CIO Development

Blog Creating disruptive teams

Creating disruptive teams is the emergent critical leadership competency for technology and digital leaders.

In this new world (where YouTube went from start up to sale to Google for $1.4b in 18 months, Instagram went from start up to sale to Facebook for $1bn in three years, and Uber multiplied its value a tenfold to $17b in two years), the ability to deliver change and disruption to a sector, an industry and to one’s own organisation is arguably the most critical competency a business leader needs to possess.

In the case of technology and digital leaders this is even more critical; it is to them the CEO and Board will look for advice and guidance.

Does this come naturally to you? Are you someone who instinctively looks for better ways to do things, including strategic change not simply process or systems improvement? Do you have the urge to overturn what has gone before, are you a natural iconoclast? Would people say that you have an experimental and pioneering disposition?

There is a continuum of style, personality and track record amongst technology and digital leaders. The nearer you are to the classic corporate IT leader model, the less likely you are to be responding “yes!” to the questions above. If this is you it is even more important that you ensure you have creative, innovative and potentially disruptive people in your team.

This will not be what you are used to, but to be a good leader in the second decade of the 21st century you absolutely have to deliver challenge and change, even radical change.  So what should you be doing to encourage this capability in your teams? First, you need to be thinking differently: this is no longer the age of the HiPPO (highest paid person’s opinion). You must be a change agent, a change catalyst. You need to encourage and develop those in your team who cope well with ambiguity (where the parameters constantly shift) and act appropriately.

You need capable people who thrive on variety and need a changing environment to feel stimulated. You must encourage and reward those who actively want to change established norms to come up with new ways of seeing the world and of doing things very differently. You need to listen to all and create an experiment and fail-fast culture. Get rid of business cases and invest money for projects three months at a time. If progress is shown, invest some more; if there is no progress, kill them.

Encourage internal crowdsourcing for new ideas; make the most of the millennials in your team. Who are the people who understand data and information and can manipulate it and analyse it to create new paradigms? Get them to work with innovative and creative business teams in an agile and pacey way. Allow your mavericks headroom to try new things. Encourage reverse mentoring, so that talented youngsters work with your executive and board to show them the way. Demand creativity and innovation every day.

It’s different, but it’s vital – and if you don’t do this, the greatest risk is that your organisation, despite its decades or centuries of success, will be hit by a light-footed start up, which is not held back by legacy systems and thinking, or by a digital giant – an Amazon or Google – with the vision and deep pockets to disrupt your sector and your company, and who will eat your lunch. And you – who did not see it coming – will be responsible for the end of your career.

Summarised from a conversation with Vicky Maxwell Davies, Boyden Search