Teamwork for Techies

Bye-bye, lone programmer. Here's how to get far-flung IT professionals to collaborate.

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The most recent communication survey, taken just six months after the baseline survey, already shows improvement, says Kerley. "We're seeing a change in how interactions happen" -- and even once-reticent Japanese employees are now actively participating in brainstorming sessions, he says.

A New York Hedge Fund: A Wiki for the Common Good

When Mark joined a large New York hedge fund last year as a manager of technology, he was flummoxed when he tried to locate information about the firm's software applications. (Per his employer's policy, Mark asked that neither his full name nor the company's name be used.)

The hedge fund's IT staff of 70 was fragmented into more than a dozen different groups, and each group maintained information on its own systems. That information could be stored anywhere, including one person's e-mail in-box. "I would send an e-mail asking for documentation, and I'd get four different responses with four different versions," he says.

Mark had used a wiki to consolidate such information at his previous employer, so he decided to try it at the hedge fund. One problem: The wiki would be useful only if everyone contributed, but he didn't have the authority to make everyone do that. He supervised only five of the 70 people on the IT staff.

So he used the combination of a carrot and a stick. First, he and his staff built the wiki and filled it with some basic content, establishing a consistent format and structure. For each application, the content included contact information for the vendor, which version of the software was installed, and start-up and shutdown procedures.

Next, Mark explained the reason for the wiki to the two managers who directly reported to the CIO and asked for their support. He convinced them to mandate that their teams put all of their documentation in the wiki and make its use an evaluation point in their employee reviews. That was a powerful incentive, Mark says, because bonuses can make up anywhere from 10% to 50% of a hedge fund employee's take-home pay -- even for IT staffers.

But more important, IT employees flocked to the wiki because it was so useful to them. "They realized the weakness of the previous system, where nobody knew where the documentation was," he explains. "They were glad someone took the initiative to do this." Bottom line: With just a bit of prodding, most of the IT staff was willing to collaborate, especially once they understood the goal and how it would ultimately help them.

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