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Creating & Sustaining Winning IT Teams

By Leon Roberge

Creating and sustaining winning IT teams is multifaceted.  Like professional sports teams, it begins by hiring highly capable professionals.  Considering the current market, this presents challenges as today’s IT professionals may be choosy.  Beyond compensation, a company’s positive and dynamic culture is a vitally important element in security talent.

Pathway to a Winning Culture

Once your team is set, establish awareness for them.  Do they work collaboratively?  Are they self-starters?  Are your team leaders helping (and ideally mentoring) junior staffers?  Affirmative responses to these inquiries will provide IT leaders with a good idea of their team’s winning culture.

Continuously have your ears and eyes open while connecting with your team individually:

• Do they communicate better by phone/video platforms or email?
• Do they prefer space or appreciate it when I occasionally check in?
• What motivates them?
• What demotivates them?

IT teams should have a clear understanding of the nuances of the business.  You can help by bringing them up to speed on current goings-on.  Team meetings present such an ideal time.  This builds all-important trust and buy-in.  If they can’t trust you to give them honest updates about the organization, why would they trust you in other areas?

Bring your successes and failures to the team and share them when it makes sense.  Many times, our best learnings are taught during failures.  Equip your team with these lessons.  Just don’t overwhelm them with too much information.  Keep it high level.

Team Growth & Fulfillment   

Perhaps the best way to create and sustain winning IT teams is to promote your employees’ growth and fulfillment.

• Hold regular staff evaluations to make sure your team’s content in their roles while also underscoring their importance to the company.
• Learn more about their growth plans to elevate their career development.
• You may lose some employees to other organizations due to other factors, but you will ultimately gain their respect.
• Keep in mind these individuals may rejoin your team in higher-level capacities down the road.

This approach is so positive on many levels.

Always make team members understand they’re part of the solution.  Let them know they own the solution.  Though the CIO has veto power, trust your personnel to make decisions.  Communicate their solutions across the department and to key company stakeholders.  This is empowering to the solution developer as well as the team.  It’s also a key element in building a strong and cohesive team.

For any IT leader to succeed, his or her team must also be successful.  If a CIO has been hired as an instrument of change that individual needs to understand the lay of the land.  It’s up to you to analyze and determine what changes will be successful and manageable to ensure your IT team is part of the solution.

Throughout my career, I have utilized this approach to win over and mentor new teams, which ultimately led to success for the business.  Conversely, I have seen leaders come in guns blazing because they believe their way is better and perhaps there was a success in the past elsewhere.

You need to make sure you understand the business and listen to your staff to truly understand some of its inner workings.  Many businesses are different from one another.  What works at one, may not work at another.

With any team – corporate, academic, governmental or even organized sports – you may have with a dissenter or two.  Coach them.  Listen to their issues and establish if they are valid.  Also, find out how valuable they are to the business and work to make sure they understand how important they are to the team.

Though when all else fails, move quickly to make hard changes.  You must balance the team, so they understand that they need be part of the solution.  If not, the next person will.

Like everyone else, leaders also need guidance.  Choose people you trust who have provided helpful advice in the past.  Fortunately, I have such individuals in my life.  Among them are members of our executive leadership team.  I ask for their thoughts on what has worked and what hasn’t.

One primary lesson is, don’t rush or force change.  This helps no one.  It only places undue pressure on yourself while probably frustrating your team in the process.

Like all great leaders across history (think Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr.), they instilled such immense loyalty, trust and hope within others through authenticity, knowledge and honest, continuous communication.  While I’m hardly in this category, I’ve found such a similar approach is very effective in shaping winning IT teams.

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