Building a resilient IT organization

As leaders in any organization, one generally understands the importance of building strong and resilient teams. Yet I wonder if we pause and process this concept enough to truly understand or remember why this is such a critical need. 

Opening up with peers may also allow us to explore how other organizations may have recently done this to optimize attaining their existing strategic goals.

Why continuous design and redesign is critical

It is also crucial that we recognize that what worked well before may not work well today. Internal elements that contribute to a new normal, such as a changing organization from a startup to mid-size or private to public, merging organizations, or even a new business plan can have big impacts and implications on existing team structures and ways of operating. 

Compound that with external changes like those that we witnessed in the last few years regarding remote work and the great resignation, the complexity grows. 

Additionally, external forces that appear in the industry in the form of evolving threats is yet another layer of change. I think of cybersecurity in this instance. While the saying goes that history repeats itself, in the world of healthcare technology, that has not been my experience.

Organizational resilience is often defined as the ability to anticipate, prepare for, respond to, and adapt to incremental change. It’s important to break this down, conceptualize, and map a strategy to attain your desired results.

Leaders who take their eye off the ball may start to experience drift; which in turn may require more significant effort to course correct and optimize teams if staying status quo goes too far off course for too long. 

Keeping pace with building resilient teams starts with the development of ourselves alongside our front-line staff so that there is a unified partnership and commitment to ensure fully engaged teams.

4 areas of focus in building resilience

In my experience, and through years of getting coaching and gaining leadership, I find that there are four basic areas of focus that are core to leading successful teams.

1. Establishing trust throughout the team. This characteristic helps create a resilient team by enabling people to feel comfortable and trust one another. Gaining trust helps encourage colleagues to speak up and know that there won’t be consequences but rather an open dialogue as well as a collective effort to resolve challenges. In order to build and instill trust there must be participation, engagement, open communication, and story-telling as a tactic to create relatability. Ice breakers and team activities in or outside of the office also foster bonding and team unity. Sharing life experiences, whether they be positive or not so positive, shows vulnerability and invokes characteristics such as empathy and caring. Encouraging this behavior through quiet leadership (behavior modeling) or active engagement is contagious and can quickly strengthen your team.

2. Being an empathetic leader. This quality is a trait that shows your team that you care about their well-being, are attuned to what stresses they may have at work or even in their home life. Empathy is the quality you establish to set a tone. It also informs how other leaders on your team and members of your organization respond and show up each and every day. Empathy is a critical skill for leaders, now more than ever. The necessity for demonstrating empathy is driven by the need to relate to and support a variety of types of stress such as mental health, personal life matters, team performance and turnover pressures. Recognizing these effects and being able to deal with them helps to build and maintain strong supporting relationships with team members.

3. Leading by example. If you are a “Do as I say, not as I do” leader, you are not leading and your teams will quickly lose respect, enthusiasm, and feel betrayed or let down. Leading by example can’t be underestimated and employing this quality typically pays dividends in designing resilience in teams because the choices you make as a leader will affect everything from morale to productivity. A big part of your responsibility is to lead with your own actions; the team will follow. Walking the walk inspires people around you and gives them goals to challenge and push themselves to achieve great things.

4. Tuning into employee needs. Another area of focus that we so often ignore or simply forget about is acknowledging what the employee needs to truly feel supported and encouraged. We need to examine and have a game plan to address how we challenge, support, and continuously improve their professional and personal growth. I find that proven areas of focus involve recognition of both team and individual efforts in goal setting and encouragement of skills development in order to create support and encouragement.

Examining how team alignment impacts productivity

In order to manage change, there must also be an ongoing assessment of how teams are aligned, what work is being done, and how there may be more efficient structuring to maximize productivity, scale, career progression, and agility. 

How you choose to optimize the structure will ultimately drive the results, so proceeding in a methodical, open, and collaborative manner will pay dividends. It is also prudent to recognize that a restructure won’t be once and done. Setting lofty goals gives us something to shoot for, however swinging for the fences doesn’t always mean you’ll get the home run.

Make gains through incremental change

As the field of information services has changed incrementally over time, so must the changes in your organization in order to achieve the greatest outcomes. Expect to get it right eighty percent of the time and be open to the idea that additional, incremental changes will be necessary as you begin to operationalize the work that may now be under new managers and new work towers. Listen to your teams. Ask how it’s going and meet regularly with individuals and have skip-level one-on-ones. Also meet in team settings.

The overarching key to success

Leading through change means many things. What stands out to me as the overarching key criteria for ensuring success and achieving greater outcomes is:

  • Recognizing and appropriately applying each team member’s skills while setting them up for success

  • Investing in and valuing everyone’s perspective

  • Challenging and growing your management team

Achieving a well-balanced IS organization requires focusing on both short and long term goals. It is paramount to remain focused, yet open while striving for excellence. Don’t underestimate the impact you have on people and how they respond to the needs of the team and the organization. Recognize where the wins truly are!

Keeping your eye on the ball in building resilient teams will keep your organization on course and your employees engaged.

Paul J. Williams is associate vice president of IS infrastructure technology at Penn Medicine.

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