How can CIOs and IT executives help their teams be more productive (besides providing them with free food)? Here are the top 11 tips — from CIOs, IT executives, productivity and leadership experts and project managers — for getting the most out of your IT team.
1. Set goals — and be “Agile.” “Be Agile in your goal setting,” says Zubin Irani, cofounder & CEO, cPrime, a project management consulting company. “Have the team set goals for the quarter — and break the work into smaller chunks that they can then self-assign and manage.”
2. Communicate goals, expectations and roles from the get-go. “Provide your team with background information and the strategic vision behind [each] project, activity, task, etc.,” says Hussein Yahfoufi vice president, Technology & Corporate Services, OneRoof Energy, a solar finance provider. “Not only does providing more background and information motivate employees more, [it makes them] feel more engaged.”
“Everyone on the team should know what the target is that they are shooting for and what success looks like at the end of their journey,” adds Tony McClain, executive partner and client advisor, Geneca, a custom software developer.
“They must be crystal clear on the part they play in [the project] and how they will help the team get to the finish line,” McClain says. “It is critically important that every member of the team know and understand what they are a part of and why they exist as it relates to your organization.”
3. Provide tools and and infrastructure that promote collaboration and efficiency. “This is basically the cardinal rule for any IT manager,” says Wes Wright, CIO, Seattle Children’s Hospital. “Even the best team is only as effective as its resources and systems that they use day to day,” he says. “If you want to get the most out of your IT team, invest in the proper tools. Deploy incredibly secure, yet user-intuitive solutions that will cut down on manual hours and improve accuracy in identifying network problems.”
“Implement a structure that gives shared visibility and metrics to development and IT teams, so the health of an application [or project] is easily viewed by both teams once operational, and issues can be resolved more rapidly,” says Andi Gutmans, CEO, Zend, which helps companies develop and deliver mobile and Web apps rapidly.
“Having technology resources that allow communication across branch offices/locations when working on a cross-office project is a must,” adds Aaron Weiss, director of Marketing, HP LaserJet and Enterprise Solutions. “IT managers and CIOs [should be able to easily] share project status reports or information updates … via cloud document management systems that allow teams to easily provide updates to the status document.”
Furthermore, “CIOs can improve the organization’s efficiency by implementing a platform-agnostic solution to let users sync important work files and access them from any device, anywhere, anytime,” notes Ross Piper, vice president of Enterprise Strategy at Dropbox.
4. Streamline workflow — and reduce unnecessary tasks. “Teams want to deliver big things and sometimes we just need to eliminate the barriers,” says Charles Galda, CIO, IT Technology Centers and Services, GE Capital. “We have a program called TAP (Technology Accelerating Productivity) that gives simple tips on how to use technology better, from finding the best time for a global meeting across time zones, to getting travel logistics to Outlook seamlessly,” he says.
“We have another initiative to continually review manager approvals, notifications, etc., so we know when they no longer add value and can be eliminated. Eliminating unnecessary steps keeps employee momentum moving forward, making us faster and more agile in responding to customers,”
Furthermore, ask yourself — and have your department heads ask themselves, “Is every form, report, status update, email, memo and meeting really necessary?” says Steven A. Lowe, Founder/CEO, Innovator LLC, which provides custom software development, IT consulting and IT staffing.
“If a task to be done does not obviously and directly contribute to the goal at hand, see if it can be simplified or omitted,” Lowe says. And “ask the team for suggestions on ways to streamline the processes and what still-necessary tasks could be done by others.”
5. Hold regular team meetings — but beware the excessive meeting trap. “This is an opportunity to share the departmental vision with the team and get everyone on the same page,” notes Mazin Abou-Seido, director of Information Technology at Halogen Software. “We’ve found that by sharing the big picture [at monthly and quarterly meetings] it gives the entire team a better understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish and encourages everyone to work together to achieve common goals.”
Just be careful about falling into the excessive meeting trap. Schedule regular team or department meetings for either once a week or once a month, and make sure that the day and time are reserved on everyone’s calendar.
6. Reduce reporting and don’t micromanage. “You hired smart, talented people because they could get the job done. Now let them do it,” says Jonathan Bruskin, principal consultant and program management lead, Excella Consulting. “Micromanagement and oversight can kill creativity and morale,” he notes. “CIOs, execs and PMs [can] increase their teams’ productivity by communicating goals and clearing administrative obstacles.”
Also, “reduce the amount of reporting they need to do, so that they can focus on getting work done,” advises Christian Buckley, director of Product Evangelism at Metalogix, which provides content infrastructure software. “If more than 10 percent of their day is spent reporting on the work they are doing, something is fundamentally wrong,” he says. “Constantly review and refine reporting to keep your metrics optimized.”
7. Provide real-time feedback — both positive and negative. “Immediately and publicly recognize team members for accomplishments,” says Halley Bock, CEO and president of Fierce, Inc., which provides leadership development and training. “Conversely, address issues or areas that need improvement privately, and immediately. Real-time performance feedback empowers individuals to take ownership of their work, builds trust and lets them know where they stand at all times.”
8. Turn off distractions. “Block out working times department-wide where instant messenger is turned off and meetings are avoided,” says Nathan Gilmore, cofounder, TeamGantt, a provider of Web-based Gantt chart software. “Having hours at a time of uninterrupted work can cause team productivity to soar.”
9. Implement a smart pay-for-performance program. “At Halogen our employees set goals every quarter that tie into larger company objectives,” says Abou-Seido. “As part of our pay-for-performance program, individual employee goals are tied to our Management by Objectives (MBO) program, which offers quarterly bonuses for achieving the set goals,” he says.
“In addition to individual goals, team members also have shared goals, which encourage collaboration and teamwork. Employees work with their managers to set their goals, and, as such, are engaged in the process and highly motivated to achieve them,” says Abou-Seido.
10. Offer development opportunities. “Give employees a chance to step up and take on a new challenge or increased responsibilities,” says Bock. “Not only does the individual benefit from the development opportunity, it shows the entire team that there are learning and advancement opportunities available,” she says. It also illustrates that as a leader, you’re willing to take chances, and that you trust employees will try their best to be successful.”
11. Nourish them. Literally. There’s a reason companies like Google offer employees free food. “Make sure to keep your team well snacked,” says Ginny Hunter, happiness trailblazer at Groopt, a provider of Seb design and communication tools.
“Sometimes we all just need a little snack break, whether it’s a piece of fruit or an espresso, to keep us going through the day,” Hunter says. And “it is much more convenient [and productive] to be able to grab something in the office instead of walking down the street.”
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a contributor to CIO.com and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees, and partners.
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a business and technology writer and a contributor to CIO.com. She also runs Schiff & Schiff Communications, a marketing firm focused on helping organizations better interact with their customers, employees and partners.