If IT leaders want to move the needle on project speed, performance, and quality, they should spend more time fostering stronger relationships.
In today's business landscape, the companies that create the innovations we love, deliver products to market faster, and attract the top talent are the ones that invest in and leverage the power of people. Relationships are far more important to their success than technology.
Yet, most organizations fail to recognize and leverage this powerful tool. This is especially true for IT, where workers are 110% busy, yet only 60% productive. IT team members are overwhelmed by interruptions, mired in unproductive meetings, and pulled in multiple directions due to a lack of demand management. Nevertheless, many IT leaders continue to invest the bulk of their efforts improving the performance of technology, rather than their people.
The irony is that if technology leaders spent more time optimizing talent and culture, they could move the needle on organization performance. They’d enable their teams to move faster, work more effectively, and get more done.
One way to do this is to focus on relationships, the backbone of any IT organization. The complex web of connections among team members, stakeholders, and external partners is one of the most important success drivers for the modern technology organization. Yet IT leaders spend too little time improving them.
Stronger Relationships Within IT Drive Better Outcomes
Successful projects and programs are rarely the result of isolated efforts. Realizing anticipated business benefits requires cross-functional teams of professionals with diverse skills and expertise to coalesce around common goals. The ability of team members to harmoniously work together has a significant impact on project and program outcomes. Relationships matter.
A 2013 Harvard Business Review article, The Hidden Benefits of Keeping Teams Intact, explored the impact of relationships across more than 1,000 projects involving more than 11,000 employees at IT service provider Wipro. While the research is a decade old now, the findings remain compelling.
Researchers found that when familiarity on a project increased by 50%, defects decreased by 19% and deviations from budget fell by 30%. That represents a lot of time and money. A company with solid relationships moves faster and brings high-quality solutions to market.
More importantly, the researchers discovered that strength of the relationships was a better predictor of success than the skills of the people assigned to the projects or the quality of the project management. Think about that. IT leaders generally ignore one of the leading success factors and focus on less important things. Instead, they should invest time strengthening relationships within and across their teams.
How Relationships Increase Speed and Improve Performance
So, how does this happen exactly? Let’s dig a little deeper to better understand how better relationships drive the kinds of speed and performance improvements that today’s IT leaders seek.
The following factors contribute to the familiarity observed among successful project teams:
- Trust: When people take time to understand and empathize with one another, they build trust. It’s an emotional bond that connects people at a deeper level. When trust exists, project members know their teammates have their back. Consequently, they are willing to take more risks, support one another, and work together to overcome challenges.
- Communication: Effective communication is a crucial project success factor particularly when, like most IT projects or programs, the work is complex. The facilitation of clear and open lines of communication among the best performing teams reduces misunderstandings and ensures everyone is on the same page.
- Candor: When people trust one another, there exists a level of psychological safety that empowers team members both to share what is on their minds and to be more receptive to others’ ideas. These more candid conversations lead to fewer defects, less rework, better decision making, and greater speed.
- Conflict resolution: Disagreements are inevitable on any team or initiative, but the ability to effectively address and resolve them is essential to project success. Strong relationships among team members equips them to address conflicts constructively, finding solutions that benefit the project rather than locking themselves into win-lose arguments.
Cross-functional Collaboration: Building Connections Across Business Boundaries
IT success today requires not just stronger relationships within the technology organization but productive cross-functional collaboration. When cross-functional relationships are strong, IT’s goals and objectives are better aligned. Moreover, better relationships with IT’s key stakeholders can lead to increased support and resources for technology initiatives. When stakeholders believe in the IT team's capabilities and trust its judgment, they are more likely to allocate necessary funds and staffing and provide the top-down support required to achieve desired business outcomes.
Strong relationships not only with business leaders but also with IT’s most important stakeholder, the end user, lays a foundation for the continuous feedback necessary to continuously iterate and innovate on behalf of the business. This relationship-enabled approach to ongoing IT solutions development is essential to ensuring that the technology organization remains aligned with evolving business requirements.
How IT Leaders Can Build Better Relationships
IT success depends more on the strength of its relationships than on its technical prowess. Whether fostering collaboration within teams, engaging with stakeholders, or nurturing partnerships with vendors, relationships are the foundation upon which IT can develop and deliver the IT solutions the business wants.
Here are a few techniques leaders can employ to strengthen relationships:
- A “first friend” program: IT leaders can assign each new employee a coworker, who can help get answers to questions, meet people, and find their way around the organization.
- Relationship-building meetings: IT leaders can host meetings with the sole purpose of getting to know one another better. Questions that illicit sharing personal details, like “What are the three things that made you who you are today?” can get the ball rolling.
- Special interest groups: IT leaders can encourage their teams to set up special interest groups within their collaboration platforms (e.g., “cooking and recipes,” “gamers”). These can bring like-minded people together so that relationships can form organically.
I’ve long preached the importance of culture to organizational performance, especially in IT where collaboration is fundamental to success. The research is clear: Invest time building relationships and you will be a more successful IT leader.