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One Team: Creating a High-Performance Organization

August 20, 2009

The following is the second article in a series called Engaging IT: The Story of One Team.

In the first article in this series, Engaging IT: The Story of One Team, I described the impact of employee satisfaction on team performance. In this second article, I would like to share some insight on transforming solid teams into a high-performance organization. In my experience, an IT organization works best when its leaders strategize effectively, coordinate departments, engage team members, and maintain momentum with communication.

Develop a Good Strategy

An effective strategy is crucial to success. Unfortunately, in IT companies, strategy often suffers from poor development, communication, and/or execution. Several years ago, while leading a client server computing team from ad hoc operations to consistently process-based operations, I discovered that the transition required an inordinate amount of time and energy. However, the time and energy paid off, as I was able to create strategic change that produced more reliable and scalable systems as the business we supported more than doubled in volume.

I learned that a strategy should be relatively simple and clear with a few key components. The strategy must be reinforced frequently over time, or the organization risks losing focus and prematurely shifting to a new strategic priority at the expense of the last one implemented. And, finally, the strategy needs to be embedded into the culture and operation processes of an organization.

Maximize Impact by Integrating Processes

Strategy may make each individual team within the organization good, but to make an organization great, those well-strategized teams have to be coordinated with each other and the business. An important step in moving from good to great is to integrate processes and systems from end to end by disregarding team boundaries. Insisting on the inter-departmental view of efficiency and effectiveness provides untapped potential in most organizations, as I found when I launched an initiative called “One Team.”

“One Team” took an organization of 500 members that senior leadership thought was performing well and helped it perform even better by integrating the IT communication and processes within its departments as well as within the business as a whole. IT employee satisfaction went up, our customer satisfaction scores improved, and projects were more effective because of this effort. At the same time, our organization was more efficient because we didn’t waste effort throwing things over the walls between departments or arguing about whose team was to blame.

Engage the Team Members by Giving Them a Meaningful Role

A clear strategy has been communicated and coordinated among teams, and all involved have a clear objective and focus. However, this is not a guarantee that each team member will feel personally engaged. Employee satisfaction, as I discussed in Engaging IT: The Story of One Team, will significantly impact team performance. Employee satisfaction and what influences it can be difficult to quantify; a good approach towards cultivating it can be found, interestingly, by focusing on its desired outcome—engagement.

People will work hard with creativity and enthusiasm if they believe that they are playing a meaningful part in an important effort. If an organization has both the passion for strategic goals and the strategy to achieve them, it has the foundation for the important effort people are searching for. Integrating teams and departments into larger processes gives you the chance to demonstrate to every employee how he or she impacts the corporate objectives, and you give the team the reason and the motivation to engage. In a wonderful example of win-win, by taking care of the two previous factors of high-performance, you secure the third factor of individual engagement.

Maintain Momentum with Communication

Now that the organization strategizes effectively, operates its departments in a coordinated manner, and engages its team members enthusiastically, how do we, as leaders, maintain the momentum? The most important element is communication—up, across, and within. As the IT leader, communicating up and across the organization ensures that the IT strategy is aligned with the business strategy and lets the rest of the organization know what to expect from IT. Communicating within the IT organization ensures the strategy is consistently understood and consistently prioritized.

A clear strategy that is consistently reinforced across departments and within an organization will provide a foundation for a success. Communicating the strategy across teams and departments helps integrate teams into larger processes and ensures that team members are engaged. Maintaining communication will build and maintain a level of credibility and trust that will become embedded in the organization’s culture. This same communication will help eliminate and reduce problems and pave the way for a long-term reputation of maximizing performance in your organization.

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