How CIOs Can Create Cohesive Teams That Accelerate Transformation

The success of a transformation program relies heavily on the leadership at the helm of the undertaking.

CIOs play a more crucial role here than ever before. As transformation leaders, they often push and educate the entire leadership team on the most critical, technical, and often the costliest choices to guide the organization’s future.

Our book Beyond Digital uncovers how great leaders transform their organizations and shape the future, while undergoing the pressures of constant change. It is based on interviews from executives at some of the largest organizations in the world, like Microsoft and Hitachi.

The ways in which leaders work is evolving. Traditionally healthy competition among teammates has led to innovation, but today, collaboration is the key to continuously transform and innovate in the digital era.

We found that the best leaders understand that transformations require the leadership team to really “lead” vs. responding to the needs of the organization, and they invert the focus of that group to drive the agenda by changes in roles, people, scope and how they work together.

Why is this crucial in the new age of work? Because the transformations ahead will be more challenging than the ones you’ve been through before. Successful organizations that we studied are clear about what they are transforming toward and drive an execution to that destination with great clarity about how to execute well. These leadership teams exist all throughout an organization, and CIOs who have a team that they can rely on to drive change this way will thrive in today’s age of continuous digital transformation.

To bring together their team and support a business under constant transformation, CIOs must look to diversify the capabilities within their teams, help them balance running the day to day with transforming for the future, and focus on collaboration.

Diversify the Capabilities of Your Teams

CIOs need to develop teams with a diversity of skills — and each organization will need unique talent that relates to the priorities of the transformation — and the differentiating capabilities it is building. Organizations tend to try to be “great at everything,” but this is unrealistic — your team needs the clarity of where the best talent is required based on clear outcomes the organization is promising to customers.

Technology leaders need operational business skills to successfully collaborate across their business and drive technology-enabled business outcomes. Increasingly, they also need to diversify their understanding of customers, their knowledge of various markets and their ability to lead via influence. Therefore, the team behind the CIO must have a deliberate mix of diverse backgrounds and experiences.

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Consider Hitachi’s transformation from a product-push company across many industries — including consumer businesses — into a global leader in social innovation. For this transformation to be successful, the company needed to massively shift the organization’s capabilities. Senior vice president and chief strategy officer Mamoru Morita noted how the top leaders at his company were all in their fifties or sixties, had been employees at Hitachi for their whole lives and thought the same way. As part of its transformation journey, Hitachi made a concerted effort to bring in diverse talent, including deliberately choosing leaders with restructuring expertise and external perspective. It ultimately led to a more effective leadership team that could respond to and anticipate a diverse range of customer, business, and market needs.

Gone are the days of working in focused silos and expecting someone else to integrate the output. Modern business teams must mirror the interconnected world in which we live — where collaboration is required to succeed.

Balance Day-to-Day Actions with Transforming for the Future

CIOs today are under immense pressure. They need to deliver on current programs, while simultaneously accelerating the integration of transformative technology capabilities. To manage this tension, CIOs must balance performing and transforming. They must weigh incentives and build focused teams to help drive the future. To do this, CIOs should create intentional governance forums and time to work on the transformation, and ultimately alter how they run normal business reviews, which allows time for forward-facing topics and the day-to-day agenda.

In Beyond Digital, one CEO shared that they were spending all their time responding to other people’s issues rather than putting energy into the work needed to move the company forward. A CIO and their team is responsible for continuous transformation across the organization. To succeed, they need to balance the urgent needs with a far-reaching vision and ensure the team is working toward a common purpose.

Support and Drive Team Collaboration

Teamwork is easier said than done, especially as team members can see one another as competition in a traditional work environment. It is imperative that CIOs lean into collaboration. A CIO needs their organization to work fluidly with the rest of the company to accomplish both short- and long-term goals.

In some cases, CIOs will choose to embed their teams within other businesses or functions or, as we’ve seen in our research, create outcome-oriented teams that bring diverse talent to clear, strategic deliverables that customers care about. In other cases, resources might be “on loan.” Either way, CIOs should look at all models that can build the best possible outcomes for the company.

To improve collaboration broadly, CIOs need to focus on establishing purpose and trust, and encouraging authentic feedback. With these clear behavior expectations and transparency, CIOs lay the groundwork for success.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, attributes the company’s success to the team’s ability to work toward a common purpose and to put aside ego and agenda. Nadella notes that alignment on purpose makes everyone committed to each other’s success across the company and is necessary for “anything monumental to happen.”

Continuous transformation is monumental. For CIOs to create a team that can meet this demand, they need to build a team around these three principles. When CIOs create a cohesive, diverse team, they can balance managing the present while helping their organizations shape the future.