How to improve collaboration between IT and business units

How to improve collaboration between IT and business units
November 29, 2021  |  BY

Not too long ago, every organization had a strict division between its business units and the IT department. But slowly, over time, technology evolved beyond just being a way to support work functions; it became an essential part of the company’s DNA. To adapt, silos broke down to the point where now CIOs are a key part of major strategic business decisions.

Yet many CIOs still aren’t sure how to best collaborate with the other executives. That’s a legitimate feeling, as cultural differences and the overall approach to work differs greatly between IT and, say, marketing. And that’s why building bridges to other departments and developing productive working relationships requires a shift in mindset.

CIOs can begin by focusing on what could improve. Try to see the perspective of other executives – what motivates them and how they perceive specific challenges. Doing so can help you notice areas where IT can help people complete initiatives with success. For example, by paying attention to customer service leaders and looking at things through their lens, you may be able to offer ideas where technology can boost customer satisfaction.

In fact, by merely engaging with a colleague, you automatically open the door for collaboration. You’re extending a helping hand and conveying that you’re all on the same team with a common goal.

Those goals you share, of course, are to generate positive business results. This is where it’s key to modify how you view the function of IT, and even why the department exists. Instead of thinking primarily about a new technical implementation, instead think of how you can help marketing create more leads. So if a leader asks for a technical upgrade, ask them first what business goal they want to achieve, or what problem they’re trying to solve. Goals should dictate technology choices.

Yet as much as you may understand the alignment between IT and business results, you must also get your IT staff to do the same. While you’re in meetings with executives, they’re building systems and carrying out day-to-day operations. In a sense their still stuck in a silo from the past, and aren’t able to recognize how their work affects every aspect of the company.

It’s simply a matter of education and communication. Consider having weekly or monthly meetings, where you focus on a specific business goal and how IT helped to achieve it. With a clear understanding of their contribution, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how your staff will naturally become more proactive in collaborating with other departments.

This fresh attitude is vital for today’s digital economy, as limited collaboration can hinder an IT team’s ability to adapt to seemingly overnight changes in the business landscape.

We’ve also seen some CIOs embed staff into business units, which fosters even more cooperation. They typically do so with people who have enough business acumen to assess how technology can accelerate a specific strategic initiative. IT learns about business challenges from the ground up, allowing them to start the problem solving process much earlier than in the past. With all that said, you can’t instill a spirit of collaboration without trust. And trust comes when you consistently deliver as promised.

Another issue to consider is how you’ve historically looked at Agile. The truth is that some CIOs shy away from the collaborative elements required by Agile and DevOps. They want to avoid potentially uncomfortable interactions and objections from other executives during meetings. Here, CIOs must accept for themselves, and instill in their teams, an Agile methodology that embraces the realities of ongoing collaboration that includes micro milestones built into projects. It’s not always fun and easy, but this process ultimately provides results that satisfy the needs of all participants. After all, that’s the point of collaboration in the first place.