As organisations strive to become more lean and agile, their successful transformations can hinge on the symbiotic relationship between IT and R&D. When the relationship is working well, both teams are able to leverage the other's strengths so the organisation as a whole can move with speed and tap into innovations more quickly. However, inherent differences between teams can often lead to challenges that hinder the organisation’s ability to adapt a more agile mindset and leave them at a competitive disadvantage.
According to McKinsey, less than 30 per cent of digital transformation projects globally succeed, stopping organisations short from capturing the $665 billion dollar estimated digital transformation market expected by 2023. While many factors contribute to a successful transformation, the IT and R&D teams – led by the CIO and CTO – play crucial roles in establishing a culture that embraces nimble change and demonstrating seamless integration behind the innovations and insights driving the organisation and its customers forward.
Even with the complex emotional and political dynamics you’ll have to navigate, creating a tight partnership between these teams is both possible and worthwhile. At Lexmark, we understand firsthand the rewards that come with navigating this partnership, having recently undergone a top-to-bottom digital transformation. Initially, our IT and R&D teams had trouble seeing eye to eye on many issues, even clearly understanding which team should be handling each task, but we were all committed to the end vision.
For us in IT, this meant establishing trust through a track record of accountability, understanding and competence with the R&D team. This was important when we needed to convince them that we were better off customising a third-party platform, against their inclination to build it from the ground up. We leveraged the IT team’s expertise in managing platforms, and the R&D team’s experience in creating well-defined applications, in order to create an integrated cloud platform that enables us to roll out products and services much faster. Importantly, our collaboration helped us reduce the overall time to build from three years to 18 months. Although the process of getting IT and R&D to work together took time and patience, it lay the groundwork for our digital transformation, and for the future – equipping us with new tools and means of innovating that we’re using to meet our customers’ growing needs.
With that, here are four tips for successful integration:
Consider that by nature of the roles, people in these organisations operate very differently. R&D teams are inventors at heart. They are smart and have in-depth technical acumen, top to bottom, on the product they create. On the other side, the scope of an IT team requires them to master skills across many disciplines with a bend toward acquiring technology or expertise rather than building it with a keen focus on ongoing support. As you work to build a collaborative working relationship, understanding this fundamental difference in working styles and assigning teams projects that fall within their areas of expertise will help all involved grow to appreciate each other’s strengths. Tip: Acknowledge and embrace your differences. Remember, that’s the reason your collaboration will bring more exceptional results.
Look for areas of mutual agreement. It can be as simple as agreeing that no one can afford redundant efforts or acknowledging that each team possesses skills the other needs and doesn’t have. Everyone in the organisation is under pressure to deliver, and finding common ground on work efforts, skills gaps or better use of corporate resources can act as an accelerant to working together. For example, IT is very good at building and supporting platforms, the under-the-cover infrastructure that makes things run. When R&D takes advantage of that platform expertise, they are then free to focus their resources and creativity on customer-facing development. In turn, the IT team isn’t burdened with redundant systems that require ongoing support. Tip: Focus early efforts on identifying the benefits of working together.
Watch out for differing hierarchical management structures that complicate alignment.
If one organisation is flat, but the other is multi-layered, identifying where the collaboration efforts should begin may be tricky. People in middle management may be more challenged to get on board with a new way to work than executives or even staff. Think about it: at the executive level, it’s pretty straight-forward to drive for a more optimised workforce. For staff, the idea that another team has the skill and capacity to take over some of their workload is a welcome change, as long as it’s navigated in a sensitive and non-threatening manner. However, middle management may worry about losing autonomy and control. This area of tension must be recognised to ensure the entire team is on board and working to support the process. Tip: Cultural change happens on different timelines. Be prepared to provide extra support and reassurance as individuals move through a cultural shift.
Employ trust-building tactics.
While in the beginning conversations may not be easy, establishing (and sticking to) a regular cadence of collaboration sessions is critical in creating integrated missions and projects. Seek out advocates who can work behind the scenes to develop confidence among peers. Just one highly-regarded person can make a huge difference in the overall acceptance of a new way to work. Be careful not to move too fast – attempting to co-locate teams before everyone is warmed up can cause teams to retreat to their respective corners. Bringing a project manager into the fold may be of assistance as they can help remove the emotion and guide the teams through a structured engagement. Tip: Trust takes time. Don’t expect to get married after the first date.
As with any inter-team partnership, finding ways to integrate IT and R&D teams is as much of an interpersonal and cultural challenge as it is a logistical one. When approached strategically, sensitively and with patience, it can be an exciting and fulfilling experience for everyone involved. Take the managerial steps needed to anticipate and eliminate misunderstandings and, over time, you’ll find that both organisations can be set up to thrive – delivering innovation much faster and more effectively.
Brad Clay, Senior Vice President Chief Information & Compliance Officer, Lexmark