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Building Great Groups

Warner Bennis wrote in The Secret to Great Groups, “How do you get talented, selfabsorbed, often arrogant, incredibly bright people to work together?” (Bennis, 1997). He was not writing about IT geeks in particular, but his article is in line with what we experience in the IT industry.

Bennis continued, “As they say, ‘None of us is as smart as all of us.’ That’s good, because the problems we face are too complex to be solved by any one person or any one discipline. Our only chance is to bring people together from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines who can refract a problem through the prism of complementary minds allied in common purpose. I call such collections of talent Great Groups. The genius of Great Groups is that they get remarkable people—strong individual achievers—to work together to get results. But these groups serve a second and equally important function: they provide psychic support and personal fellowship. They help generate courage. Without a sounding board for outrageous ideas, without personal encouragement and perspective when we hit a roadblock, we’d all lose our way.”

Bennis provides 10 Characteristics of Great Groups in Table 5-2.

In your Great Group, if you find a skilled IT team member who can naturally communicate, is naturally conscientious, is naturally trustworthy, and delivers, you have found a natural IT leader in the making. Groom this diamond in the rough for leadership; bring him or her into your inner circle; challenge him or her with leadership opportunities; position him or her as someone other team members should emulate. Develop this leader so that he or she can one day lead a Great Group. As an IT geek leader, no one else on your team can do this but you.

Team Charter

Dr. Ginger Levin and Allen Green developed a Team Charter that is an excellent way to set followership guidelines for your team (Levin and Green, 2014). A team charter is an agreement on the standards of performance and behavior for project team members. It formalizes team members’ roles and responsibilities and provide guidelines for operations. IT geek project leaders can use the team charter to set expectations for team member interaction. Tailor your team charter to include the characteristics of great groups, genetically engineering greatness into the DNA of your team. Table 5-3 provides suggested elements for the contents of an IT Project Team Charter.

Table 5-2 10 Characteristics of Great Groups

10 Characteristics of Great Groups

  • “At the heart of every Great Group is a shared dream. ” IT geek leaders are responsible for crafting and articulating this shared vision or purpose, and IT geek team members need to buy into it.
  • “They manage conflict by abandoning individual egos in the pursuit of the dream. ” IT geek leaders need to work with their team members to find the intersection of personal goals with project and organizational goals.
  • “They are protected from the ‘suits. ’” The IT geek project leader’s job is to be a firewall between the politics of senior leadership and daily project operations, giving team members the mental space to focus on achieving the project’s vision.
  • “They have a real or invented enemy. ” A common enemy bands the team together, motivates them to work together to defeat an adversary. This adversary may be another IT company or another development or operations team within the company.
  • “They view themselves as winning underdogs. ” I have encountered many IT geeks who are achievement oriented and that are looking to make a name for themselves within their companies.
  • “Members pay a personal price. ” Committed IT professionals in both technical and leadership roles are often required to work long hours, weekends, and holidays. Self-leadership activities such as developing and maintaining a personal IT lab at home or performing independent research require a sacrifice of personal time.
  • “Great Groups make strong leaders. ” Groups that produce great results spawn leaders, followers who become leaders in their own right.
  • “Great Groups are the product of meticulous recruiting. ” A common mantra among IT leaders is “hire for attitude and train for

skill.” A former boss of mine equated IT workers to athletes. “I can train a good athlete to play any sport,” he said. But if it turns out that the athlete does not have the talent you need, don’t try to work around the issue. Refine your recruiting process, and replace the poor talent with a better athlete. Your other, more talented team members will appreciate the opportunity to work with more talented teammates, and your team will be more productive in the long run.

  • “Great Groups are usually young. ” Not young in age, but in spirit and energy.
  • “Real artists ship. ” In the end, Great Groups produce tangible results.

Data derived from Bennis (1997). “The Secrets of Great Groups.” Leader to Leader, 3(4).

Table 5-3 IT Project Team Charter

The IT Project Team Charter Contains:

  • • Project purpose statement
  • • Project scope and boundaries
  • • Project deliverables and assigned responsibilities
  • • Team member commitment statement
  • • Program/project sponsor role
  • • IT project leader role
  • • Client role
  • • End-user role
  • • Team member performance objectives
  • • Team member success measures
  • • Conflict management process
  • • Issue escalation process
  • • Decision-making process

Data derived from Levin, G. and Green, A. (2014). Implementing Program Management. [Kindle Version].

As an IT geek project leader, brief each team member on the project charter. Allow team members to ask clarifying questions and ensure that they understand the document even if they don’t agree with it. Don’t expect every team member to be receptive to the team charter. Require team members to sign an acknowledgment indicating that they have been briefed on the contents of the document, explaining that the acknowledgment does not signify agreement, only that they have been briefed. Explain to your team members that you expect the team to be great, and that the team charter is the roadmap for team greatness. Once you have done this, you can hold your team members accountable for meeting the standards you have established for your team and you have increased the likelihood that your IT project will be successful.

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