Status Report

NASA Blogs: The Great CIO Organization: Building the Right Team

By SpaceRef Editor
August 20, 2008
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I passed Tonjua in the hall one day. She is one of my up-and-coming young leaders and is leading a team planning the administrative activities required to implement our IT reorganization. It had been a particularly difficult day for her dealing with team issues. She asked me, “What kind of science project do you have me on?”

I have no doubt that Tonjua and her teammates will meet their goals. The team is a very diverse team with strong skills in this particular area. Their shared thinking will yield products that will be better than they would have without their contributions. This is no doubt a tough gig for Tonjua, and maybe tough for some to watch. But, these are the right people to create the right product for the organization with the right leadership.

For a CIO, creating the right senior leadership team to create a “great” CIO organization is critical. Jim Collins implores us to first get the right people on the bus, to build the superior team. After this is done, a CIO and her team can figure out the path to greatness.

In the book “Senior Leadership Teams” (by Ruth Wageman, et. al.), the authors identify essential conditions that senior leaders should establish for their leadership teams:

(1) Create a real team, rather than one that is a team in name only,

(2) Provide the team with a clear and compelling purpose, and

(3) Ensure that the team consists of members who have the knowledge, skill and experience required for the team’s work.

Perhaps my first lesson in the importance of this was as a young French horn player at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC. My best friend Donna and I were both experienced seniors and very capable horn players. Our band director wanted us to have the best chance of winning a band competition after coming in second place the year before. He added two beginner horn players to fill out our section. Donna and I thought they were awful and since we wanted to win too, we told the two of them to hold their horn but don’t play — ever. When we were playing our award winning performance, I heard the most beautiful sounds from the French horn section. The two newbies decided to practice on their own – honing their skills. And practice they did. On performance day, the “four” of us sounded so good, the judges made a special note of the beautiful French horn section – the lovely French horn team.

Ironically, one the songs we played beautifully was “People”:

“People who need people, are the luckiest people, in the world”

Great organizations are built with great people. And CIOs who know this are indeed the luckiest people in the world.

Linda Y. Cureton

SpaceRef staff editor.