Despite well-documented hiring challenges in IT roles, many organizations have found ways to staff the talent they need. One way – which we have noted before – is to train employees internally. By helping team members develop skills and build motivation, technology leaders at the highest levels can help fill immediate openings and create a talent pipeline for future needs.
The benefits of training and motivation go far beyond hiring though, and should always shape leadership approaches. It’s no secret that highly-motivated teams perform well, as do those that continually develop skills and talent. Whether in technology, finance, healthcare or any other industry, training and motivation are critically important at all levels of leadership.
For technology roles specifically, collaboration within teams, demonstrated value for employees and freedom to innovate are key parts of building motivated and skilled IT teams. It’s tempting to think of technology positions – whether at lower or senior levels – as highly individualized, but the best technology leaders encourage collaboration and interactions within their teams. In addition, many leaders approach their relationships with employees with shared value in mind to drive personal investment in team success. Finally, giving employees freedom to experiment (within reason) is an important strategy as well, since it encourages experimentation and creativity.
On one level, the benefits of collaboration as a business principle are obvious to many. Nearly every good business leader recognizes the importance of pursuing projects with the resources of an entire team, and leaders who work well with each other are the best equipped to handle any number of challenges. However, it’s still worth pointing out the importance of collaboration in IT functions specifically, because this is a field in which working together isn’t always the industry standard. In short, full cooperation can be harder to come by in technology functions.
Even if it isn’t the industry standard, encouraging collaboration within teams is an important strategy for technology leaders because it will ensure better results and improve internal relationships. In addition, the more that team members work together effectively, the more invested each individual will be in successful results. Writer Scott Edinger, in an article on IT collaboration, noted, “On one very effective team I observed, for instance, software engineers were particularly deft at dividing up tasks in a way that would help the group reach the company’s goals the fastest.” Edinger also concluded that cooperation and collaboration were often more important to success than raw talent, demonstrating that these goals should always be top priorities.
Another avenue for collaboration and motivation is celebration of team success. While the best leaders most likely already reward strong performances, it’s worth considering dedicating a specific time to public recognition and celebration. Curt Carver, CIO for the University of Alabama at Birmingham, wrote, “Each month, I host an all-hands “Praise and Progress” meeting for our IT department,” claiming that this event builds collaboration both within his team and across the entire university. While monthly meetings such as this one might not be ideal or even feasible everywhere, the principles behind Carver’s strategy apply to every IT team. Publicly celebrating and recognizing success helps form strong motivational bonds.
Building Value for Everyone
Technology leaders can also benefit from treating professional relationships with team members as partnerships that lend shared value. This approach helps skill development by driving individual feelings of investment in organizational success. In addition, employees who feel that they are growing professionally as part of a team will produce better results. As technology leaders demonstrate that they are invested in success both at a group and individual level, they will put their teams in the best possible situation organizationally.
Specifically, technology leaders should focus on demonstrating that their employees can contribute real value to their teams while developing their own skills. Like many other leadership principles, the best ways to carry out this objective may vary significantly by industry and company, but the benefits will be obvious everywhere. Employees always want to make a difference, and people who recognize the value of their work (and that their employers appreciate that work) will be more motivated. By sharing goals with teams and demonstrating how individual efforts affect these goals, technology leaders can build motivation among their teams.
One piece of this strategy that may go unnoticed is the importance of teaching team members new skills and allowing them to take on increasing responsibility over time. We have written before on the importance of training existing employees to fill talent shortages, and it’s worth reiterating that greater responsibility at the individual level is a powerful motivational tool. Employees in any industry want to grow their talent and responsibility, and an IT team – provided that there is good collaboration among both leaders and team members – is no different. Fostering an environment that allows for collaboration and skill development is an excellent way to drive involvement and motivation within teams.
One of the most important parts of any good leadership approach is deciding how much to manage the day-to-day activities of IT employees. In many cases, allowing these individuals to experiment and innovate is another way to build collaboration and motivation, even if their efforts don’t always result in immediate success. As long as the freedom to experiment doesn’t negatively affect the most important IT operations, there is a strong case to be made for allowing as much freedom as possible within teams.
Of course, many IT experiments will fail, but some of the best leaders welcome these outcomes. Sven Gerjets, CTO for Mattel, wrote about a concept that he called ‘helpful failure.’ He noted, “Failure at the beginning of a process can be a real positive and a teaching mechanism. It’s okay as long as you learn from it.” Many experiments and attempts at success will not yield the desired results immediately, but allowing freedom to experiment with different processes and ideas can open the door to transformational change in the future. Making sure that employees understand this principle will go a long way toward motivation and continued investment.
The End Result
Taken together, these objectives and tactics are best seen as part of a comprehensive strategy. Building an environment where team members work together will help build motivation and foster skill development on its own, but the dividends will be even greater when combined with the other two approaches here. A cooperative environment where employees feel fully invested in company operations – and that their work makes a real difference toward organizational success – is an ideal workplace. Couple these attributes with an environment where employees feel free to experiment and innovate, and technology leaders can prepare their teams for even more success.
Of course, simply understanding this comprehensive strategy doesn’t guarantee immediate success. Even if the benefits of a collaborative workplace are evident, creating this culture at an organization may be a lengthy, difficult process. If technology leaders who want to create more cooperation work at a business that has neglected these principles, or even actively suppressed them, they will face even more challenges. However, leaders often step into organizations that don’t value group work and efforts, and their ability to change the culture of their organization may be an important metric for success in the long term.
Deciding how much freedom to give to employees is another challenge. Gerjets’ advice to not fear failure is sound, but it’s equally important to make sure that attempts at innovation and experimentation don’t distract from vital company operations and critical goals. Especially for newer leaders, finding the right balance can be both daunting and imprecise at times. However, the benefits of allowing team freedom are still noteworthy.
As difficult as these approaches may be, collaboration, demonstrating shared value and the freedom to experiment all promise significant benefits for the leaders who adopt these tactics. Talent shortages make internal training and skill development important on their own, but these are still valuable objectives no matter what state hiring is in. As long as IT teams are tasked with important goals that drive the bottom line for businesses, making sure that people are motivated and skilled will be vitally important for technology leaders. Building collaboration, developing skills, and allowing room to innovate, create, and occasionally fail are all ways that leaders can help focus their teams on success both now and in the future.