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The Habit of Team-Building: Daily Practices for Chief Technology Officers

Wikipedia's definition of a CTO never gets around to mentioning leadership and team development. Maybe it should.

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Like so many skilled professionals, technologists are seemingly happiest doing what they know best: in their case, coding and developing new solutions to challenging problems.

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But sometimes those of us in the CTO seat (chief technology officer) want more. As humans, we have a constant need to feel relevant, to know that our work has meaning. Also, I truly believe that in order to create a highly-functioning, fully-satisfied team, we technologists need to help one another become more aware of the contributions we make to our organizations, as well as society.

Wikipedia's definition of a CTO describes an executive-level position focused on scientific and technological issues; there is no mention of leadership and team development. Yet, in fact, CTOs do have a responsibility as tech leaders to scale our organizations from a people perspective.

We should understand the impact that technology has on the market and our customers. We should invest the time and effort to connect our technology teams to our customers, ensuring that employees understand the context in which they work. We're also obliged as CTOs to grow and develop other leaders who have a strong sense of ownership, get stuff done daily for customers, won't stand for impediments and see that leadership development is both art and science.

And while "culture" may be an ambiguous term, I believe that that too has a role here too as simply the stories one tells every day: Spent the day complaining? Delivering? Helping others?

My approach has been to spend at least 50 percent of my time focused on team development to ensure that we reach our overall goals. Over the years, I've come across the following habits that help me ensure I am not missing that benchmark.

1. Calendar color-coding

The Harvard Business Review has written that to truly understand where you are spending your time and to whether you should adjust your workload, you should track your work for two weeks.

I have developed my own system that allows me to track my workload in real time. I was always diligent about keeping all appointments in a daily planner/calendar. But that has evolved, and for many years, I been using a color-coding system to track the purpose of my various appointments.

For example, I have a color for leadership meetings, one for architecture and one for people development. This system allows me to view a quick snapshot of my time and ensure that 50 percent of my calendar is color coded around people. For instance, I schedule weekly touch-base meetings with all my employees. And if we need to reschedule, I make sure that I fit them into my calendar.

I can tell in just a few quick seconds if I am spending my time correctly or need to make an adjustment. As one mentor said to me years ago, "Your 'priorities' are where you spend your time."

Related: 10 Lessons Building a Rockstar Development Team as a Non-Technical Co-Founder

2. Team goal-sharing

One of the items that I find critical for team-building is communicating the overall relevancy of everyone's work. This leads me to another regular habit: sharing performance objectives and goals.

Key here is my belief that assessment of goals should not be limited to formal employee reviews, but should take place on an ongoing basis.

For example, all my team members are mandated to share with me, in writing, monthly, their goals and performance objectives. I have them on a rotating schedule so I can take time to review them properly, at the rate of several a day. We then hold a team meeting every month to discuss how members' goals translate into the overall strategy for the year, and why we are prioritizing specific activities. Hearing my team members' concerns and opinions is an important step to success in this effort.

My objective here overall is get my team to think bigger and feel connected with our company, Experian's, mission. When team members buy into the overall strategy,they become more motivated and willing to put in more than what is required. We are not just laying sticks and stones but rather, alongside all the other teams in the company, actually building cathedrals.

3. Feedback platforms

The third habit that I recommend for technology leaders is hosting regular open-feedback platforms for conflict resolution, which I do on a monthly basis. I use this framework to work with my team to resolve issues efficiently, and lower the hallway chatter to a manageable level.

For example, my teams get together to openly talk about the "unsaid conversations" and commit to actions to resolve those perceptions. At the end of the day, all technology problems come down to people issues. The more one invests in actively fostering a culture of open feedback and conflict resolution, the faster we deliver and the more productive we are as a group.

This method further demonstrates to the team that, as an organization, we live and breathe people as our priority.

According to the CEO Institute, leadership is the major factor that makes everything work together seamlessly; without leadership, all other business resources are ineffective. Team-building and support is a physical habit, and should never just be lip service, unless you want your employees to become disillusioned and cynical.

CTOs must work to develop these habits and invest the time needed to improve their own skills and effectiveness, as well. Don't expect perfection at the beginning, but know that every effort you make will be appreciated by those working for you.

Also remember that no one starts a running program by competing in a marathon. Long distances must be trained for, and developing these important habits requires a similar regimen.

Related: The 3 Secrets to Building An All-Star Startup Team

Hopefully, you will enjoy this process. I've always been just as fascinated with people as I am with code -- modeling this behavior as a leader creates a people-first technology environment and, ultimately, a culture where we innovate and work together seamlessly.


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