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 Wired.com 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.