is a heart (i.e. trust) within the team, a member naturally expands and extends.

How an IT team interacts is key to its yielded results. The team leader needs to trust every member regardless of reputation. As in any relationship, trust is built on mutual understanding, respect, and recognition, and should be encouraged when defining the tasks that will fulfill the team's purpose. Varied personalities impact a team's creativity, but personality should not be a decisive factor in selecting an IT team member. Still, true personality conflicts, when individuals are adamantly opposed for whatever reason, should obviously be avoided in forming teams.

Even when personalities mesh, a team leader must ensure that conflicts are mitigated appropriately. Whenever there are more than two people involved in anything, there will be "siding," or a taking of sides, on a given issue. Where the majority takes a stance, the minority needs to up its effort for its voice to be heard. As an IT team coach, I stress the importance of having a well-defined purpose that is agreed upon up front by all team members. Then, when there is siding, it can be resolved by simply asking which side best serves the team's purpose. The challenging part is when a team member either forgets his or her commitment to the defined purpose, or was not truthful in their commitment.

Team tacks

I have created a concept known as Team Tacks, which I define as "a course of action which minimizes opposition to the attainment of a goal." It is a model that underscores the purpose, vision, and actions necessary for a fruitful team process. A tack is defined for the team by the team along with each team member defining his or her personal tacks. This exercise brings out the best in everyone. Usually there is resistance, but once it gets going, the results can be very rewarding. With each step, the team's heart grows and becomes stronger.

INSERT PULL QUOTE: Whenever there are more than two people involved in anything, there will be "siding," or a taking of sides, on a given issue. <

Here's how one IT team, charged with improving an IT infrastructure, defined its purpose: "to implement the upgrades to hardware and software with only positive effects to the customer." This was printed on 18x24 posters and placed in every department. During this project, conflicts were resolved by referring to how a decision would affect the purpose of the team. There were still disputes, but compromises were easier when the team agreed on the purpose. Another benefit came from user acceptance of the rollout plan, resulting from their knowledge that the project was centered on the well being of their customers.

Just as the team defines its purpose, so should each member. More than the responsibilities outlined in a job description or a project requirements document, the individual's purpose should be a "why-you-go-to-work". In the above scenario, the team leader defined her personal purpose as "to promote an environment that nourishes intuitive leadership." A help desk technician's purpose was "to be a calming, reassuring voice in a chaotic world." When individual and team purpose is in alignment, the heart of the team has a strong beat.

You have the answer, don't you? By now you know that trust is the heart of a team. In order for information technology teams to reach their potential, the "business mindset" has to evolve to a new level of trust and a commitment to change. This gets the team off to a great start. As in any relationship that is centered on trust, a team needs nourishment. It grows by good practices in communication, commitment, and change. But those are issues for another day. //

Anthony R. Dziedzic, located in Phoenix, is an IT team coach with 30 years of experience in IT. He can be reached at Anthony@ITteamcoach.com.






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