Smarter collaboration refers to how people with the right expertise and background come together – at the right time – to achieve better results than anyone could on their own. This contrasts with a “go-it-alone” approach that may seem easier in the moment but is limited by one’s own experience, perspectives, and blind spots.
Smarter collaboration generates financial, innovation, and talent benefits across departments and functions, including IT. As business systems become more complex and technology-enabled (think cloud computing, RPA, AI), a wider range of perspectives – including those of customers, internal end-users, and company leaders – are needed to assess potential opportunities as well as issues.
More collaboration is not necessarily better, however. Instead of pulling in too many people or the same people all the time, and risking overload and burnout, bring people into projects and initiatives only when it makes sense based on their unique contributions.
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Also, ensure that all collaborators’ voices are truly heard. Sometimes people are pulled into an assignment to satisfy a quota – be it gender, racial, socioeconomic, or other – but their opinions are not encouraged or valued.
Another common challenge is maintaining collaboration during times of stress and crisis. Research shows that stress can make people risk-averse. They become less likely to bring in alternative perspectives and more likely to fall back on actions taken in the past. The urgency to bring things under control leads them to act unilaterally.
With these common collaboration challenges in mind, how can IT leaders collaborate more effectively? Here are five tips:
1. Get a seat at the strategy table
CIOs must have a seat at the strategy table to understand the company’s top priorities and champion the cause of IT. Knowing what the CEO, CFO, and board think allows you, as an IT leader, to shape the IT department accordingly. At the same time, influencing top leaders helps IT get what it needs to thrive – including a proper budget and support for the technologies and resources it has deemed crucial.
2. Understand and leverage strengths
As an IT leader, you should know not only what you bring to the table but also the strengths of other IT staff and colleagues outside of IT. This includes understanding people’s skills, interests, life experiences, behavioral tendencies, and goals. Knowing these attributes allows you to seek the right voices for a truly comprehensive look at a problem.
3. Integrate input from users and customers
Looking at technology through the customer’s lens is crucial. Your company may be laser-focused on digitizing processes, but if the needs of some customer segments – older users who may be less comfortable with technology – aren’t considered, you may alienate parts of your client base.
4. Rework performance management and incentives
As an IT leader, you can play a role in improving performance management systems to reward collaborative behaviors. This doesn’t mean paying for collaboration, exactly, but compensating people for the strategic outcomes that are achieved through smart collaboration – including higher revenue and profit, deeper customer relationships, greater innovation, greater efficiency, and better employee engagement.
5. Spread a collaborative mindset
As a leader, it’s your job to win hearts and minds. Model smart collaboration for your same-level and lower-ranking colleagues and communicate its importance. This could mean explicitly discussing its data-backed benefits, highlighting examples of successful collaboration in the company, and creating opportunities for people to work across silos.
As IT evolves, the need for smart collaboration will only increase.
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