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An unexpected partnership: How tech and business leaders can learn from each other

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Peshkova)

One of the biggest issues across technology industries over the last few years has been the failure of business teams, who design and manage processes, to partner effectively with their tech teams to deliver and understand the technology needed to support the business’ vision.

However, as technology and business have become increasingly intertwined, individuals working in both segments of an organization are slowly becoming more interested in each other’s work. It is also no secret that business and technical skills are now a magical combination. For example, those in tech – developers, engineers, IT teams for example – now want to know how to lead people and effectively communicate with the C-suite while those on the business side of the house – think finance, sales, operations – want to find out what it means to move to an agile model.

True leaders need to understand how all parts of the business can learn from each other and how this could benefit their careers in the long term. There’s no time to remain siloed. As the new saying goes, today every company is a technology company, so having an understanding of how technology makes a business impact and being able to articulate this is imperative.

What makes a good leader today?

But how can these two types of leaders come together, learn from each other and understand the value that the other brings?

Throughout organizations there are many leaders who come with a wealth of expertise. This can range from those leading technical or development teams who have risen through the ranks. Whereas on the other hand, there are also leaders who have been employed to solely focus on the bottom line, ROI and driving revenue across their organization. Despite both being leaders in their own right, they likely have very different styles and very different areas of expertise.

Today, as businesses continue to strive to become more agile, leaders need to continue to widen their expertise across the organization – and not just to understand at a high level what another team delivers. But to truly understand how they can work together, drive value and gain competitive advantage.

On the tech side, there is no doubt that those who rise to lead teams of developers and have aspirations of becoming a CIO can work in high paced environments, delivering specific projects and can block out all of the noise to work on the intricate details of coding. They support their teams by sharing expertise, ensuring technical knowledge is continually evolving and supplying them with the tools they need to be successful.

From a business perspective, there is always an eye on the bottom line and moving the needle forward. Generating that lead, converting it and closing the sale. Delivering on budgets and return on investment. They drive teams to be efficient and constantly have an eye on financial goals.

The melding of minds

For quite some time now, CIOs and leaders within the tech part of an organization have been so much more than just IT support. They are driving the business forward, solving problems and becoming more accountable to customers instead of just internal stakeholders. This also puts them under scrutiny as a cost center that needs to drive towards financial goals – a new frontier for those that are used to managing teams that provide internal resources.

This spotlight on technology teams is only going to increase as customers demand more digital solutions, so tech leaders need to also be confident in the spotlight. For many this is taking them right out of their comfort zone and forcing them to communicate with those much less technically experienced than they are, even at the C-suite level. This requires a special set of soft skills. An ability to connect business goals with tech capabilities.

This utilization of technology cannot be completely driven from the tech teams, it has to be something that the wider business thinks about, questions, pushes and ultimately puts into practice. It takes a deeper knowledge of what is possible and what skills an organization possesses for other areas of the business to come calling for help. This is why all leaders need to become more tech savvy. They need to stay up to date and relevant with what is possible. And know the right team to ask for help when needed.

But learning these new skills and staying on top of fast-moving tech often isn’t a priority and can seem daunting. Additionally, when learning and development programs are set up, they often focus too narrowly on siloed skills and resources that would traditionally be used by each team. But this simply doesn’t have to be the case.

Bringing the resources together

Building a learning and development program can be an overwhelming mass of resources, and that is simply when you are looking at one team. What happens when you are trying to provide resources of one team to learn about skills outside of their traditional remit? Chaos.

But it doesn’t have to be.

For tech leaders you need to help them develop business acumen in the way they learn, from resources they trust and in a language they understand. You cannot throw them straight into business courses taught by someone who has never been a techie, you need to find resources that bring their passion for tech and need to branch out into the wider business together. Find the resources they will trust, that are credible.

On the other side, leaders across the business needing to understand technology also need to know it comes from a resource that the geeks would trust, otherwise you can simply Google to your hearts content. The resources need to be able to avoid diving too far into the technical weeds, but also not treat experienced business leaders like children. Again, a delicate balance to strike.

This melding of business and technology minds is only going to become more important to the growth and success of an organization. And in a world of remote working and short attention spans, learning has to come at the right time, in the right medium and in short, sharp bursts. The days of sitting in classrooms for hours, or days on end are over. This development needs to be on demand.

The saying does go that every company today is a technology company, but are your teams really embracing that?

Alexia Pedersen, UK Country Manager, O’Reilly