Culture, not tools, is key to unlocking innovation

Push technical issues such as legacy systems aside and the biggest barrier to innovation and transformation is enterprise culture.

Delegates attending CIO Edge in Sydney were told that the main cultural barriers to innovation were organisational dynamics and internal politics (cited by 52%), business silos (47%), and budget allocation (35%).

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The findings underscore the mismatch between the way IT operates and other business functions. For example, if IT works on agile iterative lines, but finance is wedded to 12-month plans, progress will be stymied.

CIO Edge brings together Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) CIOs for keynote presentations, a series of topic-specific roundtables, and a form of technology speed dating where delegates can meet one-on-one with one of the 40 industry partners at the event.

The theme of this year’s event was “enabling agility – aligning culture with business strategy”.

According to Adapt Ventures CEO and founder of the event, Jim Berry, agility is prized by ANZ organisations with 29% believing that it conferred a competitive advantage.

A survey conducted ahead of the event found that ANZ’s IT leaders believed more teamwork, improved stakeholder buy-in, better planning and more emotionally intelligent project leaders would all boost culture and improve agility.

A fool with a tool is still a fool but faster – and they are going to drag you backward.
Dom Price, Atlassian

Atlassian’s head of research and development and work futurist, Dom Price, however, warned that there was a gap between intent and action in many organisations which needed to be addressed before real progress could be made.

“Dysfunction is the gap between what you know and what you apply. We know a lot about agility and we walk back into the office and do the same thing we did last week because it’s comfortable,” said Price.

Besides being prepared to act, IT leaders need to embrace more diversity, he added, noting that maintaining the status quo and the same team meant organisations could speed things up, though they would not get anywhere.

While Price argued for enterprise agility, he cautioned against merely complying with the Agile Manifesto. Instead, he called for organisations to focus on bringing in agile practices.

Price also warned that companies that relied on tools, rather than cultures, to drive transformation efforts were doomed.

“A fool with a tool is still a fool but faster – and they are going to drag you backward. This is not just about tools – it’s about people,” he said, adding that enterprises should create a culture of trust and transparency to support transformation initiatives.

Price said that Atlassian’s own playbook was available as a free resource to support managers looking to drive change in their organisations.

One of the first steps that the playbook recommends is getting teams to perform their own health check. Team members are asked to vote on a series of issues after which a green, amber and red scorecard is created to identify areas that require attention.

Armed with that insight, teams can then decide which of the amber or red areas to focus on and over time lift the capability of the team.

There is still a way to go, however, as ANZ enterprises are lagging the rest of the world in transformation, according to Helen Macqueen principal consultant of Thoughtworks who also presented at the event.

Citing Thoughtworks’ research, she noted that only 18% of ANZ businesses were transforming compared to 22% globally.