When Technology Transcends Industry: How to Build Teams out of Disparate Backgrounds

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With technology transcending industry and doors opening for talent in previously shuttered business communities, companies are increasingly looking for talent outside their industry to bring new perspectives and gain a competitive advantage. As a result, hiring managers and team leaders now face the challenges of managing teams comprised of people with disparate backgrounds, say experts at Harris Allied, a New York City-based executive recruiting firm.

Today, technology transcends industry and the doors are opening for talent in previously shuttered business communities. This means that companies are increasingly looking for talent outside their industry who bring an entirely new perspective in an effort to gain competitive advantage. As a result, hiring managers and team leaders now face the challenges of managing teams comprised of people with disparate backgrounds, say experts at Harris Allied, a New York City-based executive recruiting firm.

”Companies are increasingly looking to Silicon Valley, social and digital media firms, and start-ups for individuals with niche skill sets. For example, consider the fact that the financial services industry looks to Silicon Valley for talent to develop proprietary technology such as Web and mobile platforms that will make those firms more competitive, while generating new revenue streams,” says Kathy Harris, managing director of Harris Allied. “This is not an aberration, but rather a growing trend among firms that have traditionally and exclusively recruited from within the financial services sector.

“As a result, hiring managers, as well as group and department leaders, have to find new ways to build cohesive, high functioning teams comprised of talent from outside the financial services sector. Frequently these candidates are accustomed to a totally different kind of work environment and corporate culture. Their workplace may have been less hierarchical, less formal than a typical investment bank,” Harris adds. “Learning how to adapt to a highly institutional work culture has its challenges, and these differences need to be addressed from the onset to ensure the team’s success.”

Harris offers the following guidance to department and hiring managers, as well as team leaders that are charged with building teams out of disparate talents:

  •     Team leaders need to provide a thorough orientation for new team members that come from outside the industry. The technology arena and smaller companies tend to be flatter organizations and the formal hierarchy typically found at Wall Street firms can be daunting to a newcomer. A thorough orientation that includes internal “go to” contacts helps for a smoother integration.
  •     Lack of domain experience is frequently cited as a challenge to candidates changing industries. Creating a set of resources via the Web and ongoing training to learn the world of finance can be very helpful.
  •     Team leaders need to set process expectations for new hires. Larger organizations tend to move more slowly and require more approvals as part of their process. Team leaders can help manage the expectations by giving new hires a “lay of the land.”
  •     Successful hiring managers responsible for building a new teams frequently retain as much of the culture of the new hires’ company of origin as possible. Integrating cultures can be challenging for even the most talented management team and recognizing best practices helps to smooth the transition.
  •     Communicate, communicate, communicate. Sit with team members on a weekly basis, formally or informally. Discuss what they are working on and any challenges they may be having.
  •     Put people first. Recognize and leverage the unique differences of individuals. Find ways to capture their unique talents and attributes to make your team successful.
  •     Organizations are more frequently adopting “pairing” as a best practice. This is where individuals from cross functional teams collaborate on projects.
  •     Allow new team members to make field visits to clients and observe their work-flow and how technologies are being used. This firsthand interaction accelerates the learning curve and given them hands-on domain experience.

“In one example, we have seen a highly functioning team from the digital media industry within a financial services company. The team has retained their original culture and has the look and feel of a digital agency. Employee dress, hours, and its collaborative style have the look and feel of a creative services firm. Senior management supports the new team and culture and the results have been impressive,” Harris notes. “Ultimately it’s about creating a culture and a pathway for success.”

About Harris Allied

Harris Allied provides premier executive search, technology and quant analyst placement services to the financial services, professional services, consumer goods, digital media and tech industries. The firm represents clients who are at a variety of growth stages: from tech start-ups to established industry leaders. Harris Allied’s client-centric approach allows the firm to objectively assess the strengths of qualified candidates and thoughtfully match them with the right opportunities. For more information visit http://www.harrisallied.com. To view Harris Allied’s corporate video, “For Each of Us, It Starts with a Moment,” visit http://www.youtube.com/harrisallied.

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Nina Dietrich