Leveraging Your Team's Expertise to Create an Environment of Collaboration and Critical Thinking

To keep the larger organization nimble, you need to constantly create and recreate small teams

In addition to keeping a keen eye on the customer experience, we also focus on the data to lead us in the right direction. We look at everything, including customer impact, performance and throughput numbers related to the project. Decisions are then made based on data, not just opinions.  

Trading Places

Trading players isn’t something that just happens in sports. Small teams tend to be more cohesive than large companies, so to keep the larger organization nimble, you need to constantly create and recreate small teams. At the same time, these smaller teams need to not only understand the overall team goals but also to understand each other. We created these cross-functional teams by leveraging the expertise of players on each team and then trading them regularly. I took a seasoned member of one team and traded him or her with a player on another team. Now each team gains new perspective and information to help make quicker, more informed and overall better decisions.

When you walk in someone else’s shoes, it gives the team a commonality, focus and experience that is critical to ensure the team is running on all cylinders and moving in the right direction.

For example, I hosted a bi-weekly stability tiger team, so we could focus on ways to update our processes so that we minimized system outages. To ensure the team was truly set up for success, I swapped a senior member of the Operations and Incident Management team with a member of the Delivery team. This simple change allowed us to gain operational perspective into the design of the delivery systems, instead of just “fixing” it. At the same time, the Delivery team member brought systems perspective to operations with an added delivery discipline to “fixes.”

Keeping Morale Up

We give additional focus to the teams by making sure that they are rewarded for their great work as we continue to push for perfection. Recently, we celebrated with cupcakes to mark three weeks of zero operational impacts. It sounds small and simplistic, but the team loved it! Who doesn’t love cupcakes? These sorts of celebrations create a culture of positivity. 

I also established an internal awards program to recognize the team for a job well done. First, I created the CIO Pinch Hitter award. This award is given to the person who most helps another team or organization, and nominations are made by peers. The kicker is that a person on Team A cannot nominate another Team A member. Team members must nominate someone on Team B or C. This inspires cross-collaboration among teams and, as we say, reminds them to “go the extra smile” to encourage and recognize excellent team spirit. We also have the Security Dragon Slayer award, which is bestowed to someone in the organization who goes above and beyond in helping keep our systems secure.

Last, but certainly not least, is our very successful “listening and learning” series. Each team is encouraged to creatively communicate (via a game, video, music, etc.) how their team operates and contributes to the overall success of the entire organization. These little things keep morale up – and break down organizational walls!

I believe the essence of what we do as an IT organization, and the motto by which I lead, is something I borrowed from tradition through my long Air Force career: “Esprit De Corps.” Our team has one common set of goals and one common victory, and that is providing the best IT systems to our customers – both external and internal. We are committed to excellence together!


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