CIOs are responsible for the culture that they make in the IT department

Are You Creating A Toxic Culture In The IT Department?

CIOs are responsible for the culture that they make in the IT department
CIOs are responsible for the culture that they make in the IT department
Image Credit: Photo by Paulo Silva on Unsplash

Just by being the person with the CIO job you change things. Your department looks up to you for guidance in how they are supposed to behave. What a lot of people in the CIO position don’t realize is that within the IT department, all the way down the line of command, people are watching you. If you behave well, then they will behave well. If you behave poorly, then they’ll see it as a green light and they will behave poorly. This can all have some very serious consequences.


The Culture Of The IT Department

The really good CIOs are able to understand the importance of information technology and synchronize their organizations into cohesive powerhouses. The bad CIOs set an example that some of the worst habits will be tolerated — and perhaps even rewarded. A good example of this is how badly most CIOs use their time with their management team together. They set meeting agendas haphazardly, frequently only days beforehand. Their conversations veer off topic, often into trivia. They leave unaddressed the decisions and problems that really need to be resolved.

A study was done that showed that among high-performing CIO teams, 93% are able to prioritize the most important issues and 96% focus on the right issues. By contrast, in low-performing CIO teams, only 62% prioritize well and 53% are seen as being focused on the right issues. The implications for an IT department whose CIO team is poorly focused are serious: wasted effort, wasted resources, and widespread confusion become standard.

Competition among members of a CIO’s leadership team isn’t unusual. A team of individualistic leaders vying for resources, status, and their boss’s job, can fracture the organization beneath them. Unhealthy competition erodes trust. If CIO team members distrust the motivations and unspoken agendas of their teammates, they will act with self-protection, even self-interest, to avoid risking personal failure. And when things don’t go as hoped, people point at one another in blame rather than healthy accountability. It is nearly impossible to make and execute critical decisions when team members don’t trust one another — and it’s equally difficult to ask the rest of the organization to carry out those decisions if everyone knows they were made by people who aren’t aligned.


Conflict That Benefits No One

When conflict and information are mishandled by a CIO, the rest of the organization follows suit. The study showed that 87% of high-performing CIO leadership teams handled conflict effectively and were transparent and open with information, and 82% exchanged constructive feedback with each other. Only 44% of low-performing CIO leadership teams handled conflict effectively and 52% exchanged feedback and were transparent with information. The difference in performance is significant: among the high-performing teams, employee engagement averaged 87%, while among lower-performing teams it dropped to 45%.

CIOs need to lay down the law. Within the IT department actions such as withholding honest perspectives, speaking negatively behind one another’s backs, or vetoing decisions after they are made should be unacceptable. CIO leadership teams should have written agreements that they won’t engage in these behaviors, and they should share those agreements with the rest of the organization, asking others to hold them accountable.

The question that CIOs need to be asking themselves is if a camera captured their leadership team in action for a full day, how would they feel about that video being used as training for the rest of the organization? Serving on the CIO’s leadership team should be viewed as a privilege. And along with that privilege comes a responsibility to behave in ways you would be proud to have the rest of the IT department emulate.


What All Of This Means For You

Leadership teams must operate as a unified force. Shared goals must be accompanied by shared accountability. In the study, high-performing CIO leadership teams were five times more likely to hold members accountable for shared goals than their low-performing counterparts. Rivalry should be saved for external competition.

The best leadership teams handcraft behavioral agreements themselves, publish them to the rest of the organization, and regularly assess performance against them. When you know the organization is watching how well you stick to your own rules, you think twice before breaking them.

This is the kind of culture that a CIO needs to create within the IT department. In the end, it is the CIO who is responsible for the behavior of everyone else who works in the IT department. In order to maximize the productivity, the CIO has to set a good example. Understand that you are always being watched and make sure that the example that you are setting is the one that you want everyone else to follow.


– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™


Question For You: Who do you think a CIO could go to in order to find out if they were setting a good example?


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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As a CIO, communication is a key part of your job as you try to share the importance of information technology. You really need people to pay attention to what you are telling them to do. However, in this day and age it all too often seems as though the people that you are talking to are not hearing you. Studies that have been done have revealed that the people that we are talking to are tuning out our conversations about 30% of the time. How can the person with the CIO job get people to listen to them?

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