4 ways to create a culture of collaboration

Do your teams have what they need to collaborate in a remote or hybrid work environment? Top CIOs offer insight on how to foster a culture of sharing
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Collaboration is a critical ingredient for successful IT organizations. Whether teams are fully remote, in the office, or hybrid, they need seamless and simple ways to seek out help, troubleshoot issues, and work on solutions collaboratively. IT leaders have an important role to play here.

We asked CIOs who recently won the 2022 Florida CIO of the Year ORBIE Awards how they create a culture of collaboration on their teams.

Read on for four ways you can ensure your teams have what they need to collaborate effectively in a hybrid work era.

1. Offer a variety of tools

Leadership CIO of the Year

Bernie Rice

Bernie Rice, SVP & CIO, Nemours: Given our organization’s footprint, we have operated as a virtual team for quite some time, and finding ways around the physical barriers has been a necessity. We have leveraged industry tools and created our own tools such as our virtual huddle board. This tool allows all to participate in our huddle activities and interact with the huddle board no matter where they are.

[ What leadership challenges and opportunities are CIOs looking forward to this year? Read CIO role: 5 key opportunities for IT leaders in 2022. ]

We also moved to an Agile support structure years ago, modifying daily stand-ups, planning, and retrospective activities to be virtual and allowing those not physically on-site to participate. Post-pandemic, one-third of our team is remote full-time, and the majority of the remaining folks are in a hybrid scenario. We are a very active user group of tools that foster collaboration and sharing of information. Having a variety of virtual capabilities has allowed us to take the geographic and physical boundaries out of the equation.

2. Prioritize personal connections

Global CIO of the Year

Mike Schmidt

Mike Schmidt, CIO, Audit & Assurance, Deloitte (Deloitte & Touche LLP, Deloitte Touche Tomatsu Limited): We have embraced a hybrid return to work at Deloitte, where we maximize in-person opportunities to reconnect, collaborate, and celebrate. We are making a concerted effort to give our team members plenty of notice of meetings necessitating travel while looking for opportunities to schedule meetings and events on consecutive days to minimize travel and avoid burnout.

We leverage a variety of collaboration tools to provide virtual options for our remote staff. My team and I began “Wednesday Friendsdays” earlier this year at our development hubs to encourage folks to spend time together, conduct in-depth discussions, problem-solve, strategize, share a meal, and be there for one another. Our culture is built on collaboration, and the hybrid world of today requires us to be mindful, sensitive, flexible, and balanced. We make a point to meet one another where we are – not only where we are physically located, but where we are mentally.

3. Increase transparency and communication efforts

Large Corporate CIO of the Year

Len O'Neill

Len O’Neill, CIO & SVP, The Suddath Companies: IT professionals have long been communicating and collaborating across distributed teams, driven by a need to quickly respond to production outages, urgent client requests, or to source and recruit the best talent, regardless of location.

We’ve standardized a set of tools that allow us to collaborate globally. When the COVID crisis hit, we were well-positioned to rapidly extend these capabilities to all parts of the company. Recently, as the return-to-work initiatives began, we have outfitted many of our conference facilities with equipment to help overcome the hybrid workforce challenges.

Throughout these workforce shifts, we have remained focused on an important strategic priority: to be the easiest company to do business with. To create that seamless experience, every member of our team needs to fully understand our customers’ businesses, the specific problems we are solving for them, and how they and our employees will engage with and experience the technology solutions we’re building. That level of understanding is only possible through close and frequent collaboration throughout all phases of the development and delivery cycles.

[ Want advice on leading your teams through change and uncertainty? Read Encouraging a change-ready mindset: 7 tips from CIOs. ]

At the heart of our collaborative culture is teamwork, one of Suddath’s core values. We have established a consultative partner engagement model that provides clear IT product, investment, and platform roadmaps. Every business unit has a dedicated product owner, and we use an agile development structure to shape and prioritize IT demand and resources.

We collaborate across business units and job roles to achieve our common goals and engage in fully transparent, frequent communication. For example, we share detailed monthly technology updates with all business unit leaders, which include priorities, status reports, progress toward KPIs and achievements, and flag any challenges or risks that could potentially impact delivery schedules.

That level of visibility and reporting promotes a culture of personal accountability and fosters teamwork, including recognition and appreciation of our individual and collective achievements.

4. Bake collaboration into process and permissions

Corporate CIO of the Year

Todd Ryan

Todd Ryan, CIO, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office: To promote a culture of collaboration, we felt it was necessary to provide two things: process and permission. Process means we make sure that we bake collaboration capabilities into our critical support tools to make it as convenient as possible. For example, our ticketing system supports the ability to reference another employee by name ("@Someone") without leaving the ticket or ticketing system. This allows employees to enlist the opinion or assistance of others while still satisfying our documentation requirements

For permission, we actively socialize and communicate against the silo mentality at every opportunity. We hold ourselves collectively responsible for the shared success of our division, which means that there are no organizational hurdles when solving problems for our users. We still operate within our standards/framework to maintain efficiency, but knowledge is freely shared and not guarded.

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

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.