How to Build Your Teams of the Future

The 2019 CIO Summit was a fantastic opportunity to explore – along with peers, tech leaders, and industry experts – the challenges and opportunities facing CIOs today. It could be said that the new workforce coming through is both of these things.

This new generation of workers is unique, and shaking up the foundations of how organisations have historically functioned. In order to secure the best talent, organisations must attract these people and keep them engaged, while recognising how much their own belief systems come into play regarding where and how they want to work.

The idea of making your place of work a destination, where people want to work together, was a common theme throughout the day. HMRC Chief Digital and Information Officer Jacky Wright touched on such cultural shifts, and how to get people to work for the government by making it more interesting. Hers was a talk about people and technology, with eyes very much set on the future.

When working on my own presentation, I also wanted to examine shifting patterns in how people work. It’s rare these days for anyone to stay in place for more than two years. Here at Rackspace, the average age of our staff is 27. Due to education and gamification, we’re now seeing a more opinionated, but more structured and smarter workforce, able to quickly move ideas forward.

And it starts young. In fact, I used my own children as inspiration for ‘How to build your teams of the future’, inspired by their sessions on hit multiplayer game Fortnite. This might seem surprising, but when I watch them play,  I see them learning about business cases, brand, how to structure patterns of engagement, and then how to put all these things together; they’re educated about a value chain, asking themselves what they need to win and be successful, and how to build the right team to move forwards.

The team are equipped with the tools for success, and drop into the fray with competitors. The system is swift, iterative, self-regulating, and has its own checks and validation. Remember, my children are only 10 but these are the principles they are growing up with today. Imagine where they will be a decade from now.

Applying this thinking to existing organisations requires a shift in mindset. We must shift the idea of ‘brand first’ and working conditions following. Today, working environment, conditions and brand are what new workers look for. Interviews increasingly move beyond a conversation, with interested parties keen to explore your offices, gain sensory input, and get a real feel for your company and how it operates. They want to know if they will fit in and excel, rather than focusing on the comparatively old-fashioned ideal of whether they’d be proud to work there.

This feels driven by more global changes – it’s less about what you have, and more about what you can bring. Going back to Fortnite again, this approach is less driven by initial judgements, and instead by respect for different views. This is a generation with strong opinions, and yet a deep respect for others.

There’s also a very real sense that the experiences this new generation of workers have in their personal lives will have some fusion with their work life. Shell Energy CIO Clare Patterson discussed mindfulness and awareness – a key component of how the younger generation live. But this also represents a shift in thinking across the generations. It used to be that ‘being in the moment’ was about celebrating something – in a work context, that was getting through the week, and earning enough money to do something at the weekend. Now, events happen all the time, and the expectation is that work itself should be a great and social place to be.

This blurring of life’s boundaries is happening because this new generation wants it to. They are less focussed on material rewards, and more interested in people, character, culture, and gamification, which can bring teams together. This then leads to a change in ownership. Employees won’t accept the modern equivalent of a box in a supermarket, where suggestions fall into a giant hole. Today’s workers reason their ideas will be taken on board, and that there will be an ability to try new things and ‘fail forwards’.

Of course, this isn’t a free-for-all. Your organisation is still a place of work that must be successful. But those of us running organisations must be aware and respond to the younger generation having higher levels of emotional intelligence than I ever had at 10, along with the diversity in what they have, how they dress and what they do, changing the way in which our companies work and function.

It almost feels like the younger generation is finally taking us to the working pattern of an inclusive meritocracy – moving beyond ‘the strongest will survive’ to a place of inclusive empowerment. The challenge for C-level is to get the balance right between experimentation and what will drive our businesses forwards. You must make your organisations a great place to work and persuade the younger generation to buy into your culture. Only then will you be able to attract the best talent and truly enable your company to continue to thrive.

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As Chief Technology Officer for Rackspace EMEA, Lee James is responsible for helping customers accelerate the value of their business through our people, processes and technology. He is the executive sponsor for a number of EMEA customers, and leads the strategic development of Rackspace EMEA products and services. Lee has more than 20 years of experience across large scale, multinational and agile-based environments, developing and implementing industry-leading cloud, analytics, digital strategy and transformation to deliver significant business value to customers. His prior experience includes senior roles with the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 Index, BP, Betfair and GlaxoSmithKline. At Betfair, Lee was responsible for delivering a DevOps-driven platform that performed more transactions than all the European stock markets each day. At BP, he was recognized for building the company's first multi-cloud platform.

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