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SmartAdvice: How To Motivate And Build A Strong Team

Focus on satisfying fundamental needs first, such as workload relief and compensation, then move on to higher-level motivators such as empowerment, creative work, and advancement opportunities, The Advisory Council says. Also, consider waiting to adopt RFID until the technology's standards are ready, and check out which skill sets will be most in demand this year.

Editor's Note: Welcome to SmartAdvice, a weekly column by The Advisory Council (TAC), an advisory service firm. The feature answers three questions of core interest to you, ranging from career advice to enterprise strategies to how to deal with vendors. Submit questions directly to [email protected]

Topic A: After three years of downsizing and cost cutting, how do I motivate my management team and build a high-performance organization?

Our advice: Let's address the effects of downsizing and cost cutting within a context of motivation and team building, since the principles behind motivating and team building are constant, while the issues affecting them vary with circumstances.

Motivation is an inner drive that causes a person to behave in a way that leads to the accomplishment of goals, whether personal or organizational. All action comes from motivation. Motivation within any given situation is dynamic and complex: what motivates some or all team members once may not another time; and needs that are satisfied no longer motivate.

With the recent history of cost cutting and downsizing, a leader should look for re-emergent employee needs in the areas of workload relief, compensation, job security, and helpfulness toward coworkers. Focus on satisfying these fundamental needs first. Until these are met, most employees aren't concerned with higher-level motivators such as empowerment, group membership, creative work, planning, and advancement opportunities.

Designing IT jobs with built-in motivators for today's environment would therefore include factors such as:

  • Direct feedback that is prompt, objective, constructive and actionable

  • New learning and skills that are valued by the employee for his growth or security

  • Efficient work processes and scheduling to alleviate deadline pressures

  • Control over scarce resources, i.e., mini-budgets

  • Open communications to counter the rumor mill

  • Accountability

  • Elimination of unnecessary threats and punishments

  • Tasks and group missions that are related to both personal and organizational goals, and that pay off in results

  • High levels of trust, respect, and encouragement

  • Recognition of accomplishments and

  • Re-matching people to jobs based on the new vision and direction.

Related Links

Team Technology: The Basics of Team Building

Vijay Verma, The Human Aspects of Project Management

Consultants and other outside arbitrators are often better positioned to analyze the situation because of their expertise and nonthreatening posture. They can help in each phase of the motivation process, from identifying relevant needs and creating drivers to training managers. Success in motivating team members leads to improved productivity, better product quality, higher morale, and overall organizational success.

Team Building
Team building focuses on helping a group of people achieve a common goal that is higher and more complex than an individual can achieve alone.

Once a team has been formed and its roles and relationships identified, the stages of team building are:

  • Clarifying team goals

  • Identifying issues that inhibit the team from reaching those goals

  • Addressing those issues, removing inhibitors and enabling the goals to be achieved

The crucial skills in this process are identifying the right issues and tackling them in an appropriate way and order. In teams where membership is fairly static, typical of IT-management teams, the relationships among members can have a huge bearing on the team's performance. In times of turmoil, such as the previous three years, team dynamics tend to change greatly as members leave and others join. In such cases, the team leader (or team-building consultant) should focus primarily on the relationship between members, and to a lesser extent to the team's relationship to other teams within the organization.

Some characteristics of good teams and team-building are:

  • A high level of interdependence among team members

  • Willingness to contribute

  • A relaxed communication climate

  • Mutual trust

  • Risk-taking

  • Clear goals and targets

  • Clearly defined roles

  • The ability to examine errors without personal attacks

  • Creative problem-solving and ideas, and

  • An individual impact on the team agenda and decisions.

IT managers can be poor at delegating responsibility, which doesn't empower their teams. To be more successful, the IT manager should practice his or her people skills and be committed to the team approach.

Well-built teams are capable of remarkable results that can exceed previous levels of achievement. Witness the team of 4,000 engineers who created and launched the space shuttle, which can take us into space and back!

-- Peter Taglia

Topic B: Is RFID technology ready for widespread industry adoption?

Our advice: Radio frequency identification technology is being touted as the next generation UPC (Universal Product Code), ready to transform supply chain management yet again. There's no question that it has the potential to optimize inventory control and squeeze more efficiency out of the supply chain, but the bad publicity surrounding field trials with both Gillette and Wal-Mart have heightened consumer awareness of the potential for serious privacy issues. In addition to the security concerns, the industry hasn't sorted out which of two conflicting standards--the proposed EPC (Electronic Product Code) standard or the ISO (International Standardization Organization) RFID specification--will be adopted.

Related Links

AIM Association for Automatic Identification and Data Capture Technologies

RFID Journal


In general, RFID has the potential to provide companies with highly accurate inventory information in a more efficient, cost-effective way. Like supply-chain integration, RFID technology has the potential to allow suppliers, customers, and other firms in the industry access to critical competitive information. Unlike enterprise resource planning and supply chain technologies, where the information sharing is usually voluntary, RFID is a "pull" technology. It could be used to gather information covertly because it's so anonymous. Of course, this means that your competitors could potentially steal information about your company from under your nose. All of these issues need to be addressed before anyone should consider its widespread implementation.

Should you invest in RFID technology now? No, unless your business partners are pressuring you to incorporate the technology immediately. While the potential for increased efficiency is very real, the unresolved standards conflict and on-going consumer-privacy concerns argue against it. Better to wait until the dust settles. In a few years, the standards will converge, the consumer issues will be resolved, and magnetic-ink labeling will bring the cost and hassle factor down to the point that it will become, like the UPC before it, just a normal part of doing business.

-- Beth Cohen

Topic C: As the economy turns around, what IT skills will be most in demand this year?

Our advice: The IT skills perpetually in high demand are typically the softer, interpersonal ones, rather than hard, technical skills. But the technical skills in demand right now look strong for the next several months.

In a study of 40,000 IT workers that's updated quarterly by Foote Partners (a TAC affiliate), the following skills have grown the most in value in the past 12 months and will continue to be in demand in 2004. They are, in order of value: Linux, WebSphere, voice over IP, Gigabit Ethernet, and XML.

As for certified skills, these have been on a hot streak lately in value growth and employer demand:

  • Security management and administration (Certified Information Systems Auditor and Certified Information Systems Security Professional);

  • GIAC Certified Windows Administrator;

  • GIAC Certified Unix Administrator;

  • Citrix systems administration (Citrix Certified Administrator and Certified Enterprise Administrator);
  • Linux (Red Hat Certified Engineer);

  • Networking (Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert); and

  • Project management (Project Management Professional).

  • Related Links

    Foote Partners

    Outsourcing Is Key As IT Salaries Spiral Downward

    Then there are skills that have been earning higher pay compared with the skills mentioned earlier. They've all had long, successful runs, which should extend into 2004:

  • Microsoft SQL Server;

  • Oracle database and applications skills;

  • Project-level security skills; and

  • Rapid application development and extreme programming.
  • This also is true for certified skills. Add to the list of high-paying certifications popular with employers the following:

  • Microsoft's Certified Trainer, Certified Solution Developer, and Certified Database Administrator certifications;

  • Oracle Certified Professional/DBA;

  • Cisco's Certified Enterprise Administrator and Certified Network Professional; and
  • Master Certified Novell Engineer.
  • Among "soft" skills and qualities perpetually in high demand, six appear regularly in the IT hiring plans across a broad spectrum of employers:

  • A tolerance for ambiguity;

  • Adaptability and flexibility;

  • Facility for risk taking;

  • A team-wise outlook;

  • Vision; and

  • Accepting responsibility.
  • Moreover, in 2004, employers will be keen to hire and develop the following skills instead of simply "renting" them via contractors and consultants: negotiation; marketing; collaboration; business process; risk analysis; project management; conflict resolution; customer satisfaction; facilitation; problem solving; evaluation; prototyping and modeling; relationship and team building; interpersonal skills; and coaching/mentoring.

    Finally, as frozen budgets begin to thaw, expect to see hiring for workers skilled in: storage; Web-enabled analytics; and security-related areas including identity management, intrusion detection and prevention, security event and information monitoring, vulnerability assessment and security monitoring, and hard-factor authentication.

    -- David Foote

    Peter Taglia, TAC Expert, has more than 20 years of IT experience from the vendor perspective, focused on process automation for eBusiness, eCRM, contact centers, telecomm operations support systems, E911, wireless and wireline networks via n-tier applications, integration, middleware, and portals. His experience includes complex planning, project management, financial justification, ROI, metrics and strategies for growth via opportunity assessment, product management, value innovation, benchmarking, and industry structure research for alliances, mergers, and competitive analysis.

    Beth Cohen, TAC Thought Leader, has more than 20 years of experience building strong IT delivery organizations from both user and vendor perspectives. Having worked as a technologist for BBN, the company that literally invented the Internet, she not only knows where technology is today but where it's heading in the future.

    David Foote, TAC Thought Leader, has more than 20 years of experience in technology including 13 years as an analyst and consultant at Gartner, Meta Group, and Foote Partners, where he is co-founder, president, and chief research officer. His specialties include a range of private and public-sector IT management practices and workforce trends and issues; offshore sourcing and strategic resource management; enterprise project delivery; organizational transition and transformation; and IT compensation. His editorial opinion columns, articles, and contributions appear regularly in a variety of business, IT, and HR publications, and in appearances on radio, television, and global Web casts.

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