Five ways to build a happy and engaged team

Managers should develop their teams, not just lead them. Here's how.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

"IT professionals must get out from behind their desks and focus on talking with people in other departments in the organisation," says CIO Chris White.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Every CIO can help their staff make the most of their abilities. "I don't think it's rocket science - in fact, it's quite simple," says Chris White, CIO at global law firm Clyde & Co.

White is a firm believer in the responsibility of the CIO to encourage skills development: "As a CIO, you have to do more than simply build a team. There's an initial step that precedes everything else, which is about recognising what the firm needs in terms of technology.

"Once you've got an idea of the systems and services that are required, you can build out the capability to deliver the technology."

He talks with ZDNet about his best practice tips for IT staff development and project delivery.

1. Conduct the orchestra

After seven years as CIO of legal firm Ashurst, White spent a few years in consultancy and interim IT leadership positions. He joined Clyde & Co in June 2013. Initially joining in an interim capacity, White helped the firm to establish its IT strategy. Staff development has been key.

"Understand the skills you need clearly and the sort of people you require in each of the seats in your department," he says, referring to internal IT capability. "I always centre on developing complimentary skills and allowing people to work in a supportive environment."

White says he tries to avoid an autocratic approach and likes to think of himself as the conductor of an orchestra. "I believe in employing great people and then allowing them to do their work in a professional manner," he says.

"It's not possible for me as the CIO to do the work of other people in the IT department. If I'm doing someone else's job, then that individual isn't working to the best of their ability and my company isn't benefiting from the investment they've made in my leadership skills."

2. Get the right people

White says a successful IT department involves much more than securing the services of skilled workers with strong technical knowledge. "I don't need people who are just specialist technologists -- that's not enough. Great IT workers are more rounded," he says.

Successful CIOs, says White, are able to attract people with the right mind-set. Rather than drawing on experts in a particular system or service, CIOs need staff members who are prepared to step out of their comfort zones. Strong communication across the IT department and out into the business is essential.

"Technology teams cannot work in isolation. IT professionals must get out from behind their desks and focus on talking with people in other departments in the organisation. The people I look for are very competent in terms of technology," says White.

"My CTO, for example, is a very strong technologist and my head of programme management is great at running projects. But part of their role is also to provide valuable input into the overall leadership of IT. They need to be able to lead their teams and to help communicate the benefits of IT to the rest of the business."

3. Keep people interested

White says the creation of a shared vision, and shared responsibility of that concept, is very important. "Your people need to understand what you are trying to achieve at quite an intimate level," he says.

"In everything I do, I refer back to our vision all the time. If someone suggests a new piece of IT work, I always ask how that project will help us to achieve our overall objective for the business. I think that's incredibly important -- and everyone in the IT department must be similarly focused on the vision."

White says individual elements within a strategic approach can change because of new advances in technology. But overall, the key vision remains constant: a single, global IT strategy. "And for us, that's about providing access to any system on any device at any time and from any location, with 24/7 support," he says.

"We have more than 3,000 people working for Clyde & Co, who might have little understanding about technology. If we talk in technical terms, we risk losing people. A clear vision provides something that everyone can understand. It paints a picture of what good looks like for everyone across the organisation."

4. Ensure everyone knows their role

Strategy setting, says White, is about much more than broad business matters. Individual goals are critical, too. "You need to help people understand how they can contribute to the journey," he says. "People need to feel that their role makes a difference, wherever they sit in the organisational hierarchy."

White says constant communication is crucial. He runs a global IT leadership team meeting at least once a quarter. The technology department comes together and discusses the progress that has been made.

"It's vital as a CIO that you ensure that each individual in your team feels part of the wider process. I want every person in my IT team to feel confident to go out into the business and talk about the technology story," says White.

"We're doing some very exciting things here and a great amount of change is taking place. With the right leadership and payment structures, you can get people involved in some great work and create a happy workforce."

5. Refine the message

White says that staff development always remains a work in progress. He refers back to when he joined Clyde & Co in 2013, where he questioned why the organisation was running such old technology. The response was that the technology team had not been given the money to invest in new systems.

"My response was that the people in charge of IT previously had clearly not made a compelling business case. When I go to the board, I don't talk about servers, storage, and networks. I talk, instead, about the return on investment and the value that an investment in new technology is going to create for the business," he says.

"I talk about the vision -- and that's the kind of conversation that excites people sitting around the table. When you focus on value creation, you get the money to invest in new technology."

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