Why Fusion Teams Matter

February 14, 2022

Contributor: Ashutosh Gupta

Progressive CxOs are leveraging fusion teams to accelerate time to value and manage risk in digital business initiatives. Here’s why these multidisciplinary crews are gaining ground.

In short: 

  • Multidisciplinary digital business teams or fusion teams are critical successful digital transformation. 
  • Blending technology and business domain expertise, fusion teams often are responsible for initiatives that deliver digital products, rather than working on projects.
  • CIOs should foster digital judgment (set of beliefs, mindsets and behaviors that lead to sound risk management) in fusion team leaders.

Most CIOs face pressure to accelerate their enterprise’s digital transformation agenda, and Gartner research shows that distributed, simultaneous initiatives with broad-based involvement can progress 2.5 faster than centralized, sequential efforts. Fusion teams are key elements of this type of distributed digital delivery model.  

“The rise of fusion teams is evidence that the boundaries between IT and the rest of the business are blurring at an accelerated rate — and that business leaders have a growing appetite for planning, running and managing their own digital initiatives,” says Janelle Hill, Distinguished VP Analyst at Gartner.

Download now: How CIOs Can Foster Fusion Teams to Maximize Value

What characterizes a fusion team?

Fusion teams herald a new form of value delivery. Instead of organizing work by responsibilities within business functions, fusion teams are multidisciplinary. They are organized to digitalize business capabilities, providing technology solutions to deliver business or customer outcomes. 

To do this, they pool digital talent from different business areas as well as from the formal IT organization(s). Team members typically share business objectives related to specific business or customer outcomes, not necessarily the functional area that matches their expertise.

Fusion teams: 

  • Blend technology skills, analytical skills and business domain expertise
  • Share accountability for the solutions they build
  • Organize by outcomes and not business functions

Guide to Distributed Fusion Teams

Gartner data shows that at least 84% of companies and 59% of government entities have set up fusion teams — most of which use agile methods, often designed to deliver digital products rather than projects. Forty-three percent already report outside corporate IT and are closer to the point of value delivery, replacing traditional, IT-centric delivery models.

Download now: An IT Organization Roadmap to Shift From Projects to Products

Three actions to cultivate digital judgment in fusion teams 

Fusion teams need autonomy to respond quickly to digital threats and opportunities, and introducing bureaucratic oversight can slow them down. Governance and oversight are nevertheless essential to averting risks that poor data and hastily made technology decisions may introduce. 

The key, then, is to cultivate a set of beliefs, mindsets and behaviors or “digital judgment” in fusion team leaders to ensure they are guiding their teams to build and launch digital solutions without introducing additional enterprise risk. 

Three steps can help build this digital judgment.

1. Co-create digital business governance

Fusion team leaders are 5.4 times more likely to have high digital judgment when they are involved in creating the policies, standards and guidelines that direct digital business decisions.

Co-creating digital business governance can go a long way in cultivating digital judgment in fusion team leaders, as it engages them in a virtuous cycle of learning. Collaboration with governance subject matter experts can help leaders understand and better articulate trade-offs and explain the benefits of alternative ways of working. Each time leaders participate in these activities, they gain experience in new ways of working, becoming better at making trade-offs and, ultimately, at exercising digital judgment. 

2. Take a cross-silo approach to manage fusion team talent

The demand for technology skills outside the IT function has increased. For instance, the demand for skills related to artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation and data analytics is now higher outside the IT function than it is within it.

Individual managers or leaders within business functions, who are building their own fusion teams, are driving much of this increased demand for digital talent. However, a distributed approach to digital talent acquisition and development creates challenges such as:

  • Lack of insight into common talent needs leading to subscale hiring and development approaches.
  • Teams optimizing for their own talent needs, leading to inconsistent definitions for the same skills across the enterprise and duplication of resources.
  • Teams developing their own tools, approaches and expertise, thereby missing best practices developed in other fusion teams and suboptimizing cost efficiencies from shared contracting.

Partner with HR and other functional leaders to bring precision to the enterprise digital talent strategy. Nurture digital talent in central groups and transfer their skills to distributed fusion teams. Also, consider setting up cross-cutting communities of practice to curate and share the innovative ways of working and expertise developed in distributed fusion teams.

3. Ensure distributed technology leadership for the digital enterprise

Work with the business leadership team to rethink the enterprise’s division of technology responsibilities. Depending on the digital dexterity of senior business leaders, technology leadership can be structured around different models. For example: 

    • A digital evangelist CIO can team up with a digital strategist to lead the people, process and technology changes required for digital business.
    • A digital catalyst CIO can realize business leaders’ ideas by moving IT personnel into fusion teams and modernizing the IT foundations.
    • All leaders can become digital leaders and leverage technology resources to accomplish their vision. This can happen when fusion teams become essential to structuring digital business work and CIOs become digital orchestrators.

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