Team Building in the IT Shop

In the midst of a national information technology staffing crisis, California's Health and Welfare Data Center (HWDC), professional home to some 450 IT workers, has an astounding personnel record. In the last two years, except for retirements and the occasional junior staffer, it has not lost a single seasoned employee. So what's different about this shop, when others across the country are reporting churn rates of up to 25 percent annually?

It's true that the center is located in California, one of the biggest and richest public-sector IT markets in the country. Pay rates would tend toward the top of the scale for state and local government salaries nationally. And California's employees have the opportunity to work on some of the "latest and greatest" technology available, says HWDC's director, Russ Bohart. But those factors alone probably don't account for the turnover record.

The more likely reason, as our cover story this month points out, is that the center has created a culture where the personal and professional advantages of staying in most cases outweigh-or are at least competitive with-the enticements of the private sector and the bigger metropolitan IS markets.

The unit currency of the center's culture is the team, a group of employees who are responsible for the center's deliverables and ensuring customer satisfaction. In some cases, the teams are "self-directed" and work without a direct supervisor. Self-directed teams manage their service priorities and decide their own promotions. People hired at the center are brought on board only after a team composed of the prospective employee's peers, customers and direct reports agree on a single candidate. Finally, all employees attend a two-days-a-month, year-long "leadership academy," where the values and culture of the center are discussed and mirrored.

In effect, it's a culture where the employees decide what kind of work environment they want to create, given their responsibilities to their customers and other team members. Given such an environment, the incentives to leave for the vagaries of the private sector are minimized. As the turnover record of the center has demonstrated, the value of working in an environment one has helped to create is worth cash money to many employees.

It's just one of the innovations state and local governments are pursuing as they fend off competition from the private sector in a red-hot IS market. We hope the piece will spark discussion in your own shops about what you can do to recruit and retain your teams. If you have ideas to share with your peers about this and other programs, please contact us. We'd be glad to post them on our Web site, which you can view at Just hit the "Contact Us" button.

Paul McCloskey



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