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Teamwork 15 January 2013

Geeks make great teammates too

Geeks of the world – UNITE!

No more shall we be labeled as shy and introverted individual contributors. It is time the world learns that we have more to offer than just acronyms and technical jargon. As a self-professed “geek”, I am happy to shout to the greater business community that we are some of the strongest teammates within an organization, and can be found leading the charge into the next wave of business transformation.

 

The pre-game

In the past twenty years, technology has evolved from being merely a set of tools that an organization might use to increase efficiency, to becoming a dominant theme at the core of most business strategies. Websites, smartphone apps, and social media are just a few examples of how businesses now rely on technology to maintain relationships with their customers. Underlying these technology systems are the technology professionals who design, construct and support these solutions.

These professionals who reside at the core of an organization’s IT department are highly skilled resources who are well compensated for their specialized skillsets. An organization invests in these resources, and like all investments, the key is in getting the greatest return. One of the most efficient ways to maximize the value of these technology professionals is to develop them from individual contributors to high-performing team members.

 

The challenge ahead

Turning individual contributors into high-performing teammates isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when many of those individuals are perceived to be more focused on their particular technical talents than on their interpersonal skills. And not only are us geeks being more frequently assigned to teams to tackle projects and challenges within their departments, but they are being placed in larger, cross-functional teams to address corporate-wide initiatives as well.  This means that we geeks will have to learn how to adapt to different personality types  and navigate the language barrier that often exists between IT departments and business teams. It will take the right outlook, insight, tools and training to help transform geeks into high-performing teammates within an organization.

 

Assessing the playing field

The overall effectiveness of any intact team is dependent on the strengths and capabilities of the individuals in that team. Each team member will bring his or her unique gifts and contributions. How do you know which team member’s gifts and contributions will work well in certain team environments or with other types of individuals in a given situation?

The fundamental time that “work happens” is when two people communicate. The advantage happens when every interaction is optimized either within the team, between teams, or with business or end users especially when functional consultants and business analysts are no longer as readily available to translate or bridge the communication.

To know this, it helps for that person to firstly become aware of their own internal strengths and preferences. The Insights Discovery Personal Profile system, which uses four colors to represent observable behavior patterns, can help individuals achieve this understanding in a straightforward and simple way. Leaders within IT departments will be surprised to learn how diverse their teams are from a personality perspective.  IT professionals do not simply occupy the spaces on the Profile System dominated by Systematic Processing and Detached Analysis. They can be found across all spectrums of the assessment tool.  It’s the harnessing of this knowledge that leads to the next key step.

 

Assembling the team

Once individual self-awareness is accomplished, you can begin to collectively assess the effectiveness of the team as a whole. For those who have taken self-awareness exams or attended similar workshops, this goes beyond merely affixing labels to certain types. The application of their self-awareness to interactions with teammates starts with adapting to the preferences of others in order to connect. You have to learn how different personality types interact with each other and how they will each react to certain environments.

One analogy that makes sense to many IT professionals is the concept of middleware. Middleware are the components that sit between different systems which help them to communicate more effectively with one another. Certain technologies play nicer and more easily with other technologies and the goal of middleware is to match up the right pieces to the right environment so that the overall solution operates as efficiently as possible. That is how IT leaders need to begin viewing their people resources as well.

Projects within IT are rarely contained within a specific group or technology; rather, they are cross-platform, enterprise wide efforts that require a great deal of teamwork and communication between a multitude of moving parts.

 

Struggles on the path to victory

The types of enterprise-wide projects that involve IT professionals are rarely insignificant efforts. They typically involve a team of over 10-15 individuals, user- facing and back-end systems, and a Project Manager attempting to keep it all under control over the span of many months. The point is that these are complex projects riddled with issues, risks, delays, and deadlines.
Even on the best projects there will still be tedious days of detailed design and complex testing. It’s extremely important to understand how different types of individuals behave differently on  the good days and the bad. How one individual interacts with his or her teammates under intense pressure may be completely opposite of how they react during a smooth portion of an enterprise project which requires a geek teammate. Our very strengths can become weaknesses under these circumstances.

 

Winning teams need winning tools

To overcome the perception that geek teammates are all driven by process and detail, and to demonstrate how individual preferences, when compiled to reflect team preferences, can provide insights to show how the team itself will perform in certain activities and situations - we can use the Discovering Team Effectiveness model.

 

Geeks for MVP

IT Departments, like most organization departments, have made significant investments in their resources, including people, software and hardware. And as with all investments, you need to maximize their value for the greatest amount of return. Those within IT organizations are highly skilled with unique talents. There is no better way to capitalize on this investment than by continuing to develop their individual self- awareness and growing them into sustainable, high- performing teammates who add value to the entire organization.

 

More about the author

Hillary is passionate about delivering business value to her customers and prides herself on establishing strong relationships which extend beyond the context of a single engagement or sale. Hillary has a BA in Organizational Behavior and Business Policy from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. She lives in Atlanta, GA. She spends much of her free time volunteering and fundraising for organizations such as Livestrong, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, and the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

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