Want to build a resilient IT team? Follow this advice

Adopt these three leadership qualities to build a more resilient team and culture
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Resilient companies adapt and respond to change and recover quickly from setbacks. Particularly today, these qualities are critical for organizations to succeed. Employees need a positive energy, a sense of purpose on the team, and they need to be eager to learn. They have to be excited about upskilling and growing; they need to be able to trust each other, work as a team, and, of course, be open to change.

But how do we as leaders cultivate these qualities in our teams and create a culture of resiliency? Three principles are key: prioritizing a more human connection, hiring people that exude energy, and making time for employees. Here’s what that has looked like for us at NTT DATA. 

Be a Jerry Maguire

In the movie Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise played the title character who cared just as much about his clients when they were off the field as he did when they were on the field. Leaders today need to channel their inner Jerry Maguire and act as an agent for their employees, keeping their best interests at heart while creating positive energy and acting as a role model.

[ Read also: How to show empathy to hybrid work teams ]

A recent NTT DATA report that surveyed 1,000 business and IT executives across 16 industries found while 66 percent of respondents cited customer satisfaction as a top focus, only 16 percent identified employee engagement and retention as a top focus. This gap represents a major area of opportunity for leaders today, who seem to be overlooking how key happy employees are to creating positive customer experiences. 

Channeling your own Jerry Maguire and focusing on employee engagement requires trust and respect – two important qualities to instill in team members. These qualities start with you. You want your team to trust and respect you so they trust and respect each other. You build this trust by being sensitive to their needs and by being there for each and every one of them. This is certainly more difficult to do in the hybrid work environments of today, but that doesn’t mean it should be any less a priority. 

One way we champion our employees and instill trust in them is by encouraging our staff to consider roles outside of our IT department but still within NTT DATA. This might sound counterproductive to the success of our IT department, but what it’s really about is the greater good of the organization. When they experience other parts of the business, they take all of the knowledge and skills they gained in IT with them, increasing the digital acumen of their new team. And often, they come back to IT, armed with new skills that strengthen our team. As leaders, we have to want what’s best for our people, even if it takes them away from us. Being an agent of positive growth for our people will always be the right move.  

Hire energy-givers

The late John McCain, former Chairman, CEO of NTT DATA Services and mentor of mine, used to say that there are two types of people: energy givers and energy drainers. People are drawn to energy givers – they make things happen.  

When you’re hiring, you want to look for people who give off that positive energy. It’s infectious, and the rest of your team will feel it. Other skills you look for, such as technology skills and competencies, can always be taught but altering the energy that team members exude isn’t always so easy. If you can fill your team with energy givers and people that are hungry to learn, your team will be worth its weight in gold. 

[ Read next: IT hiring: 7 tips to retain passionate, high-performing talent ]

Are you an energy giver? Ask yourself, do people want to be on your team? Are you asked to be a mentor or coach? Do you offer solutions when others are criticizing? Do you come to interviews prepared, excited to be there, having researched the company, talking about experiences that present you and your team in a positive light? Unfortunately, you feel it most when those people leave because you feel you lost a friend. Energy givers are a critical part of your team's dynamic and keep it all together.

Make time for your team

As hybrid work environments become the new normal, it’s critical for leaders to actively build and strengthen relationships with their team members, regardless of whether they’re in the office regularly, sporadically, or rarely. Early in the pandemic when teams went remote, over-communicating and checking-in were necessary to show care and support. But as time went on, some teams fell out of this habit. And while new tools have come along that make virtual and asynchronous work easier for dispersed teams, building personal relationships virtually takes more intentional effort.

Leaders should carve out time in their schedules for purposeful check-ins with their team members. Schedule the one-on-one meetings, skip-levels, and town halls to prioritize time with your teams and provide them with a sense of purpose. This might mean holding virtual calls once a week, but there are other ways to build in dedicated time with your staff, too. When you think about building a resilient culture, growing and developing as a company is an important part of that. 

Every month, for example, I set aside half a day to take training classes with my team. This gives them access to me and allows them to ask me questions about anything – the training I’m taking, our next set of projects, or whatever else is on their mind. This dedicated time together not only enables us to grow and learn together as a team, it gives them opportunities to feel a greater sense of purpose in a large organization. The conversations we have get them excited about their job, and if you can create that energy, purpose, and camaraderie, they’re going to want to stay at your company. You’re giving them opportunities for growth and opportunities to build their career, all of which builds resiliency.

As a leader, you need to be selfless in many ways – you have to think about the big picture and not always just about yourself, and sometimes that means encouraging team members to spread their wings, try something new, and grow beyond just you. You’ve got to invest in your people and have a passion to make them successful. You need to fill your team with people who exude good, infectious energy. Doing leadership the right way is exhausting and will drain you, but it’s worth it. These are experiences and opportunities that I live for. So, as Jerry McGuire would say, “who’s coming with me?”

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

CIO Barry Shurkey
As the CIO for NTT DATA Services since 2017, Barry is responsible for the digital transformation and optimizing the IT roadmap to support NTT DATA and its clients. Previously, he was a senior vice president overseeing the company’s IT agreements during the acquisition of Dell Services.