The Inspiring CIO

Curtis Franklin Jr., Executive Editor | 4/20/2012 | 23 comments

Curtis Franklin Jr.
How do you inspire your team? It's a question that's particularly important when the team is supposed to do something creative. Whether the creative thing is designing an automobile, developing an enterprise application, or figuring out why the network isn't performing up to its potential, many of the things we do in IT involve more than simply plugging data into an algorthm and catching whatever falls out. The question for business leaders is how to inspire the members of their staff to do work that isn't just good enough -- to do work that's great.

I started thinking about this when I saw a photo of the Harrier jet that sits in the Dyson parking lot. James Dyson, who's been known to lead a creative team or two, explains in a article that the jet is there to provide inspiration to the engineers in his company. Now, the geeky part of my brain would love to park a jet in my front yard, but the part that wants to stay married says there has to be a better way to get an engineering or project team excited, inspired, and ready to do great work. Let's look at some options...

When the team at Pixar was working on the early stages of Finding Nemo, a number of the artists and directors went to Australia on an extended scuba diving trip. Not everyone has a trip to Australia in their project budget, but the idea of taking the entire team out to see where a product will be used isn't a bad idea at all. Offices are fine, but if the final product will be used in, say, commercial dairies, then taking the team to mingle with cows (and dairy farmers) could pay huge dividends.

A computer design firm where I once worked had a different approach to providing inspiration. Every four to six weeks, the CEO would take the engineering team and senior management to a shooting range for an afternoon of target practice. The idea was that we'd all spend time doing something that required us to concentrate on things other than our day-to-day tasks. During breaks, we could sit around and have casual conversations about problems we were working on, and then we would return to work with new ideas. Shooting might not be right for every group, but there are other off-site activities, from whitewater rafting to bowling, that could serve the same purpose.

A third option is a variation on the "Harrier in the parking lot" plan: an object or design element in the office environment that offers inspiration for those who would do great things. Whether it's a wing from a 747 stretched over a break area or a simple Zen garden, if it allows an engineer or designer to look at problems a bit differently or think that the limits of the possible are beyond what was previously thought, it's a good thing.

CIOs in manufacturing organizations have roles to play far beyond the datacenter walls. Inspiring teams to do great things is one of those roles. How have you inspired your teams to go beyond what they thought was possible? Other CIOs would love to know.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
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The_Phil   The Inspiring CIO   5/5/2012 10:29:09 AM
Re: TIPs

Well yes, that's it too. You can't LEAD if your vision is totally different than the troops. Otherwise, you're just a guy that everyone reports to, not a GOOD CIO.
The_Phil   The Inspiring CIO   5/5/2012 10:26:21 AM
Re: TIPs
Nothing like a leader who takes the blame when things go wrong and praise YOU when they go right!
keveend   The Inspiring CIO   4/27/2012 1:58:20 PM
Re: TIPs
Couldn't agree more.:)
impactnow   The Inspiring CIO   4/26/2012 10:53:42 AM
Re: TIPs


Phil I think it can happen but I also think the CIO needs to be in tune with his team. If his personality and perspectives are out of line with his team they will not support his direction. There needs to be some level of mutual understanding.

kstaron   The Inspiring CIO   4/25/2012 11:18:26 AM
getting employees into the project
The bottom line is you need to get the employees 'into' the project. My name went on the contract of every project we did, so I was invested in making sure that If my name was on it, then I wanted to make sure it was as good as I could make it.

Praise often works wonders, espeically in areas where you are mostly dealing with emergencies when it doesn't work. It's nice to get some thank you's when things are going good or an emergency ewas handled with grace. (I kept every single corporate thank you I ever got.)

David Wagner   The Inspiring CIO   4/23/2012 10:35:33 PM
Re: remote workers
@Sara- Personally, I think we should try some sort of online gaming. :) The team that slays together stays together.

Seriously though, I think the thing about remote teams is that they remove the highs and the lows. You never really feel as together as when you work closely with people but you are far less likely to want to rip them to pieces just for saying good morning as well.

There's something nice about getting rid of the bipolar nature of work. That isnt necessraily inspirational, but hey, if I had inspirtion I'd be at Hallmark.
David Wagner   The Inspiring CIO   4/23/2012 10:27:04 PM
Re: TIPs
There are no objects of inspiration, no thrilling speeches and no off-site activities that will overcome a bad example set by the CIO.

I'm not even sure there are thrilling speeches or off-site activities that inspire period. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but i think ultimately inspiration comes from within.

I think a CIO can kill inspiration by constantly beating you down, but I don't think he can build it. I think the best a CIO can do is surround himself with self-inspired folks and then make sure he doesn't ruin it.

But I guess I'm killing the inspiration now, so maybe I should take my own advice. :)

Sara Peters   The Inspiring CIO   4/23/2012 12:06:45 PM
remote workers
I think that these type of inspiration exercises, retreats, field trips or whatever you'd like to call them are certainly important for the people working in miserable office parks with cookie-cutter offices full of cubicles and flickering fluorescent lights. However I think they're even more important for teams whose members who work in different places -- like, oh I don't know, a 3-person team of editors split between a home office outside San Francisco, a home office in a mysterious place in Florida, and an 8th-floor office in midtown Manhattan. I certainly wish we could do more of them.

I wish that companies would take some of the money that they presumably save from letting people work from home and use it for more opportunities to bring teams together. I also wish that we could find simpler ways to keep a team inspired in between those fancy trips.

any ideas?
kicheko   The Inspiring CIO   4/23/2012 11:33:42 AM
The Inspiring CIO
Sometimes it is great to take the whole team out to see what great things, bigger firms in the industry are working on. Another way would be the retreat outings or trips. However, even better, let these trips come in as bonus packages, so that people get them for working. With a reward in mind, people tend to work better.
CurtisFranklin   The Inspiring CIO   4/23/2012 11:13:27 AM
Re: TIPs
@Umair, that's a great point. If everyone (even the most junior member) feels that they're a valuable part of the team, then the effort will follow!
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