Well-Intentioned Things IT Leaders Do That Hurt Team Productivity

Good intentions aren't enough to build a successful IT team. Here's how to keep seemingly ordinary practices from backfiring.

John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author

June 28, 2024

5 Min Read
Tired man being overloaded at work.
Georgiy Datsenko via Alamy Stock Photo

All IT leaders seek to build happy and productive teams. Unfortunately, in their quest to achieve these goals, they sometimes do things -- or fail to do things -- that will help them meet their intended objective. 

Here's a look at five everyday ways IT leaders can inadvertently sabotage team productivity. 

1. Falling into technical debt 

IT leaders are often tempted into adopting the most exciting new tools and software. "But that's like running before you can walk," warns Bill Briggs, CTO at business advisory firm Deloitte, in an email interview. There's another issue that must be addressed first. 

Before leaders can begin playing with new toys, technical debt -- the cost of additional work that was created by choosing the fastest solution rather than the most effective solution -- must be resolved. "This means understanding what's perpetuating technical debt -- and these can often be a literal and virtual smorgasbord of outdated infrastructure and coding methods, Briggs advises. 

According to Deloitte’s 2024 Tech Trends research, 70% of technology leaders acknowledge that accumulating technical debt is the No. 1 cause of productivity loss and hindrance to innovation among their teams. 

2. Presenting a defined solution instead of a problem that has to be solved 

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Most IT team members enjoy the challenge of problem solving as well as the thrill of success. "Giving the team tasks to perform rather than a goal to achieve limits each member’s ability to apply and learn new skills and roles," says Ola Chowning, a partner at technology research and advisory firm ISG, via email. "More importantly, it signals a lack of trust in the team’s ability to be successful."  

Even something as simple as defining role boundaries too strictly can signal a warning to team members to stay within their lane, limiting their approach to self-learning and self-organizing. "The result can be team members who are bored and feel no accountability or influence, and a team that lacks a cohesive and collective incentive to work well and productively together," Chowning says. 

3. Prioritizing systems over people 

As an IT leader, it's important to recognize that real power lies in creating partnerships. Yet when leaders make team members feel undervalued and disconnected, productivity inevitably wanes. "Instead of seeing their roles as integral to the company's success, they may begin to view their work as strictly functional -- a series of tasks to be completed, rather than contributions to a shared mission," says Ashley Cruz, head of IT at Televerde, a business-to-business sales and customer experience technology provider. "This not only dampens enthusiasm and engagement, but can also lead to a lack of personal and professional development as growth opportunities become overshadowed by a focus on maintaining and managing technology," she notes in an email conversation. 

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A systems-oriented approach is particularly damaging because it isolates the IT team, putting them in a bubble. "It detaches them from the broader business context and diminishes their ability to connect their technical efforts with the company's goals," Cruz says. "Motivation and productivity wane when team members feel like cogs in a machine rather than integral parts of a larger mission." 

4. Limiting a team's scope 

Jean-Philippe Avelange, CIO at workforce solutions provider Expereo, believes that one of the worst things an IT leader inadvertently does is view their department as little more than an enterprise support unit. Instead, IT teams should be encouraged to step forward as clear business partners, leading the technology initiatives essential to driving progress. 

The world has changed, and IT now has an important role in just about everything an enterprise does. "From marketing to product development to sales, technology is the lifeblood of a business's entire operation, and failing to recognize this fact is extremely debilitating," Avelange says via email. 

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IT leaders should do all they can to ensure that their teams are proactively communicating with other business units. "This is vital to building true cross-functional teams where IT has a broader involvement with business objectives, which is key to driving transformation and innovation," Avelange says.

5. Failing to delegate 

IT leaders are notorious for their over-management tendencies, largely due to inherent project complexity and high stakes. "When it comes to productivity, the worst thing an IT leader can do is to be a blocker for decision making, since it will ultimately hinder productivity, lower morale, and stifle innovation," says Lukasz Bobek, IT global ops director at project management software provider Wrike, in an email interview. 

As a leader, it's important to empower employees and create opportunities for them to demonstrate leadership. "Team leads must set clear expectations rooted in data-driven success metrics to build a productive team," Bobek says. Collaboration is a key success driver. This can be achieved through open communication and creating a feedback culture. "It's crucial to build this kind of rapport with your teams to help move everyone in the right direction." 

About the Author(s)

John Edwards

Technology Journalist & Author

John Edwards is a veteran business technology journalist. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and numerous business and technology publications, including Computerworld, CFO Magazine, IBM Data Management Magazine, RFID Journal, and Electronic Design. He has also written columns for The Economist's Business Intelligence Unit and PricewaterhouseCoopers' Communications Direct. John has authored several books on business technology topics. His work began appearing online as early as 1983. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, he wrote daily news and feature articles for both the CompuServe and Prodigy online services. His "Behind the Screens" commentaries made him the world's first known professional blogger.

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