Secrets of Successful IT Teams: Socially Connected Employees

Secrets of Successful IT Teams: Socially Connected Employees

Successful IT management requires leaders to understand the strengths, weaknesses and connections of the people on their team. A software developer tells how his former boss used social network analysis tools to identify rising stars and strengthen his bench

In the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game Michael Lewis tells how in 2002, Oakland A's manager Billy Beane used nontraditional statistics to turn the small-market franchise into a team that could compete with big-market franchises. The story holds lessons for IT management about the importance of understanding objectively the strengths, weaknesses and behaviour of individual players in order to build a successful team.

An individual's ability to solve problems, connect with resources, anticipate issues, and communicate details is crucial to organizational efficiency and effectiveness

Beane dispensed with the traditional — and subjective — baseball wisdom that scouts relied on to draft players and created an objective method for scouting based on statistics that weren't valued by his competitors. By taking this new approach Beane revolutionized the way baseball is managed and played, changing fundamentally the concepts behind building a winning team. Theo Epstein, general manager of the Boston Red Sox used a similar approach to win World Series championships in 2004 and 2007.

Like Beane, Steve Randle, Vice President of IT Operations for XO Communications wanted to find an objective way to understand his organization and how to make it more successful. Like many IT executives, Randle used metrics such as uptime, server statistics and project completions to illustrate his team's achievements. While these metrics paint a useful picture, Randle realized that there was a more fundamental reason his organization was successful — because of employees' knowledge and relationships — and he wanted to document it.

Beane found that on-base percentage (how often a batter reaches base for any reason other than fielding errors, a fielder's choice, a fielder's obstruction, or catcher's interference) and slugging percentage (a measure of the power of a hitter calculated as total bases divided by number of at bats) were better statistics to evaluate players than the traditional tools used by teams at the time.

Randle saw that individuals' knowledge and their ability to collaborate and share information were fundamental factors in determining whether his IT organization would achieve its goals. However, traditional means of evaluating personnel, such as yearly reviews or peer reviews, focus on the individual, not his or her relationship with teammates. Randle wanted to document his staff's interpersonal and interdepartmental relationships.

In 2007, Randle learned about Social Network Analysis (SNA), and he saw a tool that could produce the desired objective measurement. Through the use of SNA, Randle explored a new perspective: That people and information are primary IT assets and should be valued at a premium. An individual's ability to solve problems, connect with resources, anticipate issues, and communicate details is crucial to organizational efficiency and effectiveness.

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