A New Operating System for IT

October 2016
By the Research Institute

We are in a new era of work. The siloed work streams of pre-1990 gave way decades ago to more complex matrices, which ushered in the project-based teams we see today: people assemble around a specific initiative, work intensively, then disband or reconfigure as soon as it’s complete. Team members are not necessarily aligned by department — even internal and external lines get blurred. Vendors collaborate with customers; contractors drive initiatives. The old rules don’t apply.

During this same period, the role of IT in organizations has dramatically shifted. Formerly a support service, IT is now core to business strategy, innovation, and customer experience. IT professionals and generalists partner and collaborate with every function within their business and selectively in their customers’ business. In this world of work, relationships are the new operating system, and IT professionals need to radically accelerate their relational competencies to lead and succeed. We’re not talking nice to have; the relational competency of your IT teams in the following four areas is critical to your entire company’s success.

IT professionals need to radically accelerate their relational competencies to lead and succeed.

1. Radically Candid Leaders, Radically Accountable Teams

What is the energy like in the room when you hold meetings? Do the same people speak? How many people speak? This makes a difference. Recent research by Project Aristotle at Google about the qualities of a perfect team corroborates our research and client outcomes at Ferrazzi Greenlight: “… on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion … if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined. Second, the good teams all had high ‘average social sensitivity’ — a fancy way of saying they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions, and other nonverbal cues.”

Raising “average social sensitivity” is just another way of saying having real relationships. And when we say real, we mean leaders who set the standard of leading with generosity and are candid about their professional challenges, show vulnerability, and ask how they can be of service to the team. To create this depth of relationship in a collaboration-driven business, IT leaders must commit to actively pursuing their own personal learning journey in establishing more purposeful relationships. That is radical candor.

Building those relationships, however, doesn’t happen overnight. In our team coaching, which has been fine-tuned over years of applied research, we turn executive meetings into collaborative problem solving sessions that leverage peer-to-peer insight to advance what are truly the most critical business issues. We introduce tools, such as the “Personal and Professional Check In,” which levels us all as humans and creates the psychological safety your leadership needs to voice their insights and request the support they need — far beyond surface-level issues. What you get is increased candor and diminished conflict avoidance, which unleashes vocal accountability. The result is a team that won’t let one another fail. Taking this example of leadership into your own teams, your reports learn to lead with generosity and proactively look for opportunities to be of service and advance one another collectively toward winning. That is radical accountability.

2. Connected Managers Who Coach to Results

The expanded role of IT and the flattening of organizational structures have left IT managers with almost no time to coach their employees or manage intergenerational workforces. With the mix of traditional IT positions and the newer digital expertise, this coaching is essential. By taking the initiative and proactively working to become a better, more caring coach, your managers will elevate not only their own performance but that of their team and, by extension, your organization. Bottom-line business results will follow.

As many companies shed their antiquated performance rating systems, IT leaders are further challenged to provide regular, substantive feedback to their people to ensure they develop and get recognized for their contributions. This level of engagement by leaders — and the enthusiasm it engenders in staff — is what makes your IT department a highly sought-after place to work for the best and brightest. Whether providing performance feedback or influencing team members who are not direct reports, IT managers need to model the relationship behavior of the radically honest CIO. Doing so, they gain permission to use the candor required to create the mutual support and accountability that will make their IT staff excellent partners across the organization.

This sharing by managers doesn’t only deepen relationships with reports, it deepens their understanding of IT’s role and allows them to bring a more elevated strategic view of the business in every interaction they have with partners within the organization. The importance of this knowledge cannot be understated. This is knowledge that increases their ability to deliver on strategic promises and elevate the company’s brand in the marketplace.

Strong relationships with employees also allow managers to have deeper knowledge of individual strengths and weaknesses of each person, so project teams can collaborate more effectively and achieve goals more quickly. In our work, we employ coaching archetypes developed by our Research Institute that offer guidance on various types of feedback and direction, an enlightening tool for allowing employees to be seen and understood, while getting to higher results more quickly. When managers have these deeper relationships with each individual, more voices are heard at meetings and more accountability is taken by the entire team.

3. Staff Who Consult to Drive Strategy

Your IT professionals and generalists are now in the role of leading innovation and providing digital expertise to a range of people at multiple levels in your organization. They are positioned to be change agents, but only if they can create radically deeper, more purposeful relationships with their business partners. Being the bridge between the broader organizational strategy and the realities of implementation, IT staff must earn the right to be influential so they can bring a more elevated strategic view of their role.

In our work with IT teams, getting to this level of confidence, accountability, and strategic value is not a straight-line progression—but we’ve surfaced personnel who are blocking outstanding results and transformed even the most resistant to change. We do this by celebrating those who are ready to change and creating a supportive environment for those who find change uncomfortable or even impossible. Our proven approach gets to the root of behavioral and cultural challenges and helps your teams overcome them.

The payoff of this work is enormous. Earning that right to be influential, using the behavior modeled by their manager and CIO, is the key to your team’s ability to conduct consultative inquiry that solves problems. It also gives them permission to elevate the conversation further to identify places of alignment that allow their collaboration to drive strategic value. These radical ways of working build greater trust in your IT staff and improve not only internal credibility but also credibility with your customer.

4. Vendor Relationship Elevation

Your customers won’t recognize your newly relational IT team. As your team becomes adept at maintaining won’t-let-you-fail relationships with colleagues, internal business partners, and leadership, their impulse to heighten their accountability and deepen relationships with vendors is a natural outcome. We use relationship quality scores to measure the effect of our work. In a recent client engagement, relationship quality scores from vendors before our client work were uniformly the lowest possible on a six-point scale. After our relationship work, each rose to the highest or second-highest level, enabling collaboration and innovation in a whole new way.

Based on our applied experience, we know that this drastic improvement stemmed from the level of anticipation and innovation that IT partners brought to the relationship, beyond the expected service. By bringing to the table new ways to solve problems, the vendor relationship was elevated to that of valuable, consultative partner who anticipated needs and opened doors to creative solutions that made significant improvements to customer operations and their results.


Duhigg, Charles. “What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team.” The New York Times. February 25, 2016: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/magazine/what-google-learned-from-its-quest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html?_r=0.

Woolley, A. W., Aggarwal, I., & Malone, T. W. (2015). Collective intelligence and group performance. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24, 420-424.

Kramer, Shelly. “The Changing Role of the CIO.” Digitalist Magazine. July 20, 2015: http://www.digitalistmag.com/future-of-work/2015/07/20/changing-role-cio-03097065.

Hanover Research. “Best Practices in Matrix Organizational Structures.” December 2013: http://gssaweb.org/webnew/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Best-Practices-in-Matrix-Organizational-Structures.pdf.

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