How do you build the team to lead your data revolution? #CDOSummerSchool

Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels — Two Black Women in black work attire sit next to each other at a table in front of a view of office buildings

How do you build a data team that plays to your strengths? How do you look after yourself and others? How might you create new comfort zones to encourage people in your organisation to change? Join me for a final recap of #CDOSummerSchool #DataLiteracy.

It’s the final class of Chief Data Officer Summer School with Caroline Carruthers and Peter Jackson in collaboration with Collibra. This free masterclass has helped around 500 data leaders build their confidence, learn the secrets of being an effective Chief Data Officer and make essential connections to thrive as change makers and leaders in their organisation’s data revolution.

In week six, we learn how to build your best data team starting with you. We cover how to get the best chance of leading your organisation to data maturity.

Let’s start with you. That’s right — you. As Chief Data Officer, whatever your title, you are a leader. Even as a second or third generation Chief Data Officer, you will be spearheading change. You will be dealing with people’s comfort zones and you can’t pretend that resistance doesn’t exist. You’ll need to be courageous, strong, and creative. You’ll be inviting engagement and participation while selling a clear, compelling vision of what data can do for your organisation. You cannot do this alone.

So how do you do all of this while taking care of yourself and others? Caroline and Peter teamed up again with Executive Coach Hilary McLellan. Last time Hilary helped us to understand the importance of emotional intelligence in data leaders It was exciting to have the trio back this week to tackle the important matters of psychological safety, building highly effective teams, and having a portfolio of strategies to help you be agile, flexible and most importantly to succeed.

Let’s start with building your team. No-one is perfect and no-one is good at everything. You have your strengths and your weaknesses because you’re human. Remember the saying it takes a village to raise a child? It takes a similar “village” to be successful. You team, your “village” if you like, is there to help your organisation succeed by bringing all those strengths to play. Play to your strengths and hire people to fill the gaps in areas you can’t, don’t, or prefer not to excel in. Peter urges us not to be afraid to hire people who are better than you in areas you have weaknesses and to get your right-hand person in as soon as possible.

Caroline reminds us to secure our own gas mask first when leading a team. Taking care of yourself means you can perform to the best of your abilities. Burning out does neither you nor your team and organisation any favours. One route to prevent burnout is to maintain a helicopter or strategic view as much as possible. Delegate, delegate, delegate and don’t wade into the weeds of detail. Find trustworthy, competent, collaborative people to handle these aspects. In a small team, you may find a good all-rounder to be the best fit. In a large team, you may want to hire people to tackle areas that are the biggest pain — perhaps gleaned from your Data Maturity Assessment.

Alternatively, you might want to take strategic view and find people who can help you deliver right away on your immediate and target data strategy. Other strategies to have in your portfolio include:

  1. Building a community of data champions and cheerleaders to help keep the vision in everyone’s minds.
  2. Find support from other teams where you don’t the budget to build your own team.
  3. Consider if your data specialists should be centralised (easier in a data immature organisation), federated (easier in a data mature organisation) or a hybrid model.

You might also want to consider cross-functional teams and attaching your goals to other changes happening across your organisation. The right choices for you will depend a lot on where your organisation is now. Don’t add more to your plate by fighting too hard against the tide of the current organisation culture. Choose your battles and decide where you can effectively push for new ways of working and where it’s easier to go with the current flow, until you’ve built up enough credibility.

Peter and Caroline went on to answer several questions on how a data team might be structured, pay scales for data people and what it feels like to work in a highly effective team of adults where things just work.

Next, let’s talk about a key feature of all highly effective teams which applies to your data team — psychological safety.

What is psychological safety? Hilary came in to clear this up for us. William A. Kahn defines psychological safety as “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career” in Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work. Have you heard folks talk about bringing your whole self to work? It’s similar to that. It’s feeling safe enough to make decisions, take risks at work and learn from your mistakes as a team rather than be berated for them. It’s not about being reckless, it’s about being empowered and pulling in the same direction towards a common goal. Getting in formation so to speak…

© Beyoncé Super Bowl 50

Hilary tasked us with knowing ourselves, in terms of responsibility, and for our highly performing team to do the same. She tasked us to consider the full circle of attributes needed to be able to look after ourselves and others. When considering a person for a role, what percentage would be what they can do vs how they do it?

We covered a great deal about managing yourself and a highly performing team including getting comfortable with discomfort. Caroline shared a lovely analogy about “umbrella leadership’” — being the shield so your team can perform but not needing that shield up all the time, just when it metaphorically rains. Others added “One of the challenges of umbrella leadership is to help those you are protecting build their own umbrella skills, so that they won’t collapse if your umbrella isn’t there any more”. You’ll have to work harder at doing this remotely. Peter has found more communication to be key to managing his direct reports during lockdown.

One useful resource as you continue down this path is to read the seminal work of Amy C Edmondson. The The Fearless Organizationcan help you unlock the full potential of your team. I was also reminded of A user manual for me by Cassie Robinson which helps you share your preferences for how you work with others. Fear holds us back, which is why I value Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead. Her studies of courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy led to resources on brave leadership. However you find yourself building your highly performing team, Hilary reminds us to lower our stress and anxiety and focus on wellbeing and resilience.

So with your team behind you and your wellbeing on track, how do you lead the data revolution in your organisation? Remember what Peter Senge said about change? “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed”. Change can lead to fear. Change can lead to discomfort. Change can lead to disillusionment especially when we aren’t smoothing the data strategy hype cycle. Nudging people out of their comfort zones means stretching them a little, persuading them a lot, and building on success one step at a time.

It’s true that “The only thing that is constant is change” ― Heraclitus. That change might be due to the organisation wanting to be more mature with data, so an internal pressure. It might also be due to things happening outside the organisation, so external pressures. Peter mentioned the data revolution is getting faster and all organisation must outpace their competitors and disruptors to survive. Despite all of this, change that is happening is felt by people, it’s personal and the effects are felt by the person. So make sure you can articulate what benefits change will bring for them as a person, not their department, not the organisation.

There are many ways to do this but the end result is creating a new comfort zone. Think of a hermit crab in an unsuitable shell. Sure it’s not much bit it is home. You can’t force it out (well you can but it won’t end well), so you have to entice it to a bigger, better shell. Then everyone wins.

© Hermit crab finds a new home via GIPHY

The final week was both sad and uplifting. The themed session made me smile. The data quiz snuck into slides was fabulous, and the trio was as ever on point. I wish it could go on but even the best things have to end.

I really wish I could capture more of the wealth of know-how shared here. Suffice to say, this is just the tip of the data iceberg. So, with summer school at an end, I leave you with a few more tips to help you ride the data wave.

Change is always disruptive, so make sure to celebrate every win and take care of yourself. Surround yourself with a great team that can help evangelise your vision and deliver your strategy. Get cheerleaders too — especially those who used to be critics. Have coffee and cake to build those relationships and smooth the way for change. Keep an eye on your data landscape, don’t get pulled into too much detail. And most of all, be kind — to yourself and your colleagues.

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