3 ways to improve collaboration in IT: Charlotte CIO of the Year winners share

How do you create an environment where colleagues proactively seek each other out to help solve problems? These collaboration approaches from award-winning CIOs may help
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Collaboration proves to be a critical ingredient for successful IT organizations today. And yet, it doesn’t always come naturally in the workplace. 

We caught up with three of the CIOs who recently won the 2019 Charlotte CIO of the Year ORBIE Awards to find out how they create a culture of collaboration within their IT organizations. The awards were presented by the Charlotte CIO Leadership Association, a professional community that annually recognizes CIOs for their excellence in technology leadership.

We asked the winners to share some examples of how they’re building collaborative environments, and what tips they have for other IT leaders looking to do the same. Read on to see what’s working in their organizations.

[ Want to foster a more collaborative culture in your IT team? Here's how to sidestep 3 common mistakes. ]

1. Be intentional about who you pair to work together

Leadership CIO of the Year 

Cam Faison, SVP and CIO, Charlotte Pipe: Creating an environment where teams feel comfortable, and even encouraged, to share their expertise and collaborate is a must for IT organizations today. Among the ways we encourage collaboration is by intentionally seeking out projects that we can populate with individuals from different IT groups. Teams are bonded by working on a common goal, and also get to know each other better along the way. Related, another great collaboration event happens through our daily operations of making sure those people working on key technologies have a backup trained. We also do some “long lunch hour” collaboration events around town that require everyone to work in groups to accomplish a shared goal. 

The human connection plays a big role in collaboration, and I try to find ways to encourage our team members to learn more about themselves by setting aside time for this. That includes one-day team training events and an annual breakfast where we highlight three projects of interest from the past year, recognize new hires, and everyone else. Beyond identifying projects that require different individuals and teams to share their expertise, I strongly encourage CIOs to seek out fun events or activities that encourage your folks to learn more about each other. 

2. Never stop promoting the importance of working together

Global CIO of the Year 

Steve Hagood, SVP and CIO, Ingersoll Rand: We try to create an environment with a progressive, diverse, and inclusive mindset. We value and seek out all views, and we want and expect everyone to be engaged and participating. We look for multiple inputs before coming to conclusions. In a broader context, we encourage a culture of transparency and open communications. Among the ways we foster this is by seeking out social capital opportunities to promote that collaborative mindset, including through town hall meetings, messages from the Office of the CIO, and other internal news. Additionally, we've launched new mediums that have been well received by our employees, including local "IT Days" at locations where we have large groups of employees. During this gatherings, we may take on activities such as training, focus groups, and presentations on key topics, as well as brief, topical leader videos and global live chats we call “IT Coffee Talks.”

To foster collaboration be sure to ask a lot of questions, listen well and fully, and look for a lot of different points of view. I have a lot of open-ended, one-on-one meetings with my direct reports and their direct reports. These regular direct interactions help build trust and set the stage for our extended leaders to share their ideas and collaborate.

3. Make sure you have the right tools to encourage collaboration

Nonprofit CIO of the Year 

Sandeep Uthra, CIO, Truliant Federal Credit Union: We have created a culture of collaboration by using three pillars: Communication, people, and tools/technology. First, it is critical to communicate a clear vision that cascades from leadership, helps teams see a line of sight to the end goal, and allows them to build commitment as the organization moves closer to realizing the vision. Among the ways we communicate our vision is through all-hands and skip-level meetings, which allow us to continually emphasize our vision. Next, I prioritize hiring and developing collaborative leaders. When hiring for my leadership team, I’m always seeking someone with a collaborative style, and I expect them to do the same for their teams. To further instill this quality, we develop and coach our leaders and teams with various collaboration models and finally, recognize and celebrate their commitment to our vision for collaborative work culture.

Collaboration tools and techniques also play a critical role in supporting our collaborative culture. We have implemented various technologies and processes to foster this in the workplace, including technology to collaborate internally and with remote employees; technology for sharing any quick thoughts or suggestions; and a shared environment to contribute during any technology build or support efforts. We also encourage in-person collaboration by providing physical space for teams to innovate and ideate and encouraging collaboration through cultural events, sports, yoga, trail walks, etc.

A prerequisite to collaboration is trust. It’s important to reward your team for both successes and for learning through failures. The latter is especially important to help build trust, which aids in building a collaborative culture in your organization. Remember collaboration starts from the top and not from the bottom of the house.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

As community manager for The Enterprisers Project, Ginny Hamilton helps build the site's community of CIOs, IT leaders, and readers. She is responsible for helping tell the stories of leading IT executives – showcasing the projects, experiences, and challenges they're facing in their roles as IT leaders.

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