A commitment to collaboration is an essential trait for both technology and line of business leaders. Not only is cooperation at the highest executive levels important for high-profile technology initiatives, but it is also vital for greater organizational success. From proper allocation of resources to effective planning, working together is one of the best ways to meet objectives across all company operations.
With this importance in mind, it’s worth identifying concrete ways that technology leaders should collaborate with their peers to drive the results that both parties need. Nearly every good leader today agrees on the importance of working together, but finding the best ways to share information, strategies or anything else that will facilitate cooperation is often a difficult process. Specific factors may affect the viability of cooperative strategies in some organizations, but there are some general principles that will apply nearly everywhere.
Technology and line of business leaders can best drive collaboration by working on projects with shared responsibilities, encouraging creativity and cross-team cooperation and respecting the knowledge of others. Approaching projects and initiatives with a shared responsibility in mind will help drive motivation and involvement from everyone involved. Additionally, by encouraging creativity within their teams and across functions, leaders can identify collaborative solutions and ideas for both the present and the future. Finally, sharing the right information and respecting others’ expertise allows each leader to best exercise his or her talents for any given situation.
One of the best ways to ensure collaboration between different functions of an organization is to create specific projects and plans that involve both technology functions and other operations. Engaging in specific plans is key to ensuring cooperation at both the executive and team-member levels and ensures that groups will continue to work together for at least a set amount of time. In addition, this strategy gives shared responsibility to leaders from both groups, creating high stakes and involvement for everyone. Without specific plans, collaboration may quickly fall out of focus.
We have seen many examples of successful projects with shared responsibility in our interviews with technology leaders. Recently, Calvin Rhodes from the Georgia Technology Authority spoke about some of his most important initiatives. One of his ideas, the Georgia Cyber Center, combines resources from teams and organizations around the state. “We’re working with the university system and the Army to focus on education and training components,” Rhodes told us. “We’ve been successful in starting an ecosystem that brings together technology, government, education and the private sector.” By creating an organization that both draws from and empowers multiple state agencies, Rhodes and his team developed a program that ensures close collaboration and demonstrates the value of a cross-functional approach.
Successful examples show that collaboration is vital at both the planning and implementation stages, drawing lines of responsibility and involvement to the beginning of each project. From this perspective, some thought leaders and experts argue that the term “coauthoring” is the best way to define this process. One study from the Harvard Business Review looked at these ideas as part of a list of leadership principles for technology leaders: “Coauthoring is a step beyond collaboration and alignment, which suggest two separate entities,” the experts argued. “To facilitate coauthoring, Cardinal Health, AT&T, and Walmart have begun to co-locate multifunctional teams that are responsible for specific products or value streams.” Whether at the beginning, middle, or end of a project, it’s important to maintain a focus on involvement and participation between teams and leaders.
Encourage Creativity and Use Skill Sets
Once leaders have brought together different teams for their projects, it’s important that they allow for creative solutions and lean on their teams’ shared expertise and knowledge. By leveraging diverse skill sets within their teams and encouraging creativity, executives from both IT and line of business functions can ensure that they allocate the best talent resources toward their goals. In a situation where multiple teams and leaders have a vested interest in success, allowing for the full creative output of everyone involved will help facilitate the best results.
In a recent article on the specialization of employees, several academics theorized for the Harvard Business Review that employers can benefit from hiring both generalists and specialists. As one might expect, these scholars argued that – while certain industries often require different abilities – employers will benefit from hiring people of multiple skill sets. “There is no one-size-fit-all strategy to promote creativity,” the authors argued. “But our study suggests that leaders should assess how many specialists and generalists they have on their teams.”
While the referenced study isn’t specific to collaboration between line of business and technology functions, its conclusions on skill sets say a great deal about how leaders from both areas should fuel cooperation. Much like people with general or specific talent, employees from IT functions and financial operations (for example) will hold vastly different skills and perspectives. Combining diverse abilities as often as possible will allow leaders to draw upon the full expertise of their organization to spur meaningful change and innovation.
In addition to the principles outlined above, bringing together people from diverse backgrounds for different projects can help drive motivation and involvement. In a marketplace starved for IT talent, this is a valuable strategy to attract the right people for a job. “One difference with our organization is that we have a number of technology initiatives we’re working on,” Karen Bird, CIO for Hooters, told us. “IT people don’t like to be bored. Part of the opportunity and what excites people is having new initiatives to work on.” With a broad set of potential projects that bring people together and excite teams, leaders can expect to drive greater results.
Don’t Overload/Respect Boundaries
Combining people from different backgrounds and encouraging shared both responsibility and ownership will yield results, but leaders should also respect one another’s boundaries. The importance and benefits of collaboration should always inspire open channels of communication between executives and other leaders, but this doesn’t mean opening every single project to anyone or ignoring the experience of leaders in their specific functions. Deciding which projects will benefit from a shared approach and which ones should remain in one specific part of an organization is a skill that leaders will need to employ.
One of the most important elements of this principle is that leaders need to know when to distance themselves from projects that will no longer benefit from their continued involvement. Just as a good CIO knows not to involve himself or herself in every day-to-task of his or her team, leaders who engage in collaborative activities need to know when to let their peers from other parts of an organization take charge. It is always more difficult to make this sort of decision in the middle of a project or plan, but leaders who are able to take a step backward to fully evaluate the best use of their time and talent will set themselves apart from their peers.
Technology leaders should also use common sense when determining which projects most warrant a shared focus. While all aspects of a company stand to gain from a secure network, for example, this type of project would clearly benefit most from a close, unified approach from the technology team. The humility and tactfulness needed to determine when to distance oneself from a project is a key leadership skill for technology executives.
A Path to Success
Even with the words of caution above taken into account, the benefits of collaboration to organizations of any size are incredible. This general principle – of working together to drive the best results – is not unique to technology functions, but it has the potential for truly outstanding results if deployed correctly. The enormous value of successful IT projects pulls this principle into even greater focus. “We’re always looking at initiatives to drive the largest amount of revenue for the company,” Bird told us, “and most of those are technology initiatives.”
Perhaps the greatest evidence of the importance of collaboration is the wealth of stories and examples that we have seen in our interviews with technology leaders. Rhodes and Bird both shared projects with us that have groundbreaking potential, but we have also seen inspirational accounts from leaders like Dennis Yang, of the Motion Picture Association, Beth O’Rorke, of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and many more. These leaders demonstrate the importance of their position and the benefits that strong technology leadership gives to organizations of any size.
The greatest benefit that collaboration and cooperation give to leadership is that this is the best way to unlock the full potential of any organization. Businesses of every size spend a great deal of time identifying ideal candidates for open roles and ensuring that their leadership team is skilled and ready to handle any challenge. By establishing shared responsibility, bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and using common sense to avoid overload, leaders can best position both themselves and their teams for immediate and lasting success.