Why you need to put a personal face on IT

The business/IT relationship builds -- or deteriorates -- one interaction at a time

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The importance of interpersonal rapport
That brings us to the third dynamic: interpersonals. We are, after all, dealing with those pesky human beings (you and I included) with all of their (our) foibles, idiosyncrasies, biases, moods, and unconscious assumptions. The plain fact is that if the interpersonals go wrong, nothing else can go right. The best organizational design in the known universe, the clearest and best-considered integration model, and the beautifully designed governance mechanisms and pitch-perfect position descriptions -- none of it will save the day if those pesky human beings can't figure out how to trust and understand each other.

All three dynamics are going on at the same time with every interaction between each employee in IT and whoever else they happen to be dealing with at that moment. That's a lot to keep track of. If you ask employees to keep track of it all at the same time, their heads will probably explode -- so don't ask.

Setting the stage for success
First: IT's leadership should build the relationship model into the business culture. It should be like gravity -- something everyone understands so well that they don't even notice it. A kit of stock phrases that reinforce the concept and that everyone has absorbed will help, such as, "My job is to help you succeed," "We need to figure this out together," and "We all have the same customer -- how can I help you help them?"

This isn't something IT's leaders can do on their own, of course. They need to work with their counterparts throughout the business so that collaboration in service of the company's customers becomes everyone's unconscious expectation.

It's easily said, but hard to do -- and absolutely essential.

Second: Coach everyone in IT to consciously clarify roles with whomever they're working with the first time they collaborate: "Here's my understanding of what we're trying to accomplish, and here's my understanding of the part we're each going to play in accomplishing it. Does that match your understanding?" Take care of this before the time comes for all of the interpersonals, and it won't get in the way. With these foundational pieces in place, it will be a lot easier for everyone involved to build the trust and rapport they'll need to collaborate effectively.

It's easier, but hardly easy, because there are quite a few intrinsic barriers to effective interpersonal interactions between IT staff and their counterparts elsewhere in the business. You'll face fewer than if the relationship model and roles are poorly done, but fewer doesn't mean few.

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Credit where it's due: Last weekend, Paul Glen of "Leading Geeks" fame, his business partner Maria McManus, and I convened a group of 16 people, some from inside technology functions, some from outside, all of whom care about this subject and who collectively brought a great deal of expertise to bear on it. Much of what's in this article is the result of our conversations.

Thus far we've made a dent in it, but there's a lot more left to do. If you'd like to be part of it moving forward -- that is, if you're interested in being an active participant who shares in the heavy lifting -- please contact me at RDLewis@issurvivor.com. In your communication, include something of your background so that we know how you might fit in.

No promises. At this stage we don't even know what "organized" will look like. We do know that we need more and more diverse ideas than we've brought to bear on the subject thus far.

This story, "Why you need to put a personal face on IT," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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