Blessed are the geeks, for they shall inherit the earth. In August 2013 Inferno, a U.K.-based advertising agency, released the results of a survey which suggest that twice as many people associate the word “geek” with being “cool and chic” rather than “boring and unattractive”. This finding is important as it affects how you lead your team.
Behind the stereotype of the nerdy, bookish engineer are often individuals with the ability to engage and influence people across the organization. Your role is to nurture the potential of your team, supporting, protecting and promoting what they can do.
Issuing creative license
Creativity. Is this something that comes to mind when you think of your IT team?
Consider what they can achieve. Engineers are designers and crafters. Watch them at work as they turn a (frequently vague) set of requirements into a functional, enduring and often-beautiful solution. Furthermore, during the process they will have refined and tuned the resultant product.
Nurture creativity by laying down appropriate boundaries when setting goals. Explain to your team the “what” (the objective) and the “why” (the strategic goal or operational imperative) while leaving the “how” (the method of achievement) up to them. Respect them for the creativity and talent they bring, not just their output.
The solution will be superior and the team will feel valued for what they produce.
Applying brain power
Intelligence. It may be taken for granted that the members of your IT team are smart. However, their collective brain power may be assumed to be good only for tasks such as churning out working code or load-balancing web servers.
Challenge this assumption with a simple exercise. Take members of your team to a problem solving session being run by another department. Ask them to come up with their own way of addressing the problem.
You’ll find that they adapt quickly as they are used to being challenged with matters outside of their functional domain. An IT professional will look for patterns and cause-and-effect. They will break a problem down to its component parts. They will experiment, ideate and collaborate with others in the organization.
It is not just what they can do, it is the different angle they take which makes them effective.
Humor. How funny is your IT team?
Watch a few episodes of The Big Bang theory and you’ll get the drift. Humor is endearing; it makes your team more approachable. As Jacquelyn Smith noted in her March 2013 article in Forbes, a good sense of humor promotes teamwork, reduces stress, increases productivity and boosts morale.
As their leader you will need to maintain an environment that balances their humor with the quiet, focused solitude that they need to work their craft.
Feeling the zeal
Passion. Few kids grow up wanting to be an accountant, compliance auditor or project manager. Technology is another story. Initiatives such as Robogals and Code.org are a response to the fascination that technology holds for many people from an early age.
Your team can be evangelists for positive, break-through change in your organization. Encourage this by coaching them on how to inspire and communicate with their peers in plain language. Show them how to focus their energy outwards to their professional community, and watch as it becomes infectious.
If you love them, set them free
As your team continues to mature and interest in their achievements grows, keep in mind three things:
- Other department leaders will see what your team can do and will coax individuals to leave your team and join them. Don’t stand in their way. It is their career, not yours. Welcome the fresh insight and energy that new team members will bring.
- You still have services and solutions to deliver. Set clear goals for scheduled work while carving out time for your team to generate ideas and experiment.
- Promote what your team is able to do. Find ways to showcase the tangible outcomes of the work, linking this to the behaviors and capabilities of team members.
As the credibility of your team and their ways of working grows, so does your own reputation. It is a significant stage on the journey of the future CIO – growing as leader of a clever and humanistic team that your company recognizes as vital to its success.
What are some of the behaviors that your team shows that could really make a difference in your company?
Image: Twentyfour Students