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How one CTO built a culture of trust and engagement

Sharon Florentine | March 1, 2016
When Joe McBreen took over as CTO of St. Vrain Valley School District in 2009, he walked into an IT nightmare. Seven years later, he's turned things around. Here's how he did it.

Recognition

DTS also regularly uses a handmade 'Spring in Your Step' award -- referred to as Springy -- that passes from teammate to teammate in recognition for those who brighten another's day. Springy became so popular that team members began taking the award on their travels, and photographing it in different locations, then asking team members to participate in guessing its location.

"This is a way we can recognize and honor people's contributions in a very public manner. Springy also has a thumb drive attached where recipients can record audio or video about what it means to them, and in this way we have a living memory. It's so cool!" McBreen says.

Activity

This is the meat of most team-building exercises, getting to know and trust teammates through games, or through physical and mental challenges. McBreen admits it sounds corny, and that at first, everyone was skeptical and cynical about both the Huddles as a whole and the activities, in particular. "At first, as you can imagine, there was a lot of, 'Oh, jeez, I gotta show up pretend to do this team-building garbage' and there was not a lot of enthusiasm. But I just kept doing it, week after week, 15 minutes at a time and, slowly, things started getting better," McBreen says.

Today, DTS has participated in over 130 Huddles, and this little bit of weekly teamwork has paid huge dividends.

"We had a new candidate ask us, 'What do you like about working here?' and everyone looked at each other and I answered, 'I like that ideas I've had are actually implemented. I've seen changes brought about that were based on ideas I'd had. Everyone's opinion is valued -- there's nothing I'd be afraid to bring up to leadership,'" says Dan Brauch, an IT manager at SVVSD.

"Teams are empowered, we've become very customer-service focused; employees are staying put even though they're offered a $10,000 to $12,000 increase in salary elsewhere. Communication has improved exponentially both internally and externally. Other departments tout our culture and try to emulate it. People like coming to work. And, based on this culture, we can provide leading edge technology to the district with a minimum number of employees," says Borecky.

If you're ready to try it for yourself, McBreen offers six other "recipes" for ways to address culture and engagement challenges, including Quote and Question Quesadilla; Special Guest Soufflé; Book Study Sundae; Our Values Meal; Mantra Minestrone and Culture Club Coffee. While it takes commitment, dedication and a lot of time -- McBreen stresses that it took DTS years to turn things around, but that if you feel like a culture adjustment is needed in your organization, it's definitely worth a taste test.

 

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