Who said techies can't play well with others? Here's how to get IT types to collaborate effectively and efficiently.
Applied Materials: changing a top-down culture
Applied Materials, a $5bn semiconductor equipment manufacturer, is a classic example of a company working to shift the way its IT employees interact.
In the past four years, Applied Materials has completely overhauled IT with the goal of cutting costs, improving service levels and driving business transformation.
CIO Ron Kifer has reduced the IT workforce from 580 full-time employees in 2006 to about 250 today, outsourcing much of the commodity-type IT work. The remaining employees are charged with focusing on strategic work that adds value or produces revenue.
Recently, the IT organisation switched from operating as several different independent regional departments to functioning as one global IT team, says Jay Kerley, corporate vice president and deputy CIO, who has overall responsibility for IT operations. (Kifer is focused on the overall business transformation project.)
IT staffers "have to be able to collaborate in near-real time," says Kerley. "They have to know how to engage with customers in a global, multi-time-zone operation."
This meant changing the culture from traditional command-and-control management to "matrix-style management," which aims to solve problems by bringing together people from across the IT organisation, regardless of where they fit in the management hierarchy, he explains.
For matrix management to work, employees must have the ability to communicate their ideas effectively, ideally engaging with and debating other team members. That, in turn, requires a certain level of confidence and maturity, he says, noting that such behaviour was not necessarily encouraged under the old management structure.
To successfully effect that change, Kerley felt he needed a baseline of current communication patterns. So earlier this year, he surveyed the IT staff, asking them to name the people they went to when they needed information, help with projects or feedback and advice on ideas.
For matrix management to work, employees must have the ability to communicate their ideas effectively.
The answers produced a map of communication lines, which illustrated that communication was happening along traditional chains of management but also between and among people who were serving as hubs of collaboration. About half of these "highly networked individuals," as Kerley calls them, were the managers you'd expect to be consulted, but the rest were rank-and-file workers that people felt comfortable asking for help.
He brought 12 of these people together to discuss how to encourage a more matrixed style of collaboration. The team agreed that some IT staffers were inhibited by language and cultural barriers, others by a lack of confidence or leadership skills.
For example, although English is spoken throughout the company, some workers for whom it's a second language might not understand certain jargon or colloquialisms. They needed to be encouraged to speak up when they didn't understand something. In terms of culture, Japanese employees would sometimes not speak their minds in meetings because the concept of openly debating ideas is foreign to their traditional management culture, says Kerley.
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