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What a Successful Team Looks Like in the Digital Age

Chris Jacobs, Director of Certifications, VIRL and delivery, Cisco Systems
Chris Jacobs, Director of Certifications, VIRL and delivery, Cisco Systems

Chris Jacobs, Director of Certifications, VIRL and delivery, Cisco Systems

As if it were not already hard enough to attract and retain top IT talent, along comes the global digitalization trend. Going digital reshapes every aspect of an organization, including how teams are brought together and led. It’s tough to find IT professionals in general, but it is especially tough to find those with enough of the digital-ready skill sets that organizations now demand.

Seventy-three percent of business leaders cite a lack of key digital skills as one of their biggestconcerns, as reported in the 18th annual Global CEO Survey from PwC. And McKinsey’s Cracking the Digital Code survey found that a lack of talent was respondents’ top challenge in meeting priorities for digital projects.

What it takes to build a team

The team must function fast and well. It must be designed to deliver on its purpose. Responsibilities and accountabilities have to be aligned clearly so that members understand their roles and their deliverables. If you have a product manager here, and a product manager there, everyone must understand what the distinction is between those two roles and each role’s function. Your team has to see the alignment so each member can contribute to and deliver what the customer is looking for.

  ​Remember that skilled people drive successful projects 

An unusual but highly effective approach to team creation is to think about purpose, not people.

Instead of thinking about who will be on your team, consider the organization’s alignment, the delivery and the execution. Then work back from there. Ask yourself, “Who are the right people to make it happen?” Start from the map. Use it to build a strategy, a design that functions well. Then you begin putting in the people.

Here is why this method of team creation works: Beginning a project that has the people already in place often makes it more challenging to handle the difficult personnel and other decisions that are an unavoidable part of managing any team. When I had to make organizational changes, I knew that I would face tough choices. You need on your team the people who have bought into the vision that you established at the outset. They are the ones who will make that vision a reality. If you don’t have that crucial buy-in from team members, you will encounter a lot of resistance. That is why you add the people after the roadmap in place to give them the chance to sign on from the start.

Creating a pipeline

Casting a vision that people can get behind is one thing; finding the people is another. According to the latest Randstad workplace study, HR executives report the average time to fill a non-executive position is 2.6 months; a leadership role takes five months. On average, companies said they are 13 percent understaffed.

Employee retention is just as tricky. The Randstad study found 41 percent of companies surveyed cited rising turnover rates. And they said 70 percent of employees who left did so due to a better offer elsewhere. Three in 10 employees are likely to leave their employer within the next two years, according to the 2016 Willis Towers Watson Global Talent Management and Rewards survey.

In this buyer’s market, it is crucial to know where the top talent is. These individuals rarely, if ever, just show up in your office. People are no longer “lifers” at any one company, either. As the studies show, they have options, and they are going to weigh those options carefully.

Top talent is marked by an entrepreneurial mindset. Look for individuals who are resourceful and want to learn. People willing to do things outside their comfort zone. These are the kind of people who can make a difference for your organization.

Once your entrepreneurial team is assembled, there is additional opportunity to both engage them and draw in other talented individuals. Ask team members who they know and who might be a good fit for the team; birds of a feather tend to flock together. It’s all about building that pipeline and continuing to build it.

Designing teams for digital success

Because teams are so important to the success of an organization, take the time you need to do it well. It may take months to think about the design and about who the right team members are. If you are making these decisions to fit your strategy and map the personnel to the needs of the team, the process is more successful. Ultimately, it is all about execution.

Remember that skilled people drive successful projects. IDC’s survey on the impact of training on projects found that teams with average skills—5 on a scale of 0 to 10—attain fewer than 50 percent of their project objectives. But just a small hike in skills, up to 7 on the scale, boosts project success to 75 percent of objectives completed.

With that in mind, create a strategy to teach additional skills as the need arises. If you have chosen your team well, their entrepreneurial minds will be all too willing to learn new skills. This not only supplies the organization with an even stronger talent bench but also encourages retention. Employees who feel supported in their career goals are more likely to stay put. This will reduce turnover and narrow the talent gap, furthering the possibility of success in the digitized world.

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