Say goodbye to the silos of yesteryear -- techies over here, marketers over there, sales reps somewhere else, and on and on. In organizations today, where teams often include everyone from product managers to information architects, technology professionals must often prove themselves not just with their technical prowess, but also with their ability to work with colleagues whose expertise varies markedly from their own.
"Organizations are moving away from siloed departments," says Michael Hughes, vice president of the Revere Group, a business transformation and IT consulting firm. "People are moving into more collaborative, project-based tasks and activities."
The changes have far-reaching ramifications for techies, who are sometimes criticized for not looking beyond their own narrow areas of expertise. Along with demonstrating an understanding of the broader business environment, techies must also show a willingness -- and, ideally, an adeptness -- at managing relationships and leading teams that encompass diverse talent and knowledge areas.
Gayle Sweeney, Sprint's director of Web presence, says a number of factors are leading to these changes, including:
- The need to bring IT products to market faster.
- The broader uses of information technology.
- The increasing integration of technology across business.
"We have to deliver technology faster and faster, so you have less time for handoffs," she says, noting that techies and nontechies often collaborate on projects from the get-go.
One job within Sweeney's organization, manager of Sprint.com Web experience planning, requires a technology professional with an understanding of Web technology trends, such as Web 2., who can also manage design, marketing and brand issues as well as business objectives. "It's got to bridge all those areas," she says.
Job requirements like those are more common, given technology's increasing prominence throughout business. Projects almost always have a technology component, says Hughes, so "everything is much more intertwined than it used to be."
Danger: Cross Functionality Ahead
The message for techies is clear: Be prepared for change, or you may be blindsided by it. The challenge can be steep, especially for pure techies who prefer to focus on their siloed technical tasks rather than on broader business concerns. But sooner or later, techies will likely find themselves working on a cross-functional team.
That's been the case at TransUnion, the consumer credit information provider, where techies who once worked on homogeneous work groups now find themselves on teams that include marketers, statisticians and others whose areas of expertise are far from IT. "Some of these teams are really diverse," says Jennifer Campe, the company's director of organizational effectiveness.
Even silos within IT departments are coming down, Hughes explains. Whereas IT professionals may have once been able to stay within a discrete area -- developers avoiding the network gurus, for instance -- functional areas within IT are also working together more frequently, often because of the need to complete projects faster.
The communication challenges that naturally arise on heterogeneous teams make soft skills, such as the ability to write well and craft presentations, that much more important. "The softer skills really differentiate a candidate," Campe says.
Round Out the Skill Set
Techies should think about the following ways to gain the skills and experiences necessary to succeed in a more collaborative environment:
- Seek training in communication skills.
- Take a class in organizational behavior.
- Cultivate mentors, either within your company or at IT organizations.
- Inform managers of your interest in working on cross-functional teams.
Techies can also consider pursuing an advanced degree, such as an MBA. "To go past an individual-contributor level, advanced degrees are important," Sweeney says. "It's not just the degree, but the discipline you learn.