How Cross-Functional IT Teams Can Work Toward A Common Goal - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership
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How Cross-Functional IT Teams Can Work Toward A Common Goal

Breaking down the silos is critical in an enterprise IT strategy, and there are ways to get different IT and business groups on the same team.

There probably are dozens of memorable quotes along the lines of "Why can't we all be friends?" or "Can't we just learn to get along?" In reality, bringing everyone together can be challenging.

We all have different agendas, busy schedules, varied specialties, and sometimes bosses who may get a bit territorial. So, why should IT be any different in dealing with the challenge of working together?

Jon Kelley seems to see opportunity where others find challenges; in his case the opportunity is building cross-functional teams for IT projects.

Kelley, associate director for virtual infrastructure at the University of Arkansas, will be discussing how to build cross-functional teams as part of the Leadership and Career Development Track at Interop ITX 2017 in Las Vegas on May 17, leading the session Culture Shock: Building High Performing, Cross Functional Teams.

Credit: Pixabay
Credit: Pixabay

"It takes some amount of leadership, convincing people that it is the right move," said Kelley of getting different IT groups to work together on a common goal. Kelley, with a background in networking, now serves in an IT leadership role. His efforts have focused on ensuring that each constituency is aware, and, where necessary, involved in IT projects, such as standardization of enterprise tools. The different constituencies could be in functions such as networking, development, and security, or they might be IT groups in different branches of the university.

On the surface, it's easy to think that coordinating projects within an IT team is easy. After all, it's just the IT group. However, consider the scale of an IT operation that spans an enterprise like a state university or a global business. In the global business there are divisions with their own IT operations and, increasingly, shadow IT groups within business units. Within a university, it's common for individual colleges or departments to have their own IT organizations serving the educational, business, and research needs of a specific college.

"We have to go out and talk about standardization, the broader goal. Often, they see their job as being that they are an advocate for their college. That's tough because we [in central IT] see ourselves as advocates for the student. The best thing we can do is make our product better for them," he says.

Jon Kelley, University of Arkansas
Jon Kelley, University of Arkansas

There were all types of silos of information and operations, he says. "That led us to figuring out some of the functional problems we were having, that would in turn open up other conversations."

Kelley, in his Interop presentation, plans to discuss the importance of finding a balance between using collaboration tools and virtual meetings, and with in-person meetings. The latter, he says, are particularly important when the group gets to a decision point.

Now that the University of Arkansas is making progress with cross-functional teams within IT, the next step is to extend the concept to non-IT participants, the stakeholders and application owners in the various departments that IT supports.

"The cross function teams we have employed are trying to solve large issues. When completed, there is a recognition that this is going to benefit us in a large way," says Kelley.

Jim Connolly is a versatile and experienced technology journalist who has reported on IT trends for more than two decades. As editorial director of InformationWeek and Network Computing, he oversees the day-to-day planning and editing on the site. Most recently he was editor ... View Full Bio
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User Rank: Apprentice
3/22/2017 | 8:39:43 AM
Re: Getting cross-functional teams will be a big accomplishment
I would also add that future is not only cross-functional but for a long time it has been cross-cultural. Our software development team is traveling all the time and last week a dutch customer has made an interesting observation. He said that senior developer in Denmark is called someone who worked 10+ years in development. Whereas in some countries senior is a 3-5 years experienced programmer, who just can't get enough perspective during this time. But they treat it as cultural difference.  
James Connolly
James Connolly,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/21/2017 | 9:53:16 AM
Re: Getting cross-functional teams will be a big accomplishment
@Charlie. Interesting observation about those who saw the significance of Java. That was a timeframe when you really could see which IT people (and IT teams) "got it" in terms of the web. They were the ones who moved forward and looked for opportunities, while others merely survived (for a little while). It's a trend that we see with key technology advances. I remember being amazed when meeting CIOs who still didn't use a PC in the 1990s, a decade after many of their "end users". The mentality was that their secretaries did the typing.

Talk about embracing emerging tech. I interviewed the IT team at a medical devices company whose sales reps needed new tools to demonstrate their products to doctors -- in the very short timeslots that doctors allowed them -- and the IT team saw enough in the first iPad (graphics, instant on, connections to the enterprise apps) to place a huge first-day order.

IT pros don't have to be on a bleeding edge, but they do need to consider the possibilities that new tech present.
Charlie Babcock
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
2/17/2017 | 3:51:32 PM
Getting cross-functional teams will be a big accomplishment
I remember how enthralled everyone in IT was when the Internet first emerged and it wasn't clear how IT jobs would adjust to it. Java came along at the same time and it wasn't difficult to enlist the more forward-thinking staffers in learning Java because it was viewed as a language that could be used  on the network. Cross-functional capability isn't easy. If it were, everyone would already be doing it. I suspect it will have to be associated with the future of IT in the same way as Java was before it becomes a common practice: the future is cross-functional and we'd better get there. 
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