How to Create a Great Technical Team

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I work with a team of magicians. They continually amaze and impress me with innovative ideas and solutions and have earned the respect of both the user community in our organization and with their peers in our industry.

But it wasn't always this way.

That's the one major area where I take the credit as CIO - in creating this team of magic workers. Some of my team were here when I started, others were hired since I arrived. But everyone's job has changed to get the results we do today.

Let me be so bold as to say that this should be on the top of your priority list. Without it, you won't really be able to accomplish all the other things on your list anywhere near as effectively.

At the risk of oversimplifying things, let me give you 5 tips for creating your team of high performers.

1. Know what you need to do.
It is amazing how many CIOs assume their team is providing the right services to its organization - usually because they are the same services they have been providing for the last several years. The world has changed and the services you need to support have changed also. The skills mix you need on your team to support these services have changed as well. When I started in my last two positions I did a complete inventory of all the things we needed to provide from IT. Some would create a Service Catalogue, but a detailed list or MindMap will suffice.

A hint? Talk to your team. They really know the operational things that need to be accomplished.  Many of them likely know the technical, regulatory and workflow details for their respective areas that you will never, ever know.

2. Know who you have to work with. 

Once I had the catalogue of services, I then did an inventory of the skills we had on the team and to no one’s surprise - there was a substantial gap.

Getting this information involved spending time with my key people. In my former organization, I interviewed every full-time person on my team - close to 100 people. Some would call me nuts but the investment of time in doing this paid big dividends later, and is absolutely essential in building a high performing team.

3. Get up close and personal with the HR department.

Now comes the challenge. You need to make sure that all the job descriptions for your team are up to date, and include positions with the needed skills. This may involve creating new positions, eliminating obsolete positions and defining the training and certifications your team will need. If the thought of doing this seems scary and overwhelming, it is… but you'll never have a high performing team if you are not willing to do so.

If job descriptions change, you will likely need to have them reclassified which may result in increased compensation requirements. You may find that you may not be able to negotiate an increase in your salary budget line, but may need to eliminate unnecessary or redundant positions to do so. Nobody likes this side of the equation, but you must be ready to do so if necessary.

You will also need to lobby for training and development dollars. Your team is not about to pick up the required skills learning on their own. Today's IT systems are increasingly complex and require greater depth of knowledge than before.

Don't tell me that it would never happen in your company because I don't know your organization... that your company would never allow this restructuring. I've done it in both unionized and non-unionized environments. It just takes longer. After all, making the right changes is why they hired you as CIO, isn't it?

4. Seek first to develop your existing team, but be ready to hire the talent and skills you need.

This is the stage where it gets interesting. Don't be surprised if you find your team isn't anywhere as excited as you are about all these wonderful changes. IT people are like that.

Make sure that people understand why these changes are necessary. Share your service catalogue and help them see where they fit in. Give them the support they need (including time to take courses and certifications).  Set a reasonable schedule for them to complete their development goals.

Sometimes, there isn't anyone on your staff who has the skills, or is capable of developing the skills you need. You may even have someone who refuses to change. This is where you may need to create a vacant position and unhire some people. You need to work closely with your HR department and do it fairly, with dignity and appropriate process and due diligence to all employment laws. You cannot afford to have team members who are not active contributors in delivering the skills and services your department needs.

This is indeed an emotional last resort, but necessary action. (Note: if letting someone go doesn't bother you, then you should seriously reconsider being a leader. )

5. Release the talent in your team.

This step is difficult for many CIOs. It involves a signficant amount of trust. Ensure you have provided your team with clear expectation of results (e.g. WHAT needs to be done, WHEN it needs to be done by, WHY it is important), but leave the HOW up to them. Be an advisor and coach but not a driver.

Yes, they are going to make mistakes.

Yes, they are going to do things differently than you.

Yes, you will need to let them get the credit for their accomplishments.

Yes, you will likely have to stand in front of the President and defend them.

But without your trust, your team is hobbled.

I realize that these few words convey a lot of work, much energy, and call on every one of your strategic and management skills and certainly won't be accomplished overnight. I can speak from experience in watching my team perform and deliver solutions and services that are helping our organization succeed.


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