Having led IT organizations over the past two decades, I have learned much from the mistakes I have made. Regarding the workforce, one of my lessons learned is not to over value the technical skills of an individual. Deep technical skills are certainly needed and should be valued in any IT organization, but making personnel decisions based solely (or even mainly) on the individual’s technical skills has significant downside. Almost all IT projects or initiatives require a highly collaborative and team-oriented approach to achieve the productivity necessary for success. I have seen amazing things accomplished when the team works effectively, and on the flip side, spectacular failures when the team is dysfunctional.
There are certainly a number of facets to creating a high-performing team, starting with the right leader. Such a leader must understand and have the ability to create a trusting, highly collaborative environment in which each member of the team understands his or her role, and each member is supportive of other members. That, in turn, drives the collective success of the team. I have found this dynamic especially important for IT project teams, given the complexity and interconnectedness of systems today — while we attempt to design systems to be composed of separate modules with well-defined interfaces, the reality is that there is significant coordination required to successfully integrate modules to deliver IT systems of any significant scale.
What I have learned the hard way (multiple times) is that individuals with deep technical skills, who lack the social competencies to work well (or at all) in a team-based environment, can seriously impact team dynamics. Many times, these individuals are immensely talented system or software architects, engineers, or developers, but they do not know how to work synergistically with others. So, I have learned to not become overly enamored with technical expertise, but assess the broader set of social competencies when evaluating staff, trying to recognize if an individual is capable of working with a team-oriented environment.
Akin to assessing individuals is also recognizing the overall needs for the organization. While we all struggle to some degree with a lack of technical talent in an IT organization, more damaging is negative, disruptive or obstructive behaviors that get in the way of effective collaboration, communication and teamwork, creating conflict, low morale and poor productivity. So, as an IT leader, it is not enough to address a lack of talent by increasing the technical skills of your workforce. It is just as critical to offer training and development opportunities for your staff in addressing the behaviors that affect how an individual approaches their work, attitude, thoughts, and the effect they have on others, rather than on just the skills they need to do what they do in the job.
As such, a robust workforce training and development program for IT organizations should, in addition to technical courses, include competency-centered courses and workshops based in behavioral psychology supporting the development of mind-sets, attitudes and behaviors vital for success in the contemporary workplace. Courses focused on personal development, communication and relationship building, strategic thinking and organizational development, and leadership and management should be offered; and for certain positions, required. Further, such courses and workshops should support employees at all stages of their career, to include entry level, experienced professional and senior professional/executive.
So, back to our technical expert, who absolutely cannot work well in a team. I am not stating that sending the expert to a class on communication and relationship building will magically address the challenge. However, such individual training, married with an organizational commitment to professional competency development, gives the organization the best chance to get the most out of all its employees. In particular, a competency-based curriculum enables employees to extend the range and depth of their personal and professional effectiveness in the workplace, at all stages of their career.