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Taking the I out of IT, One (Pizza) Piece at a Time

On a wintry December evening, the Manchester OneHealth Tech community holed up in the town centre at the in the lovely offices of hosts Mills & Reeve, for their last event of 2018 exploring diversity and team models. After networking over beers and numerous pastry based snacks, it was time for the night’s chair Sarah Thew (OHT Manchester Hub & UX Consultant) to get the talks underway.

Talk 1 – The non-scientist in research – being the ‘glue’

OHT’s own Ruth Norris, Head of Strategic Relations for Connected Health Cities at The University of Manchester, shared her research centre’s journey of adopting the ‘Team Science’ model. Team Science is an innovative way of working to deliver research through cross-disciplinary, collaborative programmes and recognises and rewards contributors from outside the traditional hierarchical academic model. Building upon her talk at podium at The Science of Team Science, in Texas, April 2018, Ruth described four demonstrable tangible exemplars of the impact of putting non-scientific specialists (public engagement; communications; strategists and technical experts) at the HEART of research.

Talk 2: Building the BIG team – All about the Structure

So, that was team innovation in the research world: but how do global commercial companies make teams work? Lead Architect for all IT at AstraZeneca, Jon Hill, has a tough gig, with a huge team across continents, countries and a vast portfolio of projects.  Jon’s team is a cornerstone enabling function: supporting science but not being a scientist.

From the outset, Jon recognised the importance of getting the structure right for the success of this global team and utilised some useful general principles:

There will always be silos – you need to make them work for you by creating the right structureDesign it; then build it: take time and effort to develop and design the team before you start, making sure its future proof and fit for purpose. E.g. creating a structure that is agnostic to external structure changesThere are no silver bullets: a suite of tools will help on the journeyTeambuilding: informal, frequent, meaningful contact makes everything easier. Coffee and chats; online message boards; community building tools – these all helpSize matters: create teams and sub-teams – two pizzas should feed any groupSkipping – skip levels and speak to find out what’s really going on in different spaces

Jon is currently looking at ways to improve gender and age diversity – a notable challenge in IT architecture, and one he is passionate about achieving.

Talk 3: Wanna sack the boss?: it can be a reality!

So we closed the night with our Glasto-style HEADLINER: guest speaker Alison Sturgess-Durden from Mayden, IT specialists in as digital care systems for psychological therapies. Mayden have been a trailblazer in healthtech by implementing a game-changing flat structure, replacing hierarchy with autonomous teams; and managers with coaches. Alison told the rapt room how their approach ripped up the rule book, creating an environment with dialled down supervision, micro-management and traditional ‘management’ structure, allowing them to “manage the work not the people”.

Though this may sound unusual and likely only manageable in small companies, however, there are numerous exemplars of organisations who innovate management structures and practices in this way including global goods giant, HAIER.

So we are all thinking - why doesn’t this all end in chaos? Well, it could without the right underlying culture:

It’s not for everyone; so the hiring process is keyForgiveness not permission: the culture needs to be supportive of individual decision-making to workCreate servant leaders: coaching, mutual goals, agile workingTake responsibility and ownership: this is only as good as everyone in the group. Don’t be the weakest link!It seems crazy – but it’s not a big deal!

Mayden is also a shining light in diversity – they have managed to create a 50:50 gender split in their software development team and support personal development and new talent with their 0-Hero Academy – a 16-week programme.

So, 3 things that resounded:

  • Watch out for silos and find the right way to minimise their impact

  • Culture eats strategy for breakfast – ignore it at your peril

  • Empowerment and recognition of individuals’ contributions go a VERY long way.

…Watch out for news of our 2019 Manchester events – we will see you very soon!


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