CIO’s Guide to More Engaged IT Teams in the Post Pandemic World

By Alok Mehta, SVP, CIO Business Systems, Kemper Corporate Services

We are living in interesting times.  With the pandemic mostly behind us but still lingering, our IT teams have adopted fairly well in producing remarkable results by collaborating and working remotely.   In this short article, I will share how we can make our teams even more productive by supercharging them in a post-pandemic era and implementing the following ideas in a virtual setting or in person:

  1. Have Fun: IT professionals spend 50-60 or even more hours on their jobs.  If they are not having fun, they will burn out faster and possibly be not as productive.  There are several ways you can make their professional lives fun.  Some ideas include creating a shared teams chat and sharing pictures.  This can include pictures of their pets and hobbies.  Ask them to share what books they have read and what are their favorite food recipes and vacations.  These small ideas build camaraderie and relationships that go way beyond the team’s virtual chat.  In the next project meeting, it can be an ice breaker to create stronger bonds.  What are some of your ideas to make it fun for your teams?
  2. Coffee Talks: If you are working with large diverse teams, one of the ways to connect with them is to hold smaller and intimate group meetings of 8-10 team members.  People feel comfortable in smaller groups and are more willing to share their ideas and concerns, and to ask questions. Holding coffee talks in smaller groups often will give you an opportunity to learn about the team and their concerns directly.  This way you can stay connected to real-world problems, ideas and concerns.  A weekly coffee talk can allow you to get to know you teams more intimately and informally than any other means.
  3. Newsletter: Your team wants to hear from you.  They want to know what you are thinking, including what your philosophies are relative to IT and business, and what it means to them.  A quarterly newsletter is a great way to communicate what is going on in your teams.  This way you can provide details around recent releases, upcoming projects that align to the business, and IT strategies.   You can also recognize an individual or the team of their achievements.   While it may seem like a daunting task, producing a newsletter is very easy these days.  Most word processing apps have templates that you can use to jump start the newsletter.   The effort to create a newsletter can be shared across your team.  This way you can include diverse ideas and topics in the newsletter.  I highly recommend a quarterly newsletter for your team.
  4. Conduct a Hackathon:  What’s life without a little friendly competition?  Human beings are competitive in nature.  IT hackathons are one of the best ways to engage your teams in a competition in a safe manner.   Hackathons can be customized to the culture of your organization.   You can tap into the creativity of your teams by giving them an opportunity to define a problem statement pertinent to your business and how they would solve it.  Further, let them form cross-functional teams with other areas within your companies.  These types of engagements generate creative ideas and allows for collaboration across teams.   I am a big fan of these kinds of sessions and have sponsored them for years.   I have implemented many of the ideas into production that were generated at such events.   This is a true morale booster for IT teams.
  5. Lunch and Learns: Lunch and learn sessions are another one of my favorite activities that allows IT teams, vendors and even businesses to share a topic that is of interest over an informal meal.  Teams really like time dedicated to learning from others.  Since it is typically scheduled over lunch time, we are also maximizing everyone’s time.  From time to time, I do recommend that CIOs buy lunch for the teams.  Again, another great way to interact with teams and learn from each other.
  6. Book Reviews: There are some great books that are fantastic for your teams to read.  The topics range from building teams, learning a particular topic, or management-related matters.  This is also a good way to identify leaders within your teams as you can assess organizational, analytical, and communication skills.   I typically participate in 1-2 book discussions a year and has been very rewarding over the years.  I highly encourage conducting book review sessions with your teams.
  7. Project Reviews: I prefer to review learnings from projects on an incremental basis rather than waiting for the project to finish.   In agile terminology, we call it retrospect.  Reviews allow us to learn from each other, our mistakes and quickly implement the corrections.

There are many ways to recharge your teams.  While the above-mentioned ideas are not new, I do find them valuable to review from time to time so we can continue to create culture of collaboration and innovation and to build stronger teams.

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