"When you face a crisis, you know who your true friends are." This axiom resonated with me over this last year. During this time, we have all grown to know who the true leaders are. These leaders have continued to focus upon selecting and building effective teams. And no place has this been harder than in IT organizations. So what do CIOs think about leadership and team building?  

Giving Team Selection and Building the Appropriate Attention

CIOs believe selecting and building teams are core elements of a successful leader’s toolkit. On the selecting side of the equation, former CIO Ken LeBlanc said, “I think we all need to remember that interviewing and selecting takes time and a planned approach. More importantly, rushing through this process often leads to a less desirable outcome. For this reason, we need to make time to do things properly.” I couldn't agree more. I learned this the hard way when rushing through the selection of a sales leader for one of my startups. If you are working too hard to close someone, it is not meant to be.

Former CIO Tim McBreen added, “I have never had an executive leader say anything other than pick the best people. They have always left the doing so to me. I usually concentrate on A players for architecture, information, security and mobility leads along with product management. I then fill out with B players and remove/replace C players.” CIO Deb Gildersleeve said, “it is a hard thing finding great talent. There aren’t enough people. So, we focus on what we can do with technology to help teams currently in place as well as hiring for potential.”

While agreeing with Gildersleeve, CIO Sharon Pitt continued, “in terms of selecting, I would say yes ... each leader seeks to find the absolute best person for a role. I believe that we also should seek to address diversity, equity and inclusion though the process as well.” Pitt added, “with regards to building ... also sustaining ... that's the work of each leader as well as leaders working with each other. Building and sustaining are about technical skill as well as communication, collaboration, customer service and relationship building skills."

Development clearly is key then — both on the business side, but also in choosing people who seek to develop themselves. For CIOs, most enter with a fully staffed team. For this reason, Paige Francis said, “the focus becomes assessing, shifting, investing-to-grow and repeat.” Former CIO Ben Haines agreed, “this was a number one priority for my VP’s at Verizon Media.” Former CIO Tim Crawford offered a different take on the topic, “IT team development is such a challenging space to navigate for both the candidate and leader. Personality dynamics and culture are more important than innate skills.”

Related Article: How the CIO and CHRO Will Rethink Employee Experience Together

How Do You Help Managers Build Teams Founded on Diversity?

Phil Wahba wrote in Fortune Magazine, "Business leaders have long been saying the right things about racial inclusion with only modest improvements to show for it."

Diversity remains a challenge in most organizations. As former CIO Joanna Young said, “it is easy to value diversity, it's harder to practice and do it. Leaders must insist upon [diversity, equity and inclusion] DEI at all levels and roles.” Several CIOs mentioned the importance of making commitments to achieving DEI. In his article, Wahba goes so far as to suggest that organizations need to link DEI goals with leader's compensation.

In terms of delivering, CTO Allan Chen said, “the first step is for IT leaders to understand. There are some specific tactics around hiring for potential versus experience." CIO Martin Davis said, “IT leaders need to be aware and avoid biases, ensure that we are hiring for ability, skills, potential etc. not for some form of cultural or ethnic fit.”

"IT leaders shouldn’t waste an opportunity to move the needle. They need to give a chance to interesting candidates," said Francis. The changes of the last year provides an opportunity said Gildersleeve. “This is huge — especially now as we look to a hybrid work model — where you don’t have to be physically in the same space as the office. You can truly focus on the most diverse, talented teams out there without any geographical constraints.”

Related Article: One Year After the Pandemic Started, Our Companies Are at a Crossroads

Learning Opportunities

Ensure Everyone Is Comfortable, Effective and Heard

CIOs had a number of suggestions on how to create psychological safety in the workplace, including organizing meetings so everyone could provide input, working with their teams to ensure they are inclusive and respectful to everyone and having IT leaders interacting with everyone on their teams, not just a limited few. Individuals on the team need to feel comfortable to thoughtfully call out challenges — for themselves or their team members. Pitt here suggests that CIOs look for opportunities for "organic inclusion."

Clearly, leading starts today with personal awareness. With this in hand, CIOs need to lead by example and check their own bias. Former CIO Isaac Sacolick said, “it’s basic but simple things like if notes need to be taken don’t ask the only female in the room.”  also suggested, “parts of meetings should be open so that everyone is open and asked to contribute and then transition to decisions where facilitators and decision-makers finalize action items and decisions. This sets the organizational tone and encourages participation.”

Leaders, according to Francis, "need to be inclusive, listen to participants and acknowledge their thoughts and ideas. I had a boss once that belittled everything I said publicly. He then stole all my ideas and took credit for my work to move up. This was a totally backhanded confidence builder for me.” Leaders should work to make sure people feel valued and heard. Effective leaders make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak. If they see someone is trying to speak, but get interrupted, bring it back to them. Personally, I am adding this to my toolkit."

Should You Have Team-Centric Goals?

CIOs had different opinions on team-centric goals. Some are considering this approach and felt it was a great idea — in theory. But Young said, “all employees should have goals regarding behaviors that support team effectiveness and growth.” Haines added, “the OKR process helps take care of this.”

Sacolick goes further and suggested that, “CIOs define team-centric goals around delivering business impact and meeting acceptance criteria, principles and standards that create guard rails on how work is done, individual goals should be tied to learning, development, behaviors, and leadership.” Pitt agreed, saying, “I have always found having and assessing team goals to be a helpful part of individual appraisal and the organization.” This includes for her “how are you contributing to defined IT strategic goals, DEI goals, and overall organizational positivity.”

How Should CIOs Measure Themselves?

When I was at HP Software, I created an IT-balanced scorecard product for CIOs. One quadrant measured how well IT was learning and growing. CIOs said they would include improvements in the following areas on their scorecards:

  • Meeting of DEI target goals.
  • Employee satisfaction.
  • Employee turnover.
  • Employee engagement.
  • Results from learning objectives.

Francis said, “after a year of being socially-distanced, aside from the traditional statistics, do we still enjoy each other? Is there camaraderie woven into our hard work and execution? I saw that yesterday and it made my heart smile. That’s enough for now. I always fear that some might not recognize why the fit feels right for mirror-image candidates.” Francis continued by saying, “being team-centric and instilling that in my teams is one of my individual goals — it’s also my biggest superpower as well.”

Parting Thoughts

Without a question, this has been a challenging year for all leaders. Now is when we can hopefully start to grow again and build the team and its ability work together. As Tom Peters wrote in “In Search of Excellence,” our teams consist of people “waiting for motivation.” It is time for CIOs to lead again and this starts by selecting, building and motivating their teams.

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