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3 Ways To Build a High-Performing IT Department

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When an IT department is difficult and its members irritable, it can seem like a nuisance. But when the department is engaged and effective, it can smooth a company’s operations and add to the bottom line.

Too often, said longtime IT professional Jim Smith, a company’s top brass will grudgingly settle for the former, wishing (or outsourcing) the department away.

Smith, a consultant who now heads the Enterprise Management Group, said improving IT services requires fostering an environment in which the department can thrive.

"It's going to come from the top by eliminating the politics and culture that has treated IT as some magical thing that takes too long, costs too much and delivers too little," Smith said.

If you're ready to turn your IT department into a valuable company asset, consider three tips for building a high-performing IT team.

An IT department that contains only socially inept techies will flounder. So will one that contains only fabulously personable computer novices. Josette Rigsby, an independent enterprise architect, said the key to an effective IT team is balance.

The first crucial ingredient, Rigsby said, is a "communicator" who understands both business and technology. "They must be willing to say 'no' to both technical people and the business when one is being unreasonable," Rigsby said.

The second is a "technical leader" whom the technology team respects and who can defend the IT department's decisions, Rigsby said. "A little arrogance is OK," she added, "but the inability to take feedback or challenge their own ideas is not."

The third, Rigsby said, is an "implementer" who serves as a developer or analyst.

Izzy Goodman is a 30-year IT veteran who said he has seen too many companies sabotage their IT operations in the name of short-term cost savings.

"My No. 1 rule about building high-performance IT is don’t try to do it on the cheap," Goodman said.

Goodman added that he has seen overseas outsourcing lead to failed projects and wasted money, and that companies who lay off good consultants risk future IT issues that can jeopardize their edge over competitors.

Mark Brundage is the business leader of Adaptu, a personal finance site that lets users track their budgets and spending while drawing support from a community of savers seeking similar goals. Before Adaptu, Brundage was a senior manager at Accenture, the management consulting firm.

In Brundage's experience, many companies' attitudes toward their IT departments is: "I don’t really think of you until I need you." Brundage's approach to IT, he said, is to bring its personnel in as a strategic partner in the business.

Brundage recommends managers invite IT staff to day-to-day business meetings and ensure they’re speaking up. “Even if there’s nothing to contribute," Brundage said, "asking questions shows IT seeks to understand customer needs."

Bringing IT into the strategy fold helps them take ownership within the company.

"One thing we’ve done," Brundage said, "is help the IT department understand the true goal and consumer need."  This way, he said, the department begins to devise solutions to problems rather than merely implementing technology.

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