5 Ways To Build A Balanced IT Team

Here's how one CTO assembles and cultivates a well-balanced IT team. Consider some of his hiring and talent tactics.

Kristin Burnham, Senior Editor, InformationWeek.com

July 1, 2014

4 Min Read

IT Salary: 10 Ways To Get A Raise

IT Salary: 10 Ways To Get A Raise

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Your IT team is key to your business's success -- and it's up to you to hire and cultivate the best talent. Of course, that's easier said than done; assembling and nurturing a technology dream team involves more than just matching candidates' skills to your job requisites and assigning them roles, said James Kenigsberg, chief technology officer at the software company 2U.

"The hotshot with great experience may look good, but [he or she] might not be the best fit with the rest of your employees," he said. "Culture is king when chasing tech greatness."

To build a well-rounded tech team, hiring managers should focus on more than just skills and strive to instill in employees creativity and passion, Kenigsberg said. Here are five ways you can start.

1. Hire for passion first, tech skills second
Hiring managers often prioritize tech skills over passion -- which is a big mistake. "Technology changes so fast, and new tools come out every day. You need to look for passion in what they do and passion for the field you're working in. You can teach everything else."

[Do you deserve a bigger paycheck? Read IT Salary: 10 Ways To Get A Raise.]

Before Kenigsberg brings in candidates to interview, he looks them up on sites like GitHub, an open source developer community. "I like to see if they've done any public projects and whether they've shared code with others. Passionate people care about sharing their knowledge with others."

2. Be aware of your gaps
If you track your diet and record everything you eat, you're better able to determine your nutritional gaps. Kenigsberg transferred this method to his tech team to determine its skill deficiencies.

"We have a skill matrix that includes various technologies and other skills like managing and communicating with stakeholders," he said. "This helps us not only grade the people who work for us, but it's useful to see where we're weak when we put together job recs."

3. Avoid common questions
Kenigsberg takes a different approach to the questions he asks in interviews to test a candidate's critical thinking skills.

"I flip the script on them, and I'll use the answers that many people might give me to the usual questions." Instead of asking, "What do you look for in a team?" -- nine out of 10 will say "teamwork" -- he will ask candidates what teamwork means to them. "It's interesting to hear what teamwork means to candidates, because many people never think about what buzzwords really mean."

4. Ask the candidate for a "premortum"
While a postmortem examines what went wrong after it's happened, Kenigsberg says that a "premortum" will give you more insight into the candidate's critical thinking skills. During interviews, he asks for two stories: one about what the candidate would hypothetically do to manage the most successful project ever, and one about how the candidate might fail.

"I want to see how you got to failure and how you got to success. What went wrong when you were on your way to the office from New York and you were late by an hour? Did your cab get lost? Did you miss your train? What process did you put in place if trains are delayed next time?" he said. "These are the things I want to hear, but about something like a development lifecycle. It's easy to see if people are smart or experienced enough to see what could go wrong."

5. Care less about perfection
Tech teams should shoot for greatness but keep in mind that the idea is to ship. "We fall way too often into paralysis analysis. You can't get stuck on projects. If you can get to 85% on a project, great. Make sure it's good and ship it. But the 85% to 100% on a project is really hard and expensive. It has to be good, but don't get held up on perfection."

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About the Author(s)

Kristin Burnham

Senior Editor, InformationWeek.com

Kristin Burnham currently serves as InformationWeek.com's Senior Editor, covering social media, social business, IT leadership and IT careers. Prior to joining InformationWeek in July 2013, she served in a number of roles at CIO magazine and CIO.com, most recently as senior writer. Kristin's writing has earned an ASBPE Gold Award in 2010 for her Facebook coverage and a Min Editorial and Design Award in 2011 for "Single Online Article." She is a graduate of Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

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